Paul Sperry, a Hoover Institution media fellow, is the author of “Infiltration: How Muslim Spies and Subversives Have Penetrated Washington.” (THE NEW YORK TIMES, 28/07/05).
In response to the serial subway bombings in London, Mayor Michael Bloomberg prudently ordered the police to start searching the bags of New York’s subway riders. But there will be absolutely no profiling, Mr. Bloomberg vowed: the police will select one out of every five passengers to search, and they will do so at random, without regard for race or religion.
In that case, the security move is doomed to fail.
Young Muslim men bombed the London tube, and young Muslim men attacked New York with planes in 2001. From everything we know about the terrorists who may be taking aim at our transportation system, they are most likely to be young Muslim men. Unfortunately, however, this demographic group won’t be profiled. Instead, the authorities will be stopping Girl Scouts and grannies in a procedure that has more to do with demonstrating tolerance than with protecting citizens from terrorism.
Critics protest that profiling is prejudicial. In fact, it’s based on statistics. Insurance companies profile policyholders based on probability of risk. That’s just smart business. Likewise, profiling passengers based on proven security risk is just smart law enforcement.
Besides, done properly, profiling would subject relatively few Muslims to searches. Elderly Muslim women don’t fit the terrorist profile. Young Muslim men of Arab or South Asian origin do. But rather than acknowledge this obvious fact, the New York Police Department has advised subway riders to be alert for “people” in bulky clothes who sweat or fiddle nervously with bags.
Well, a lot of people wear bulky clothes. A lot of people fiddle with their bags. And for that matter, a lot of people sweat. Could the Police Department be any more general in describing the traits of an Islamic suicide bomber? Could its advice be more useless?
Truth be told, commuters need to be most aware of young men praying to Allah and smelling like flower water. Law enforcement knows this, and so should you. According to a January 2004 handout, the Department of Homeland Security advises United States border authorities to look out for certain “suicide bomber indicators.” They include a “shaved head or short haircut. A short haircut or recently shaved beard or moustache may be evident by differences in skin complexion on the head or face. May smell of herbal or flower water (most likely flower water), as they may have sprayed perfume on themselves, their clothing, and weapons to prepare for Paradise.” Suspects may have been seen “praying fervently, giving the appearance of whispering to someone. Recent suicide bombers have raised their hands in the air just before the explosion to prevent the destruction of their fingerprints. They have also placed identity cards in their shoes because they want to be praised and recognized as martyrs.”
The bodies of the London suicide bombers were recognized by their identification cards. And on the eve of the 9/11 attacks, the hijackers shaved and perfumed themselves with flower water in a pre-martyrdom ritual called ablution. But don’t expect the federal authorities to screen for these indicators on Amtrak, which pulls into Penn Station in New York and Union Station in Washington, two of the biggest commuter-rail depots in the country. Not only is there no passenger profiling on Amtrak, but there’s no screening or mandatory searching of carry-on bags. The only restriction on bags is a 50-pound weight limit – and that’s not much comfort when you recall that the bombs used in London weighed only 10 pounds.
Once an Islamist suicide bomber is sitting next to you on the train, your chances of escape are slim. The only solution is for the police to stop him well before he boards your car. But with the system as it stands, that terrorist could easily slip in through the numerical window of random security screening. By not allowing police to profile the most suspicious train passengers – young Muslim men who fit the indicators above – Mr. Bloomberg and other leaders not only tie one hand behind law enforcement’s back, but they also unwittingly provide terrorists political cover to carry out their murderous plans. Call it politically correct suicide.