According to the Congressional Research Service, “profiling” is defined “as the practice of targeting individuals for police or security interdiction, detention or other disparate treatment based primarily on their race or ethnicity [or religion], in the belief that certain minority groups are more likely to engage in unlawful behavior.” The debate on profiling has again resurfaced after 9/11 and its most affected groups have been the American Muslim, Arab and South Asian communities.

A July 2001 Gallup poll reported that 55 percent of whites and 83 percent of blacks believe racial profiling is still widespread in America. According to Amnesty International, about 32 million (one out of nine) Americans, a number equivalent to the population of Canada, report they have already been victims of racial profiling.

Amnesty also finds that approximately 87 million (1 out of 3) Americans are at a high risk of being subjected to future racial profiling during their lifetime. A year-long study conducted by the Domestic Human Rights Program of Amnesty International USA found that the unlawful use of race in police, immigration and airport security procedures has expanded since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Many Americans have heard of the recent case of six American imams (Muslim prayer leaders) who were summarily removed from a U.S. Airways flight from Minneapolis to Phoenix in November 2006. Notwithstanding that the imams had already cleared Transportation Security Administration security checkpoints, these imams were removed merely because some of them offered the evening Islamic prayers in the airport terminal before the flight. It should be noted that false media reports after the incident stated some of the following false claims: The imams were praying inside the plane, they were chanting pro-Saddam statements, and other silly accusations.

The case of the imams’ ejection from an airliner highlights the growing politics of fear and how this hysteria is manifesting itself in our American social fabric.

However, it is actually two other recent cases that clearly highlight the ignorance, paranoia and hysteria of the new post-9/11 profiling phenomenon of “Flying While Muslim.”

In September 2006, an Orthodox Jewish man was removed from an Air Canada flight from Montreal to New York for merely praying in his seat. According to media reports, flight attendants actually recognized that he wasn’t a Muslim and that they were sorry for the situation but they had to ask him to leave. Rabbis in Montreal criticized the move as insensitive, saying that the flight attendants should have explained to the other passengers that the man was simply praying and doing no harm.

My sentiments exactly, rabbis.

In another absurd case of vigilante profiling on airplanes, London-based interior-design guru Seth Stein would be kicked off an American Airlines flight simply because of his tan. According to British newspapers, Mr. Stein never “could have imagined being mistaken for an Islamist terrorist and physically pinned to his seat while aboard an American Airlines flight ­ especially as he has Jewish origins.” He has since been told by airline staff he was targeted because he was using an iPod, had used the toilet when he got on the plane and that his tan made him appear “Arab.” According to media reports, the saddest part of Mr. Stein’s harrowing ordeal was that as he was being head-locked and pinned to the ground; instead of outrage, applause came from fellow passengers.

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to be safe from unreasonable search and seizure. In addition, the 14th Amendment requires that all U.S. citizens be treated equally under the law. It has been argued that this makes it unconstitutional for a representative of the government to make decisions based on race. This view has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in Batson v. Kentucky and several other cases.

Sen. Russell Feingold (D.-Wis.) on the introduction of his End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA) of 2004, said that: “President Bush declared that racial profiling is wrong and pledged to end it in America. He then directed his attorney general to implement this policy.”

Senator Feingold continued by saying, “It is now three years later, and the American people are still waiting for the president to follow through on his pledge to end racial profiling.”

From the FBI to local law-enforcement officials to conservative Republican senators, all serious people who know about protecting our national security have repeatedly stated that racial profiling is not an effective law-enforcement tool. As Americans, we deserve laws that are based on intelligence and evidence, not on a bunch of vigilante passengers on airplanes with rhetorical pitchforks hysterically pointing out who should be allowed to fly on our nation’s airlines.

For to judge someone by the color of his skin (or the religion to which they adhere) and not on any evidence of criminal suspicion is not only inherently racist and antithetical to our beloved Constitution, but also against every American democratic principle that makes our nation the greatest country.

Arsalan Iftikhar is national legal director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), based in Washington.


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