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Globe and Mail Editorial "Why racial profiling is a good idea"

Monday, June 03, 2002, Page A15
No doubt aware of the symmetry, U.S. Attorney-General John Ashcroft granted expanded powers to the Federal Bureau of Investigation last week on the same day that symbolic pallbearers carried an empty, flag-draped stretcher out of Ground Zero to mark the official end of the demolition and recovery efforts at the World Trade Center site.

The FBI now will be allowed to investigate suspicious individuals and groups by monitoring Web sites and infiltrating public meetings.

Sounds innocuous -- reporters do it every day -- but past FBI abuses of exactly those measures prompted Gerald Ford to ban them a quarter of a century ago. Today, critics worry that the agency will use its new powers to practise racial profiling -- targeting Arab and other Islamic Americans for surveillance simply because of their race and religion.

The problem with this concern is that racial profiling is both necessary and desirable.

The FBI has been charged with preventing acts of terrorism in the United States. It is vastly harder to prevent a crime than to investigate it. (Imagine if the FBI had been ordered to prevent bank robberies and kidnappings.) But no one can deny that frustrating terrorist plots must be the highest priority of law enforcement.

In that context, racial profiling is a valuable tool of law enforcement. A middle-aged European woman who persisted in taking flying lessons despite her obvious incompetence would probably not have excited police suspicions. But Zacarias Moussaoui was dark of skin and strange of name, and so they hauled him in on a technicality. Had they not, Sept. 11 might have been even worse. Had they been even more aggressive in their investigation, well, who knows?

All cultures have characteristics, and some of them are ugly. Healthy cultures examine their flaws, worry them, try to pry them out like slivers from beneath the skin.

Germans have spent more than 50 years agonizing over what it was within them that permitted the Holocaust to happen, and how it can be kept from happening again. Russians have spent the past decade asking why they repeatedly succumb to dictators, and how they can keep from succumbing again.

European North Americans have excoriated themselves for the evils committed against Japanese North Americans during the Second World War, against blacks since the days of the first slave boats, against native Americans since the days of the first white settlers. They have apologized and offered redress, and continue to debate whether they have done enough.

Many Arabs and Muslims also question those tenets of their culture and religion that contribute to the suppression of women, of civil liberties, of peaceful co-existence with other cultures and religions. But many others do not, which is why so many of the world's trouble spots lie at the borders between Islam and other cultures, and why the most extreme elements of Islam pose a clear and present danger to other civilizations.

Let's remember: Two towers in Manhattan were destroyed. The headquarters of America's Defence Department was seriously damaged. Thousands died. The terrorists behind those attacks said they acted in the name of Islam. Given the means and opportunity, they will carry out further atrocities. There is no limit to their barbarity: They would attack with nuclear weapons if they could.

We should never cease to question, monitor and debate the activities of our security establishment. But we should also let them get on with the job.

If part of that job means scrutinizing a young Middle Eastern male with strange travel patterns more closely than a middle-aged Danish woman who has been to the same countries, then so be it. (Such racial profiling is banned at U.S. airports, a concession to political correctness that should be revisited.) If it means keeping an eye on religious and cultural leaders who excuse -- or condone and support -- acts of terror against the United States (or Canada), then so be it as well.

Extremism in defence of public safety is no vice.

In today's Globe and Mail John Ibbitson writes in support of racial profiling and makes gross generalizations about Arabs and Muslims that pander to the worst stereotypes.  
Points you can use in your letter:
1. Institutionalizing discrimination against Arab and Muslim Canadians turns them into second-class citizens.    
2. Racial profiling of Arabs and Muslims makes it acceptable to overturn the rights of Canadian citizens that fit a generic template. 
3. Nothing justifies the violation of civil liberties.  This country is founded on justice, freedom and human rights.   
4. The Arab Canadian community has deplored the events of September 11th and believes those guilty should be brought to justice.  Arab and Muslims should not be collectively punished for the actions of a few.
5. The view that all Arabs are potential "terrorists" reinforces public xenophobia and racial stereotypes.  This line of thinking is both dangerous and unjust. 
Ali Rahnema, Vice President of Globe and Mail:
John Ibbitson:
Letters to the Editor:
BE FIRM, BUT POLITE.  Racism has no place in Canada!

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