Monday, May 28, 2012

Airport security and Jihad

To hear the left tell it, you would think the United States is responsible for all the trouble in the world. Noam Chomsky gets top billing at Fog City when he's in town, and the local media roll over when the Islamic bully boys are on the rampage.

Sam Harris's exchange with Bruce Schneir shows how political correctness is compromising airport security. Who exactly is it that's threatening to blow airliners out of the sky? Islamic jihadists, not small children and little old ladies, but we treat the latter as an equal threat.

Sam Harris from the Harris/Schneir exchange:

I recently wrote two articles in defense of “profiling” in the context of airline security (1 and 2), arguing that the TSA [Transportation Security Adminstration] should stop doing secondary screenings of people who stand no reasonable chance of being Muslim jihadists. I knew this proposal would be controversial, but I seriously underestimated how inflamed the response would be. Had I worked for a newspaper or a university, I could well have lost my job over it...In the essay that got me into so much trouble with my fellow secular liberals, I was addressing the problem of airline security. In fact, I was talking about only one aspect of airline security—the most visible part, where passengers and their luggage get screened for bombs and weapons by the TSA...I am not proposing a mere correlation between extremist Islam and suicidal terrorism. I am claiming that the relationship is causal. There are many ways to see this, and not too many ways to credibly deny it...

The first sign of a religious cause comes from what the terrorists say of themselves: al Qaeda and its sympathizers have not been shy about discussing their motives in public. The second indication is what they say when they think no one is listening. As you know, we now have a trove of private communications among jihadists. The fine points of theology are never far from their thoughts and regularly constrain their actions. The 19 hijackers were under surveillance by German police for months before September 11, 2001 (read Perfect Soldiers). Islam was all that these men appeared to care about.

And we should recall how other people behave when subjected to military occupation or political abuse. Where are the Tibetan Buddhist suicide bombers? They have the suicide part down, because they are now practicing a campaign of self-immolation—which, being the incendiary equivalent of a hunger strike, is about as far from suicide bombing as can be conceived. And where is that long list of Palestinian Christian suicide bombers you’ve been keeping in your desk? Now would be a good time to produce it. As you know, Palestinian Christians suffer the same Israeli occupation. How many have blown themselves up on a bus in Tel Aviv? One? Two? Where, for that matter, are the Pakistani, Iraqi, or Egyptian suicide bombers killing for the glory of Christ? These Christian communities are regularly attacked by suicidal jihadists—why don’t they respond with the same sort of violence? This is practically a science experiment: We’ve got the same people, speaking the same language, living in the same places, eating the same food—and one group forms a death cult of aspiring martyrs and the other does not.

As I’ve written elsewhere, it isn’t impossible to conceive of Tibetan Buddhists practicing suicide bombing or of Middle Eastern Christians practicing terrorism at the same rate as their Muslim neighbors, but Islam offers a doctrine of jihad and martyrdom that makes such behavior perfectly understandable. And, again, it is the reason that jihadists themselves give for their actions.

In any case, you have conceded that the next person who will try to blow himself up on an airplane bound for Europe or the United States is very likely to be Muslim. When considering the details of the example I gave—of terrorists who will even build their own children into their bombs—it should be clear that, in the year 2012, we are talking about Muslims waging jihad.

For this reason, I have argued that we should profile for Muslims, or anyone who could conceivably be Muslim, at airport security. More specifically, I argue that we should anti-profile—paying less attention to people who, based on the totality of their characteristics, could not conceivably be jihadists. Once again, I would not put you or myself in this category, but many people one sees at the airport would fall into it.

I think you overestimate the ability of jihadists to recruit people who do not fit the profile, and you seriously underestimate the talent that neurologically intact observers (not to mention trained screeners, like those who work for El Al) have for spotting high-risk individuals. While it is clearly prudent to scan everyone’s bags, doing a secondary screening of low-risk travelers, purely for the sake of fairness, seems like a dangerous waste of time...

The question is, What is the probability that the next terrorist will be a Muslim? You can bury the signal in as much noise as you want; it will not change the fact that the threat of suicidal terrorism is coming from a single group...I worry that political correctness can open up another pathway through security, allowing terrorists to hide in plain sight. If it ever became clear that we had a policy of not profiling, designed to assure everyone that we were non-racist and culturally sensitive, terrorists could safely assume that the TSA wouldn’t oblige a Muslim woman to lift her veil if she didn’t want to...

Thanks to Jihad Watch for the link.