New face of racial profiling

Just when we believed racial profiling was headed for the trash, it is showing disturbing signs of revival. However, there is a change. Whereas it formerly emphasized black male drivers as potential sources of crime, the profiling weight is shifting to potential Palestinian terrorists.

There are signs that the government, the airlines and even anxious air travelers are casting a wistful eye toward Israel’s El Al airline, where hijackings and other in-flight incidents remain virtually non-existent. This is attributed primarily to a draconian security policy. Racial profiling plays a central role in the Israeli system. If you even look Palestinian, you’re detained for detailed investigation before being allowed to board an airplane.

The media is stirring this profiling pot. Both USA Today and The Oregonian have chipped in on this subject in recent days.

The Oregonian featured a scare headline Oct. 3, “Profiling is dangerous – and sometimes necessary.” The author, Michael Kinsley, admits profiling is racial discrimination and “it is tempting to say racial discrimination is wrong, period. But today we’re at war with a terror network that just killed 6,000 innocents and has agents in our country planning more slaughter. Are we really supposed to ignore the one identifiable fact we know about them? That may be asking too much.”

He believes such racial profiling is dangerous but sees it as “sometimes appropriate.”

The author suggests one answer might be that people singled out at airport security should be awarded frequent flier miles for their ordeal. Yet, he feels they are already getting the benefit of a greater public sensitivity that opposes anti-Muslim and anti-Arab prejudice. I don’t follow that argument. We should not have ever been voicing anti-Muslim or anti-Arab prejudice. Further, he argues, innocent Arabs don’t want to be hijacked and blown up either.

USA Today, on Oct. 1, points out El Al is the world’s most security-conscious airline. Its lone hijacking occurred in 1968, before the present security system began.

Among a host of other security measures, El Al practices stringent ethnic profiling. The passenger list is divided into low-risk, Israeli or foreign Jews; medium-risk, non-Jewish foreigners; extremely high-risk, which includes anyone with an Arabic name.

Single women who may have Palestinian lovers also are considered high-risk.

The high-risk people are subjected to body and baggage checks and thorough interrogation. El Al security begins when the passenger books a ticket, at which point the name is checked against a computer list of terrorist suspects.

The airline also places armed undercover agents on flights, a practice evidently to be installed by U.S. airlines. Other El Al safeguards, such as cockpit security and combat training of cockpit crews, also are being considered by U.S. flights. However, El Al pilots are not armed.

Security is so laborious that passengers must arrive three hours before all flights and may be interrogated by three different screeners.

It is doubtful that American travelers would put up with the kind of security measures El Al imposes.

Especially onerous would be the automatic hassling of suspected Palestinians and single women who may be carrying something given them by a Palestinian lover. But another day like September 11 could change some minds.

I would hope racial profiling does not invade our U.S. airline security. If there is another incident like Sept. 11, I fear it might become inevitable.