Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Transportation security should focus on real threats

A few months ago, I was passing through an airport security line and saw a man who was likely of Arab descent being stopped for a “random” bag check. The check, of course, wasn’t random, and the woman behind me in line vocalized my thoughts as she muttered something to the effect of “that’s just a shame,” obviously referring to security agent’s blatant use of racial profiling.

Though my hyper-politically-correct subconscious immediately jumped in and agreed with her, the more I thought about racial profiling, the more I came to a different conclusion: some degree of racial profiling, as it relates to transportation security in the 21st century, is not only acceptable, but necessary.

We don’t have the resources to search everybody who passes through security, and it would be unsafe to search nobody. When deciding whom we should search more often, it makes the most sense to search those who fit a rough profile of a demographic associated with past security problems.

We do it all the time in other areas. Take narcotics police, for example. Narcotics officers will concentrate their bodies in neighborhoods where drug problems have occurred in the past, but they often have no one at all in typically drug-free environments.

In no way does that mean that every person in that neighborhood is involved in the exchange of illicit drugs. Chances are, 99 out of every 100 people in that neighborhood are innocent.

But if there have been several drug arrests in an area, should we not station more police there than in a neighborhood that has never produced a single drug arrest?

Policing safer neighborhoods equally for the sake of making everything look even is utter foolishness.

Another example is car insurance. Sixteen- and seventeen-year-old drivers (male drivers with red cars, especially) will pay significantly more car insurance than anyone else simply because their demographic has produced a disproportionate quantity of accidents.

Your average 16- or 17-year-old driver has probably never caused an accident, yet he or she will still pay more insurance. We don’t see them clamoring over demographic profiling.

This is all a moot point if the numbers show that the Arab demographic is no more likely to cause transportation terror than a different demographic, but sadly the numbers say otherwise.

A 2005 Pew Research survey that aimed to highlight declining support of terrorism in the Muslim world showed that only six percent of British Muslims “fully supported” the 7/7 bombings in the London Underground. That sounds like a minority, and indeed it is.

However, there are 2.4 million Muslims in Britain; that six percent statistic means 144,000 British Muslims are in complete support of vicious bombings in their home country.

More recently, a 2009 World Public Opinion survey found that 44 percent of all Egyptians, 27 percent of all Moroccans and 25 percent of all Pakistanis had “positive feelings” (“mixed feelings” was a survey option, too) toward Osama Bin Laden.

That represents 36.5 million Egyptians, 8.6 million Moroccans, and more than 42 million Pakistanis who identified themselves as having positive feelings, just one year ago, to the orchestrator of the 9/11 attacks. The numbers don’t lie.

Mere positive feelings toward a given leader typically wouldn’t be enough to insinuate that the surveyed group also supports attacking Americans, except for the fact that upon being asked, in the exact same survey, their feelings towards “terrorist groups that attack Americans,” Egyptians and Pakistanis both had 30 percent of their constituents identify themselves as “very supportive”.

That’s 23.7 million Egyptians and 51 million Pakistanis who have no qualms about terrorist attacks on the U.S.

Though most of these same individuals might never carry out an attack themselves, 51 million is a massive number that needs to be dealt with when addressing our transportation security process.

Certain other leading surveys poll Muslim opinions on terror so I’ll make two reservations. First, Islam is, at its core, a peaceful religion. This is not to say, though, that it’s not perverted for violent means more than any major world other religion today.

Secondly, there is a difference between Arab, an ethnic classification, and Muslim, a religious classification. To discount any statistics, though, simply because an extremely small majority of Muslims are Caucasian would be unwise.

Anyone has the potential to cause terror (think Timothy McVeigh), yet the hard stats, as politically correct as we’d like to be, remind us that history has given us a legitimate reason to profile.

We should never perform gross, intrusive, or embarrassing searches, yet we should feel justified, based on prior history and current statistics, to employ profiling techniques that count race as a factor.

While understanding that we can barely mention the word “race” without being labeled a racist, we should racially profile in the name of safety, while at the same time being respectful towards those we search.

Ben Friedman is a sophomore majoring in social entrepreneurship. His column runs on Mondays.

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