EDITORIAL: Politically correct counter-terrorism

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Do counter-terrorism measures targeting bombers who dress as women offend the rights of transexuals? This is one of the pressing questions addressed in a new United Nations report on “Protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism.”

The 23-page document is the ultimate politically correct guide to combating terrorism. It is based on the work of U.N. special rapporteur Martin Scheinin, who notes that “immigration controls that focus attention on male bombers who may be dressing as females to avoid scrutiny make transgender persons susceptible to increased harassment and suspicion.” The impact on transvestites (cross-dressers) and “intersex” individuals (those in the midst of a sex change) is even more dramatic.

Security always involves trade-offs. Everyone is subject to the inconveniences necessary to keep our society safe, and the impact varies by personal circumstances. Those who travel put up with more than those who do not. People with metal medical implants set off detectors more often. Those who live in Washington encounter more security restrictions than those who live in Peoria. Traditional Muslim women cannot go into banks wearing face-covering veils, a fact that has nothing to do with religion but with the bank’s legitimate interest in not allowing masked people on the premises. This last conflict is a case of cultural insensitivity - namely the veiled woman’s insensitivity to the bank’s cultural norm of not wanting to be robbed.

The U.N. report condemns profiling as a form of stereotyping. But profiling in practice is not based on mindless bigotry but on observed patterns of behavior. Suicide terrorists have used “belly bombs” that make them look like pregnant women, since pregnant women were profiled as a lesser threat and could more easily get through checkpoints. Young, single white women traveling alone to and from West Africa may be subject to additional scrutiny when going through customs because drug smugglers began using them as mules precisely because they had previously not been subject to scrutiny. Terrorists and criminals thrive on exploiting these types of behavior patterns, but since, according to the U.N., they would exist in a politically correct world, we should ignore them.

The politically correct U.N. report is remarkable in its thoroughness. Extraordinary rendition is a process of grabbing terrorists off the street and packing them off to a different country for prosecution or interrogation. The report notes the adverse effects of extraordinary rendition on the wives of terrorists and its impairment of their enjoyment of “the right to adequate housing, and the right to family life.”

Presumably rendition is an occupational hazard of being a professional terrorist; if the wife, husband or “life partner” of the bad guy is inconvenienced because the breadwinner suddenly vanishes, we counsel next time marrying an accountant.

The U.N. report underscores the lessons of the 1990s when an overweening focus on politically correct counter-terrorism stifled imagination, hobbled intelligence and law enforcement and created seams for terrorists to exploit. Sensitivity to religion placed mosques off limits for surveillance, making them ideal terrorist headquarters. Emphasis on strict process created a wall between FBI intelligence and criminal investigations that materially contributed to the Sept. 11 attacks.

The U.N. report explicitly argues for a return to the previous failed framework, recommending that states “abandon the use of a “war paradigm” when countering terrorism because of the “adverse impacts” it has on “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex individuals.”

These people should understand that this is nothing personal. If a cross-dresser faces additional scrutiny to make sure he is not a terrorist in disguise, that is the price he pays for the freedom to dress that way in the first place. He should blame the terrorists who trampled on his “lifestyle choice” and who, given the opportunity, would saw off his head with a buck knife. Now that’s discrimination.

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