Get spied on without doing anything wrong

By D. PARVAZ | If you’re wondering how desperate of a pickle we’re in in our “war on terror,” check out the following item: The Department of Justice is mulling over whether to let the FBI investigate U.S. citizens and legal residents without evidence of wrongdoing. Instead, investigators would be allowed to use racial profiling, targeting, according to The Associated Press, “Muslim, Arabs or other racial and ethnic groups. … The changes would allow FBI agents to ask open-ended questions about activities of Muslim- or Arab-Americans, or investigate them if their jobs and backgrounds match trends that analysts deem suspect.” Attorney General Michael Mukasey denies this is happening. Then again, just as he doesn’t consider waterboarding torture, perhaps Mukasey has a new term for racial profiling (“racial recognition” would sound downright complimentary). Also, senior FBI agents and law enforcement officials spoke to the AP about the potential new guidelines, so we know it was/is being considered. Say hello to the World War II days, when just being Japanese was enough to be seen as a threat. So, we’re being told that racial profiling might be allowed as a legitimate investigative tool. I guess that means all that warrantless spying on thousands of Americans, snooping through our mail and e-mail and keeping tabs on whom we call hasn’t been yielding much in the way of evidence. Anyway.

Let’s assume that this is morally acceptable and that it doesn’t violate our civil liberties. And let’s not dwell on the fact that once this sort of thing is applied to one group, it can be applied to any other group. In a world where there’s no need for real evidence, we’re to rely on the threatening (at least in part, right?) characteristics of today’s baddies, the Muslim/Arab/Whatever. Except, well, what does that really mean?

Islam is a religion, not a race. So this would be religious profiling as much as anything else. While we frown on countries that give Jews, Baha’is and Christians a bad time, as in other cases (nuclear energy), we’re considering granting ourselves an exemption.

Also, “Arab” is not a race. It’s not even a nationality. Arabs are a Semitic people. That word, Semitic, is used to describe a family of languages (including Hebrew), a culture and perhaps a common ancestry between the speakers of those languages. So, ethnicity, language and religion can cross boundaries of race and nationality. For example, Iranians aren’t Semitic — they were originally considered to be Indo-European (again, a language group) or Aryan. Like other cultures, Iran’s is a bit of a mishmash. So, “Aryan” is also used to describe Persian language, culture and lineage. It’s a tribal, not racial, designation. And yet, though originally Zoroastrian, Iran is now an Islamic Republic. That’s not even taking into account what happens when we look to Serbia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Southeast Asia or North Africa and beyond, where people can sure seem Muslimy, but might not be. And so what if they were? Well, if they move here, they might get profiled for just being who they are.

Now, back to the point: Who would we look for? Apparently someone who may or may not be involved in suspicious activity but who is perhaps vaguely associated with the culture, geography, language or religion of (as one friend calls me) The People of the Sand. I’m not trashing the idea of behavioral profiles, and I don’t think FBI agents are racist. But this notion of targeting a racial/ethnic/religious group for sweeping investigations, sans evidence, is a bad idea.

In a sane world, this thing would go about as far as being uttered in a morning meeting somewhere in the J. Edgar Hoover Building in Washington, D.C., before someone would kill it with a, “What the?!? Racial profiling?!? That’s your bright idea? Get out. No, really, just put down the muffin and leave.” However, we live in far dimmer times. Those who aren’t alarmed by racial profiling ought to consider what makes this country special and think about what will be left to protect in a fascistic society where the individual’s basic rights — and our ideal of equal rights — are meaningless.

Just how much of this nonsense are we supposed to suck up in the name of national security?