FOR THE WEEK OF AUG. 21, 2006
Security jitters revive ethnic profiling concerns
Divergent voices and views on this topic appear in newspapers, as with any publicly debated issue. Assign class members to find ethnic profiling comments in recent issues or online archives by checking news articles, editorials, letters and opinion columns.
Editors, reporters and photographers work to reflect their communities’ diversity by including ethnic group members in routine coverage – not just in reports about issues affecting them. Invite students to spot examples of this “mainstreaming” or suggest ways that journalists can be more inclusive so that Arab Americans, for instance, become sources for articles that are not about the Middle East or ethnic profiling
Arrange a town hall-style classroom forum on the responsibility of news media to counteract racial or ethnic profiling. How can they serve the public interest through coverage and by exploring this issue? What grade would students give their daily paper in this sensitive area?
Recent headlines suggested terror in the heartland: Two 20-year-old Arab-Americans were arrested in Ohio with $10,837 in cash and hundreds of pre-paid cell phones. Three others with 1,000 cell phones and photos of a landmark I-75 bridge were nabbed in Michigan. But after suggestions of a homeland security threat were aired and printed around the country, the FBI and local prosecutors backed off -- provoking protests from Muslim-American groups that see these cases as examples of ethnic profiling.
Authorities dropped terrorism-related charges against both sets of men last week. Critics say the arrests and sensational news coverage reflect a rush to judgment that has put Arab-Americans under suspicion since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. “It's disappointing when you consider a place your home, and they take that from you," says Diana Houssaiky of Dearborn, Mich., whose brother was one of the suspects held seven days in Ohio. "They don't stop white guys with a bunch of cell phones," says Arsalan Iftikhar, national legal director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "If they did that, there would by an uproar. But do it to Arab-Americans and nobody says anything."
Some Muslims say they come under extra scrutiny when they fly, enter government buildings and photograph tourist attractions – nervousness that has been revived by British arrests in an alleged airline terrorism plot this month. The young men who aroused suspicion in Ohio and Michigan simply were buying popular TracFones for resale, their lawyers say.
Others respond that Muslim Americans should blame the terrorist group Al Qaeda for security safeguards that put their activities under special attention at this time of war-like precautions. The FBI had alerted law enforcers nationwide to watch for large purchases of cell phones, which terrorists can use as bomb detonators and to elude eavesdropping wiretaps.
Arab Americans say: “This is a very alarming trend and we have every right to be concerned. . . . They can just make an allegation that can ruin people's lives, simply because of ethnicity and national origin." -- Imad Hamad, Midwest regional director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee
Talk show host says: “It's time to admit that profiling is not a dirty word. Profiling is street smarts by any other name. It's the common-sensical recognition that while America is not threatened by an entire community, she is under siege by a certain element of an identifiable group, and law enforcement needs to target its resources accordingly.” – Michael Smerconish, Philadelphia radio host and author of Flying Blind: How Political Correctness Continues to Compromise Airline Safety Post 9/11.
Conservative writer says: “This [British] terrorist plot -- like all other terrorist plots -- was stopped by ethnic profiling. . . . It is a fact that you could not catch 24 Muslim terrorists by surveilling everyone in Britain equally.” – Ann Coulter, best-selling author
Front Page Talking Points Archive