Sometimes it does seem that our "sensitivity" will be the death of us. Let's imagine the following scenario: A plane is hijacked and crashes into the White House (God forbid). In the post-disaster investigation we learn that a young, Arab-looking man claiming to be a Secret Service agent on his way to protect the president had been permitted onto the plane carrying a gun. How would American Airlines look?
As it is, the pilot of an American Airlines plane carrying Walied Shater, an American of Arab descent and a bona fide Secret Service agent, chose to play it safe. He declined to let Shater fly and dismissed the idea of phoning the Secret Service number Shater offered on the grounds that the person on the other end could be an accomplice. The pilot further claimed that the paperwork Shater submitted was not in order.
Shater flew to Texas the following day. End of story? It should have been. Except Shater has engaged lawyers and the Council on Islamic American Relations to whine that he was the victim of racial profiling.
Before turning to the burning question of racial profiling, there is a question of seemliness that arises here. Shater was inconvenienced, treated with suspicion, and doubtless embarrassed and a little humiliated by his treatment. But this is a man who has undertaken to give his life without a moment's hesitation for the sake of his country. Can he not suffer a little inconvenience and even embarrassment?
The powerful and famous alike have been subjected to searches at airports that have, at times, verged on the absurd. Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., 75, was asked to drop his pants (in a back room) after his surgically implanted steel hip joint set off metal detectors. Secretary of Transportation Norm Mineta was held up for 10 minutes. And former Vice President Dan Quayle was subjected to the same treatment while amused and perplexed passers-by called, "Hi Mr. Vice-President, what's going on?" None of these three gentlemen, to their credit, responded with "Don't you know who I am?" indignation.
Now, as Jonah Goldberg (nationalreview.com) has written, we can all agree that Shater was inconvenienced due to his appearance and his reading matter. (When he left his seat for a moment, a flight attendant noticed that he was carrying a book about Islamic history.) This set off alarm bells. But the anti-racial/ethnic profiling crowd is telling us that such calculations are illegitimate. We must treat everyone exactly the same.
This is the most foolish recommendation imaginable. But it's already being implemented. As James Q. Wilson and Heather Higgins recount in The Wall Street Journal, Delta Airlines on a recent day selected three elderly males, six Caucasian women including one with two children and two Hispanic women for complete searches. This, on a flight that also contained half a dozen young males of Middle Eastern appearance traveling alone. Delta explained that they would perform only random searches.
Anything else would be "discriminatory," I guess.
We would not be in this self-crippling psychological posture were it not for a generation of training in political correctness. The reigning orthodoxy in America is that to suspect black American males more than other people of being criminals is itself a kind of crime. The president himself has endorsed this weakmindedness by pledging to rid the land of racial profiling and by suggesting that if Shater was picked out because of his ethnicity, "that would make me madder than heck."
But everyone knows that young black males commit crimes way out of proportion to their numbers in the population. And taking that into account, for example in New York City under Mayor Guiliani, the police were able to cut crime rates in half. And everyone knows that all of the terrorists who attacked us recently with the exception of Tim McVeigh have been Middle Eastern young males. (American blacks, by a large margin, favor ethnic profiling to stop terrorists.) To stop and frisk elderly men and moms with kids because you are pretending these things aren't true is not only stupid, it is cowardly. It says that you fear being called a racist more than you fear failing to catch a terrorist.
Americans have shown that we can rise to the occasion when we learn that terrorists are going to take a plane into a building. We've learned that we can win a war with scarcely a dozen casualties halfway around the world. But whether we can be strong enough to risk being called names is still, alas, an open question.