Thursday, August 04, 2005

TERRORISM/COMMENT: Profiling the unprofilable ...

Former ASIO Assistant Director Michael Roach suggests that police should adopt the unorthodox practice of racial profiling. He told the ABC television program Lateline on 2 August 2005 that Muslims should expect to be approached ...
... because of their beliefs, their dress and their colour.
So there you have it. An intelligence expert providing an idea of what kind of approaches police should use to gather intelligence. And with al due respect to Mr Roach, the suggested approaches are not all that intelligent.

Firstly, as Islamic Council of Victoria spokesman Waleed Aly rightly notes, any terrorist planner will no longer use persons of Middle Eastern appearance to carry out their attacks.

But more importantly, when persons are targeted because they “look” Muslim, the social collateral damage could be enormous. A few examples will illustrate this.

In 1991, while still at university, I commenced teaching scripture classes to Muslim children at Hampden Park Public School in Lakemba. The school principal took me around to all classes and asked Muslim children to identify themselves. I remember seeing in one class a young girl with blonde hair stand up when the principal made her request. The Principal remared:
Jasmina, why are you standing up? You don’t look Muslim.
Poor Jasmina started to cry. She later told me that her mum was Muslim and her late father was Serbian Orthodox Christian.

I have a friend whose father is Irish Catholic and mother is Indian Hindu. She walks half an hour each day from Potts Point to Town Hall, from where she catches a train to her university. Typically, she carries a backpack.

My friend rang me on the evening of 2 August at almost midnight. She had just finished watching Lateline. She was absolutely terrified.
I think they are going to arrest me one day. I’d better stop carrying a backpack.
My friend’s problem is that she fits the racial profiling criteria set by Mr Roach. She has olive skin, dark brown hair and is of Middle Eastern appearance. Yet she was born in Canberra Hospital and attended an Anglican college throughout high school. Her father was about to join the priesthood until he met her mother.

Another friend of mine never met her Muslim father. She works behind a bar, and enjoys drinking a mixture of champagne and orange juice. Apart from her name, there is little to suggest her Muslim background. Yet her appearance and her name make her a suspect.

One young Imam in Lakemba looks about as much a terrorist as any other Australian with red hair and green eyes. Although he is Palestinian, his ancestry is most probably Greek.

After September 11, Strathfield Council organised an inter-faith memorial service. One young imam said a small prayer in Arabic and English. He was wearing a suit and tie. After he finished, one Muslim asked him:
Imam, why are you wearing European dress?
The imam’s response?
Because I am European.
This imam was from Sarajevo.

The Melbourne Age recently reported that young Bosnians form the backbone of some extremist groups linked to the notorious Mohammed Omran in Melbourne. Should any of these young men take part in a terrorist attack, and should racial profiling be the order of the day, they will probably go unnoticed.

Racial profiling will result in innocent Australians being profiled and presumed terrorists (or at best terror suspects). Further, the fact is that many Muslims simply do not fit the profile. And to suggest that mainstream Muslim beliefs support suicide bombing and other terrorist acts is ludicrous.

Australians should be concerned about fighting terror. And the Muslim community is perhaps Australia’s best weapon in this war. Muslim Australians have in the past provided useful evidence which has averted numerous attacks on Australian targets. Racial profiling will do little to carry forward this good work. Instead, it will further marginalise anyone fitting the ethnic profile, this creating social tensions and divisions. The only benefactor will be terrorists themselves.

Words © 2005 Irfan Yusuf