By Anne L. Thompson
In the wake of the failed terrorist attack aboard Northwest Airlines flight 253 on Christmas day, conservatives are once again calling on the U.S. government to engage profiling in counterterrorism efforts.
Radio host Mike Gallagher told listeners, 'There should be a separate line to scrutinize anybody with the name Abdul or Ahmed or Mohammed.' On Twitter and The Today Show, Newt Gingrich and Rep. Peter King (R-NY) have suggested that U.S. authorities should target individuals based on their ethnic and religious backgrounds.
These ideas suffer from terrible tunnel vision that fails to correctly isolate the terrorist threat.
Gallager's approach would let terrorists named Osama, Khalid, or Nidal slide by without increased inspection. And profiling on ethnicity or religion would have missed shoe-bomber Richard Reid, an American, and the alleged Anthrax killer Edward Ivins, a catholic. The recommendations of Gallager, Gingrich and King are clearly too close-minded and fail to appreciate the full scope of the threat facing America.
Re-examining the facts, what is the one characteristic that distinguishes the aforementioned terrorists, plus all of the September 11th hijackers and the 775 individuals who have been detained at Guantanamo Bay?
The answer: They are all men. It's not race, ethnicity, nor creed that is the best predictor of whether you will commit violent acts against innocent civilians. No, the best proxy is genitalia.
If there is any group that has earned increased scrutiny in the age of terrorism, it is the male population.
So what can we do to prevent the world's men from blowing up things?
As the recent case of Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab demonstrates, putting them all on the America's basic terrorist watch list-- the intelligence community's first level of surveillance-- does not offer enough protection. Yet placing 3.4 billion men on the No Fly List would be a preposterously extreme response. Instead, we are looking for an effective -- but moderated -- response that will both protect the American people and live up to our democratic principles.
An appropriate middle ground would require all men to be strip-searched before any domestic flight or international flight destined for the U.S. While full body scanners have received a lot of attention for being able to reveal explosives hidden under clothes, these devices cannot detect devices stowed within critical body orifices.
Now, I know you're thinking this is a great idea-- except for one thing. Just because men have carried out the vast majority of the history of terrorist acts, this doesn't mean women can't embark on global jihad.
It is true that last month the wife of bin-Laden's top deputy Ayman Zawahri called on women to join al-Qaeda's ranks. But from what we've seen in the past, we can't expect them to be as skilled at warfare as men. Remember the woman affiliated with al-Qaeda in Iraq who couldn't even get her explosives to go off at the hotel bombing in Jordan? This is not a group we have to take too seriously.
As Gingrich wrote in his recent op-ed in Human Events, if we want to address the threat of terrorism, we will have to stop being constrained by political correctness. We must target the population that is the source of the problem instead of creating a new slew of flight regulations that disproportionately affect everyday people. If we are going to win the war on terror, we must refocus our resources on the single group that provides the greatest threat: men.