Is profiling the answer?

Pamela Varkony Contributor
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Traditionally, Thanksgiving marks the official start of what has become known in America as “the holidays”: From the celebration of the Islamic New Year to Christian Christmas, and the African heritage festival of Kwanza, it is a season for loving, giving, and sharing.

Unless you’re a deranged zealot, in which case it’s a season for mass murder.

The “underwear bomber,” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who hoped to blow up a plane over Detroit on Christmas Day, 2009, nearly succeeded. Only his ineptness and the courage of nearby passengers prevented a potential tragedy. Abdulmutallab reportedly told U.S. investigators that he received training and instructions from Al Qaeda operatives in Yemen.

This year’s Al Qaeda-inspired Christmas elf delivered a van filled with explosives to a tree lighting ceremony in Portland, Oregon, with full knowledge, and according to FBI transcripts, full anticipation, that the resulting explosion could kill thousands, including children.

Those two incidents, along with the foiled May 2010 plot to bomb Times Square, by Faisal Shahzad, who told a federal judge at his sentencing, “Brace yourselves, because the war with Muslims has just begun,” could mean that the biggest dilemma facing many government officials this season is not what to get Aunt Kitty; it’s whether to gift our enemies with a lifetime membership in the terrorist profiling club.

Yes, “profiling” is anathema to most of us; it flies in the face of the Fourth Amendment in particular and our proudly-held cultural freedoms in general, but when you have naturalized American college kids willing to blow up their friends and neighbors, it seems to come down to “whatever it takes” to protect us.

The mayor of Portland, Sam Adams, found out very quickly that “civil rights concerns” don’t hold a Christmas candle to the prospect of thousands of dead citizens. Adams, who kept his notoriously liberal city from joining the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, has announced he is reconsidering that decision.

Apparently the Somali-American community has a few civil rights concerns of their own. According to a Portland area newspaper, Pioneer Press, Omar Jamal, first secretary for the Somali mission to the United Nations in New York City, said his office has received “thousands of calls” from Somalis in the United States who are concerned about tactics used by federal agents in the sting operation against Mohamud. “What did they tell him to go along with this heinous crime?” Jamal said.

Mr. Secretary, this incident is not about entrapment; it’s about ideological extremism and religious hatred. Instead of blaming the FBI, perhaps you should be examining what messages, real or imagined, this young man received from his religious and community leaders that would make him turn against a country that has provided him with safety and sanctuary.

The situation in which we, as Americans, find ourselves is a dilemma of conscience versus reality. The fact that the terrorists who have sworn to destroy us have not been successful in blowing up planes, trains, and buses is a testament to our law enforcement and security agencies — and our luck.

The odds are that eventually someone will succeed at creating mass mayhem. Perhaps it will take another such incident before we are willing to consider that to date every such attempt has been perpetrated by someone who likely could have been identified in advance. Using the Israeli model of looking for behavioral patterns rather than racial or cultural characteristics could be a basis upon which to begin building a U.S. program.

In the meantime, we’ll continue to see video of grandmothers and children being x-rayed and patted down at airports, because their Fourth Amendment rights are not nearly as important as those of the people who want to kill them.

Pamela Varkony is a writer, commentator, and political observer. Her advocacy for women’s empowerment has crossed four continents including two fact-finding missions to Afghanistan. Her blog is PamelaVarkony.com.