The United States law enforcement agencies have over the years received immense criticism over racial profiling. A simple definition of racial profiling would be the use of the ethnic and racial characteristics as a tool to determine the likelihood of a person to commit a crime. Ethnic minorities have over the years been at the receiving end over their alleged involvement in crime. The existing statistics especially by the American Civil Liberties Union indicates that people of African American descent are more likely to be stopped by the police over suspicion of committing some crimes compared to other groups. The issue of Blacks being stopped by traffic police has been well documented. In the recent years though, Arabs have joined the fray and have been victims of racial profiling being associated with terrorism. Muslims and indeed individuals of Middle Eastern origin are more likely to undergo rigorous searches at the airport over the suspicions of being terrorists. Whereas racial profiling may be informed by past history, it is not justifiable as it perpetuates systemic discrimination.
President George W Bush came out strongly urging Americans not to vent their anger on the Muslims and particularly on the Arabs noting that Islam as a religion represents peace. However, his words were a far cry from the experience on the ground. Suspicions are rife that all people of Middle Eastern origin are up to no good and that they stand as a threat to national security. This is a perception that has been perpetuated by a popular stereotype that link Arabs to terrorism. Indeed the catastrophe that befell America on September 11, 2001 is still fresh in the mind and the fact that it was authored and executed by the al Qaeda has been a strong talking point. Americans have been led by a false belief that international terrorism poses more threat to them than domestic terrorism. (Ronczkowski 32) While there are adequate reasons to fuel this fear due to the rise in Muslim extremism, statistics on the ground indicate otherwise. It is no doubt that the 9-11 terrorist strike was the worst to have ever been carried out in the American soil, however this does not diminish the importance of other severe strikes that have been carried at home by American citizens. Official records have indicated that over three quarters of all acts of terrorism carried out in the United States have been by American citizens. Other bloody strikes such as the Wall Street bombing and the Oklahoma City bombing were carried out by White Americans. These statistics indicate that if history was the parameter that is used to judge a racial group’s tendency to engage in crime, then Americans have more to fear from the white Americans themselves rather than Arabs. There exist a huge number of other Americans that have engaged in terrorism other than the Arabs and they are still pursuing their causes; the Animal Liberation Front and the Ku Klux Klan have been pinpointed as still dangerous (Ronczkowski 37).
Civil right movements in the United States have for years fought against racial profiling. The NAACP and ACLU have in the past criticized police discriminatory tendencies in their arrests. African Americans and the Latinos, as has been afore mentioned, have been at the receiving end. However, when it comes to terrorism and the lopsided polices against Arabs, the enthusiasm seems to have fizzled out. A look at the trend indicates that racial profiling has been on the in crease. As Tehranian (124) has observed, in 1999, racial profiling was highly condemned but this changed and “seemingly overnight, 60 percent of Americans now favored racial profiling, including more-intensive airport scrutiny-insomuch as it was directed against Arabs and Muslims.” This is despite racial profiling being against the fourteenth amendment that advocates for equal protection.
There exists a wide range of scholars who are in support of profiling of people of Middle Eastern origin most often citing statistics. The major argument being made for racial profiling is that the rise in the extremism in the middle east has resulted to hatred for Americans meaning that more Arabs than any other group is more likely to be associated with terrorism. Generally, racial profiling has been found to work, as Kops (58) has observed, when police are forced to ignore race, they may be less effective.” Racial profiling in the fight against terrorism is justified by the look at the profile of the majority of the individuals that have been apprehended by the authorities since the 9-11 attacks. A look at the recent attacks both in the United States and also in the American Embassies in East Africa indicates that they were carried out by people of Middle Eastern origin. It is hence prudent that the law enforcement agencies pay close attention to them. This argument however is discredited by the fact that terrorism is not religious or racially based. Although the al Qaeda is seen as a preserve of Muslims, there are other terrorist organizations both within and outside the United States that are not led by Muslims or Arabs.
Tehranian, John. Whitewashed: America’s Invisible Middle Eastern Minority. NYU Press, 2008
Kops, Deborah. Racial Profiling. Marshall Cavendish, 2006
Ronczkowski, Michael. Terrorism and organized hate crime: intelligence gathering, analysis, and investigations. CRC Press, 2006