The Great Profiling Debate
Back to blogging! My attempt to return yesterday was thwarted by Blogger's security problems. There was a time when anarchists attacked government-run institutions, but now they attack free services? Oy. Anarchism has been replaced by nihilism, pure and simple, it seems to me.
Anyway, I've been interested by the debate over profiling sparked off (literally) by Kid Dynamite over the Atlantic. There was definitely a security lapse of a most basic fashion here. The bloke had a one-way ticket, and I know for a fact that the US immigration authorities hold the airline
responsible for boarding a man with a one-way ticket who doesn't have an immigrant visa (I had to jump through plenty of hoops at Heathrow even when I had an immigrant visa and a one-way ticket), so the protestations that this was the fault of the French authorities don't carry much weight with me.
The profiling calls, however, seem pretty foolish to me. This guy wasn't Arab, but half-English, half-Afro-Caribbean, and almost certainly a British citizen. So race and nationality weren't going to be reasonable grounds for profiling (unless we're going to profile all non-US citizens, at which point why not use Johnny Walker?) The only grounds for profiling would be religion. As many people have pointed out, Britain has done that before. We expelled all Jews from the country in the Middle Ages, but realised how silly that was. As a result, we didn't try to expel all Catholics after the Gunpowder Plot, which would have been, in population terms, as dreadful a loss of life as the WTC attacks if it had succeeded, never mind the direct assault on the English system of government. It took a series of Civil Wars, caused in part by a desire on the part of some to exert a supragovernmental religious control over the English system, for the English to institute laws that deprived Catholics systematically of some of their civil rights. The injustices were mostly recognized for what they were a hundred and fifty years later, but some still remain, as Mary Ann Sieghart pointed out in the article referenced below. Religious profiling would be as unjust today as those laws were then.
In any event, how do we know what religion someone is? The 9/11 hijackers, as is well-documented, behaved in a most irreligious fashion, drinking and visiting strip bars. It would not be too much for them, or Richard Reid, to have declared themselves to be something other than Islamic. What, then, would be the grounds for profiling?
Profiling, it seems to me, is only useful when you know
a specific incident has happened or is likely to happen and need to find the perpetrators. If it is to be of any use, it would then go very quickly beyond the sledgehammer categorizations of race or religion and into behavioural specifics.
If we accept that there are grounds for screening, because our intelligence just isn't good enough, then we really need to accept random screening of everyone. If the screen picks out a 75-year old Grandmother, then the officers should be given discretion to just give her the minimum scrutiny. However, if someone is acting suspiciously but is not picked randomly, we should restore discretion to the security services to haul them in for scrutiny on suspicion. Any such non-random "pulls" should be meticulously documented in order to deter actual racism on the part of the officers, but I genuinely cannot see any other grounds for doing this than on a case-by-case basis.
As for "the muslim problem," Britain's "Catholic problem" was not solved by any of her repressive laws, but by internal reform of the Catholic Church. There are some ultra-Montaignes (sp?) out there, but not many. Today's Telegraph leader, Help the moderate Muslims
, suggests a way to encourage such reform:
A preferable course would be to devote far more attention to the task of helping moderate Muslims to sort out their own communities at the grassroots.
A crucial component of such a programme would be for the authorities, in conjunction with those moderates, to encourage respect for the rule of law.
The model for educating the disaffected young in civic virtue was pioneered by Mayor Leoluca Orlando of Palermo, who largely succeeded in busting the hold of the Mafia in western Sicily.
All of which implies that we must educate all our children in the rule of law, democracy and why and how tthose institutions grew up. History, in other words. And back we come to that little mantra, education, education, education.