Magazine | January 25, 2010, Issue

The Problem and the Profile

If you’re Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, Sept. 11, 2001, was a third of a lifetime ago. He was a 14-year-old pupil at the British school in Lome, Togo, when Osama bin Laden remade the New York landscape. I doubt 9/11 resonates terribly fiercely in the breasts of, say, the average Californian 23-year-old, for whom the intervening years will have brought many lively diversions. But the best part of a decade later, the Knickerbomber loaded up his undies for a one-man reprise of that magnificent blow against the Great Satan. This time, hundreds would die in the air, and more on the ground, assuming the debris fell on the few remaining inhabited blocks of metropolitan Detroit.

He was a good choice: A well-spoken, Westernized Muslim from a respectable family, born in Nigeria, seduced in London, trained in Yemen, booked through Amsterdam, seated where he could do the most damage, and ordered not to light up his scanties until over the American metropolis.

That’s pretty sophisticated. In return, the TSA imposed even more irrelevant prohibitions on you, me, and everyone else. That’s pretty stupid.

But what can you do? We’re told by the administration that Mr. Abdulmutallab wasn’t actually on the no-fly list proper, only on the standby list for the no-fly list. But roll your eyes at the Security Kabuki while in line at Newark and some vindictive clod will fast-track you and your four-year-old kid onto it for the next decade.

This is where we came in. In the fall of 2001, Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta was all but declaring it a source of national pride that 87-year-old nuns were being as aggressively searched as young Saudi males. More so, in fact. No profiling for us, no sir. That’s fine for some fantasy cop show in which you’re trying to track down a serial killer, but in the real world of Secretary Mineta there are 8 million stories in the Naked City and he wants to hear all of them before drawing any conclusions. Eight years on, the granny patdowns are the responsibility of Janet Napolitano and the TSA. New pol, new acronym, new cap badge, same jokes.

In the least unserious of their otherwise risible reactions to the Pantybomber, the United States government announced that henceforth citizens of ten “countries of interest” and four terror-sponsoring states, from Nigeria to Pakistan, would be subject to additional security. It has taken almost ten years for “Homeland Security” to venture this first tentative step toward recognizing that the 7 billion residents of Planet Earth do not all pose the same risk.

#page#Of course, if you’re a Nigerian Christian, you pose no security risk, either. Nigerian Anglicans — of whom there are more in the pews of a Sunday morning than in Britain, Canada, and America combined — have differences with the Episcopal Church over its curious fetishization of gay bishops, but not to the extent that they’re minded to fill their gusset with PETN and book a flight to O’Hare. Yet Nigeria’s Christians will now be hauled off for secondary screening.

On the other hand, the threat posed by Yemen and Pakistan is not confined to those who travel on Yemeni and Pakistani passports. There are many Muslims with Western passports who shuttle back and forth between their countries and ours. Indeed, the flight routes between Britain and Pakistan are some of the busiest in the world — a lot of innocent stuff like picking up the child bride, but some trips whose purposes are not so clear.

Come to think of it, if we’re profiling, why not the Brits? Americans do the shoeless shuffle for every 40-minute puddlejump because of one British subject — Richard Reid, the shoe bomber. Americans dutifully put their restricted quantities of shampoo and cough medicine in approved plastic sacks because of more British subjects — the Heathrow plotters. And now Americans will be forbidden to go to the bathroom or read a paperback book or whatever halfwit stricture the TSA has settled on this week because of a British university student, Mr. Abdulmutallab.

Obviously — although less obviously than a decade ago — not every Briton is a terrorist risk: One would probably not need to screen David Beckham, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, Rod Stewart . . . Nevertheless, according to the New York Times, of Britain’s half million university students, one-fifth are Muslim. And, according to a poll by the Centre for Social Cohesion, one-third of British Muslim students favor a global caliphate and believe killing in the name of religion is justified. Presumably only a small percentage are so gung-ho that they’d be willing to stuff the explosives in their briefs. But they provide a large comfort zone for the jihad to operate in.

More important, the very normalcy of their views makes the “security” system’s job impossible. After all, these views can hardly be “extremist” (President Obama’s preferred evasion) if they’re entirely routine. And even the Bush concept of a “war on terror” implicitly concedes that you can share all the goals of Mr. Abdulmutallab and his trainers in Yemen but, simply because you’re not prepared to blow up over Michigan in service to them, be perfectly respectable.

From 9/11 to Christmas Day 2009 was eight years and three months. Nudge the calendar forward a similar distance, to the spring of 2018. What proportion of British students will be Muslim by then? And what proportion of them will support sharia, the new caliphate, and death by apostasy?

We cannot win this way. And if we do not change course soon, we will surely lose.

Mark Steyn — Mark Steyn is an international bestselling author, a Top 41 recording artist, and a leading Canadian human-rights activist. That’s to say, his latest book, After America (2011), is a top-five bestseller in ...

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