How A Debate Over Racial Profiling Gets Lost In Nazi Analogies

Philip Rosenthal Republican candidate for Congress

Sixty years ago John F. Kennedy profiled senators who exhibited unusual courage in Profiles in Courage.  Today, our public figures have jettisoned courage for hyperbole to shield themselves from hard questions and debates.

I am so sick of people blithely using Nazi analogies for political gain.  Too often public figures are throwing around comparisons to Hitler, the Gestapo, or the Nazis in general.  This should be way out of bounds in our political debate for two primary reasons.

First and foremost, it’s despicable.  Invoking the Nazis to win an argument in American political debate trivializes the unspeakable evil of the actual Nazis and shows disrespect to those who suffered at their hands.  Perhaps one can say that when ISIS burns children alive it evokes the cruelty of the Nazis, but beyond that, let’s stop the Nazi analogies.

The second reason the analogies must stop if that they end all hope of us having a reasoned political debate at a time when we must have it.  Once the Nazis are invoked, the debate is over, because who wants to be seen as being in support of the Nazis or their practices?

A couple days ago on MSNBC, Lawrence O’Donnell had a segment on “Trump’s Hitlerian disregard for the truth” as he called it, based on a Washington Post editorial by the same name.  Hitlerian?  Trump is like Hitler?  Love him or hate him, I am not aware of Donald Trump exterminating millions of people.  The analogy goes way too far. (I also cannot resist suggesting that if MSNBC really needed an icon of dishonesty, they could have used “Hillarian.” As the words only differ by two letters, I assume it was a typographical error.)

Another example comes in the wake of the terror attacks in Chelsea (in my wonderful district!) New Jersey, and Minnesota.  The attacks induced Donald Trump to raise the controversial issue of profiling.  Having a public debate about profiling is perfectly appropriate in this election season during which we see terror on the rise around the globe.

In response to Mr. Trump’s call to allow profiling, my opponent Jerry Nadler followed the playbook to end the debate, saying, “we don’t want our police to be like the Gestapo.” Fantastic!  I am in total agreement with Mr. Nadler that we do not want our police to be like the Gestapo.  Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way (was it ever a question?), can we get back to the debate about profiling?

Mr. Nadler completely mischaracterizes what Donald Trump has said, and in doing so ironically proves Trump’s point. Mr. Trump said, “if somebody looks like he has a massive bomb on his back, we won’t go up to that person and say I’m sorry because if he looks like he comes from that part of the world we’re not allowed to profile.”  The idea is that because we are afraid of being accused of profiling, we do not investigate that which appears suspicious.  We saw this happen in San Bernardino, where neighbors of the terrorists saw suspicious activity, but did not report it for fear of being called Islamophobes.  Now we can add being afraid of being called a supporter of the Gestapo.  Isn’t this the essence of placing PC ahead of our safety?

Mr. Nadler also confuses criminal profiling with racial or religious profiling.  Criminal profiling is perfectly appropriate.  For example, if police observe that someone is flying often to Syria, reading radical publications, and meeting with other suspected terrorists, the person fits a criminal profile.  An aggressive investigation should follow.

Here’s my view: The number one job of any government is to keep its citizens safe, and we are failing. At the same time, our constitutional liberties are sacred and must be protected. Both goals can be met. I do not want to see us do racial or religious profiling.  We cannot target people solely because they are Muslim.  However, I do want us to consider radical Muslim ideology in our profiling.  I wonder what Mr. Nadler would say if we found a “right wing” group out West that admired Timothy McVeigh and routinely read his writings, or perhaps even read Mein Kampf (as long as we were talking about Nazis).  Perhaps their leader gives impassioned speeches about the need to violently resist intrusions by the federal government.  I hope Mr. Nadler would agree that the FBI should aggressively try to infiltrate this group.  How is it different if we find a group that admires bin Laden and has a leader that preaches that the United States must one day yield to a caliphate?  Does the answer change if the anti-American leader is an Imam in a mosque?  I hope that we would infiltrate that mosque.

Is this targeting Islam?  Absolutely not.  The standard is religion-neutral.  If rabbis or ministers were making similar speeches, the FBI would target the relevant synagogues and churches too.  However, I am not aware of any such rabbis or ministers.  The factual reality is that terror today is resulting from radical Islamic ideology.  There are much too many Islamic leaders in the Middle East who are advocating for terror attacks against the Western world.  Radicalized individuals who return from Afghanistan — as did the perpetrator of the recent Chelsea and New Jersey bombings — or Syria, Iran or Pakistan tend to attend mosques, not synagogues or churches.  As a result, law enforcement has no choice but to pay more attention to mosques than synagogues or churches.  We are not choosing to single out one religion — instead the radical and militant elements of one religion are singling themselves out by attacking us.

I have no doubt that there are many Imams who love America and oppose terrorism as much as any other American.  Their mosques merit little attention from law enforcement.  We also know that there are a number of mosques that were founded and funded by organizations connected with the Muslim Brotherhood and radical Wahhabi groups with the express purpose of spreading radical Muslim ideology.  Here people can get radicalized.  Doesn’t it behoove us to investigate and find out which is which?

Finally Mr. Nadler, I am sure you are aware that Israel uses profiling.  Are you then accusing Israel of Gestapo tactics?  There is no country in the world more opposed to the Nazis and all their practices than Israel.  Mr. Nadler, please assure us that you are not criticizing Israel’s approach to fighting terrorism.

Dr. Philip J. Rosenthal is the co-founder and President of Fastcase, Inc. and the Republican and conservative nominee for Congress in the New York’s 10th congressional district, which includes Wall Street and Ground Zero.