- The Washington Times - Friday, June 7, 2002

One can only imagine what kind of outcry the new safety measures announced this week by Attorney General John Ashcroft will elicit. Mr. Ashcroft is proposing to fingerprint and photograph visitors to the United States from the Middle East, mostly men, in order to make them easier to track once they have crossed onto U.S. soil. It will certainly not make this group feel more welcome, but you can hardly argue that their civil rights have been violated. Every alien who wants to reside permanently in the United States has to be fingerprinted and photographed. So does every immigrant seeking to become a U.S. citizen.
An indication of the reaction to come is surely the lawsuit currently brewing over supposed racial-profiling of Arab and Middle Eastern-looking airline passengers. The Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) and five men who claim to have been "unfairly singled out" on the basis of their appearance have filed suit against four major U.S. airlines in federal court; no word as yet as to the monetary damages they are seeking. "A new and disturbing trend is occurring at American airports, the practice of removing passengers because of their perceived ethnicity," Ziad Asali, directer of the ADC, was quoted as saying in The Washington Post on Wednesday. "This phenomenon must stop," he insisted.
The dilemma, though, is how to address legitimate security questions. Is it unreasonable "racist" to subject those who "fit the profile" to greater scrutiny? Or do we waste precious resources focusing on those who clearly do not fit the profile, while studiously tip-toeing around those who do? To ask the question is to answer it at least, if improving security and decreasing the likelihood of another September 11-style attack is the goal.
It's worth recalling that the man who tried to ignite plastic explosives hidden in his shoe while aboard an airliner cruising at 30,000 feet also "fit the profile" but was allowed to board his flight nonetheless, because the authorities wanted to avoid being seen as insensitive to Arab-appearing passengers. Meanwhile, elderly white men including, infamously, a decorated World War II veteran young women, children and others have been taken aside and given the third degree.
None of us likes the increased security measures and attendant hassles that have become part of airline travel since September 11. But most of us understand and accept these precautions as necessary. It's unfortunate that travelers with a Middle Eastern appearance have been subjected to greater scrutiny but the fact is it was Arab men who took over those airplanes on September 11. So it's not gratuitous to be a little suspicious. Turning legitimate security precautions and concerns into the basis for a class-action suit serves no purpose other than to line the wallets of personal-injury lawyers.


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