The lunacy of racial profiling

Dr Anthony McRoy

Take a look at some of these photographs of famous Americans. The redheaded Anglo-Saxon-looking girl is actress Khrystyne Haje  and you might be surprised to learn that she is an Arab-American! Casey Kasem, the famous Arab-American DJ and broadcaster has published a work about famous Arab-Americans (http://www.aaiusa.org/famous_arab_americans.htm).

You will be surprised who some of them are. Take Christa McAuliffe, the American as apple-pie mom who lost her life in the Challenger space shuttle disaster. Neither her name nor her looks betray her Arab heritage.

How about actress Shannon Elizabeth, who probably sets many young men's hearts racing? Yes, she's Arab-American, though you would never guess it from her name or her looks.

On the other hand, the Mexican actress Salma Hayek's name displays her Lebanese heritage, but looking at her, most would probably assume that her dark looks are just an indication of Hispanic identity.

The pop star Shakira, who generally performs blonde, is also of mixed Arab and Hispanic origins.

Again, my US friends have been surprised to learn that the famous American footballer Doug Flutie is an Arab-American.

Names are no indication of Arab ethnicity. America has had two Presidents called Roosevelt, but America's longest-serving White House Chief of Protocol, serving seven-and-a-half years under President Reagan, was Ambassador Selwa Roosevelt  an Arab-American. Kasem tells us that on NBC TV, Saturday Night Live's bandleader for many years was guitarist G.E. Smith (His family's Lebanese name, Haddad, means blacksmith). You can't get much more Anglo-Saxon than Smith! Or as Celtic a name as that of the Arab-American actress Kristy McNichol. Many Arab immigrants simply Anglicised their names.


When I visited Libya, I was struck that some Arabs looked Black, others Brown, and some virtually White. Indeed, I have met Arabs who look Scandinavian. The same goes for some Turks and Kurds. Chechens look as European as anyone. One curious fact is that Sudanese Arabs are as Black as the Africans of Darfur  certainly, in America, they would be so-designated.


The point of all this is to display how futile  indeed, lunatic  is racial profiling. Many Arabs look just like Italians or Spaniards  or even Britons! Moreover, Muslims are a multi-racial community. I know UK Pakistani Christians who dress like their Muslim compatriots, eat only halal, and speak Punjabi. Put one against a wall with a Punjabi Sikh, Muslim and Hindu, and apart from distinctive religious clothing you couldn't tell the difference. How many Americans or Britons can tell the difference between Indonesians, Malays and Chinese, Vietnamese or Koreans? There are Black Sub-Saharan Africans like Nigerians or Senegalese. You have even got European Muslims like Bosnians, Albanians and Bulgarian Pomaks.


Yet the FBI is harassing Arab-Americans at their homes or at work. The Christian Science Monitor (1/31/05) has reported that Law enforcement agents have interviewed nearly 200,000 Muslims and others from predominantly Islamic countries; hundreds have been deported or detained for long periods; thousands were subject to a special registration, and now hundreds have been indicted in widely publicized terrorist prosecutions surveillance in these communities is now a given. Despite this, the article observes: Prosecutions of alleged terrorist-related activities, which should represent the most definitive picture of the internal threat, have established very little - if any - evidence of domestic Al Qaeda cells. Nothing else in the public record of this massive law enforcement and intelligence effort suggests that a conspiracy exists - a remarkably clean bill for these communities.

Innocence hasn't stopped racial and sectarian harassment. The Arab American Institute reports that Cases of Middle Eastern looking people refused access on flights have been well documented. There has been a clear spike in stopping cars based on the ethnicity of the drivers. Worse, the FBI has been harassing ordinary Arab-Americans and Muslim-Americans by calling on them at home or work asking them questions such as: How do you feel about the Bush administration? What do you think of U.S. foreign policy in Israel? Interestingly, a poll in Britain at the time of the Iraq war found more Britons regarded Bush as a greater threat to peace than Saddam! A later poll found the Israeli regime to be extremely unpopular among Britons. On this basis, given their criteria as displayed in these questions, the FBI should suspect the majority of Britons as being Al-Qaida supporters!

The naivety of such questions verges on lunacy. It's like a bad Irish joke; as if an Al-Qaida sympathiser is going to volunteer Oh, yes, I hate Bush, and I want to kill all you nasty Yank infidels! Al-Qaida members believe themselves to be at war, and as such they will follow the hadith in Sahih Al-Bukhari 4.269, narrated by Jabir ibn Abdullah: The Prophet said, War is deceit.. They are going to conceal their views and plans from everyone including Arabs and Muslims. They will assume false identities - and everyone knows that passports are easily stolen, bought or forged. Moreover, it is common sense to suspect that they are not going to give themselves names like Bin Abdullah - or even Bin Laden. Rather they will use names such as Gonzalez, Jones, Du Toit or even O'Flaherty!

Moreover, it is quite likely that they will not settle among Arab or Muslim communities, but pass themselves off as African-Americans, White Americans, and Hispanic-Americans. How likely is it that Al-Qaida operatives will turn up at the airport? Every years thousands of Mexicans and other Latinos smuggle themselves across the leaky, indefensible US-Mexico border seeking the American Dream. It is much more likely that Spanish-speaking Al-Qaida operatives will enter via Latin America, join the hordes of Latinos attempting to smuggle themselves into the Promised Land, and pretend to be Hispanics than Arabs. After all, how many know or can tell that Salma Hayek and Shakira are of Arab descent, rather than just Hispanic? We know from the Madrid bombing that there are Spanish-speaking Muslims, and the daughter of my pastor who lives in Spain noted that Spanish people usually cannot distinguish Arabs from themselves.

Francophone Africans can pass themselves off as Haitians who also smuggle themselves across the Caribbean, whilst Anglophone African Muslims can put on the accent to present themselves as African-Americans. Arabs, Turks, Chechens and others can pass themselves off as Euro-Americans. Moreover, we know that the 9/11 hijackers went clubbing, boozing and womanising before their action. They didn't go round wearing beards and Haji caps or Keffiyehs, carrying Qurans. In other words, Al-Qaida sleepers will steer clear of the mosques, away from Muslim/Arab communities, and blend in with other ethnic/religious groups, living an outwardly secular lifestyle. Will the FBI now start calling on White, Black and Hispanic Americans?

We might expect such lunacy from the Bush Administration, but it seems that our own government is also infected with such mental sickness. Home Office Minister Hazel Blears comments that people of Islamic appearance should be prepared to be stop and searched on suspicion drew this comment from the Islamic Human Rights Commission: IHRC is curious as to whether Ms Blears can define Islamic appearance as Muslims consist of every type of ethnic background. Moreover, even those who stand accused of committing the 9-11 attacks were clean-shaven and dressed in Western clothing, the police today are targeting those with long beards and/or dressed in traditional Islamic clothing. If war is deceit, Al-Qaida operatives will be in camouflage  dressing and acting like ordinary Westerners. If they dress in Western gear and go clubbing, how will police tell them apart from Hindus and Sikhs  or if they are light-skinned, from Whites?

Why then is racial/religious profiling continuing in both America and Britain? There are two mutually compatible possibilities. Firstly, our governments need to be seen as doing something against terrorism  however ineffective it may be. The stupid questions that the FBI are asking Arab/Muslim-Americans achieve nothing, but it's good PR, as is stop-and-search in Britain. It presents a facade of pre-emptive vigilance. Secondly, a darker motive may be inferred. The renowned Arab-American academic Professor Yvonne Haddad has written on how as part of Operation Boulder in the 1970s, Arab-Americans were harassed by the FBI with the apparent purpose of intimidating the community and discouraging Arab political activity (Not Quite American?, p. 21). Similar actions have been taken since 9/11 against Muslims. Just as Bull Connor, the racist police chief of Birmingham, Alabama got his men to use whips, clubs, hose pipes and dogs against civil rights campaigners to prevent black equality and empowerment, so the harassment resulting from racial profiling has the same goal  to undermine Arab/Muslim empowerment in Britain and America. It encourages Arabs and Muslims to keep their heads down and avoid political lobbying and campaigning.

However, the fact that racial profiling is targeting anyone even looking Arab or Muslim shows that the ostrich mentality will not save anyone from victimisation. Racial profiling  better termed as racial victimisation  will only end when Arabs and Muslims in America and Britain en masse reach the same mentality as Rosa Parkes who in 1955 refused to give up her seat to a white man on a bus, in Montgomery, Alabama because she was tired and her feet hurt, thereby setting in motion the civil rights struggle. Only when all Arabs and Muslims in Britain and America lobby their MP/Congressman, only when they vote tactically and en bloc to remove racist and hostile members of Parliament and Congress will the lunacy of racial victimisation cease. The question each Arab and Muslim in the West must ask him/herself is: Am I tired and do my feet hurt?

top of the page