I was born and raised in Los Angeles. I am a woman. A Christian. A graduate of UCLA. I bleed red, white and blue. I am, uh, thirty-something. And, one more thing, I am Egyptian.
Why does any of this matter? Because some of the above characteristics have come to the forefront of conversation since September 11, 2001.
Not all those defining characteristics show up on paper. For example, I sometimes get junk mail for “Mr. Lores Rizkalla.” Since the junk mailers don’t have the benefit of seeing my Just A Woman website, they don’t always know what to make of my name. Also, I have had many a puzzled acquaintance at the discovery that my Egyptian family has given me a protestant Christian heritage. (Protestant Christians are the minority of the approximately 5% of Christians in Egypt). Again, something not readily available on paper.
I believe it was July 2002 when I was taking a little trip to Nashville. (I know, I know. Who would voluntarily go to Nashville? Only the dearest of friends would make Nashville an option.) In any case, I began socializing with the gentlemen behind the counter at my LAX departure gate. Very nice people, harassing me for having talked on my cell phone the entire time I was in line. We continued to chat when there was a sudden look of confusion on this man’s face. He didn’t do anything unusual but seemed to be pressing more keys on the key board with a bit of frustration.
I didn’t think anything of it. “Old computer,” I thought. “Poor guy must have to deal with the problems of a dinosaur computer all day!” As his tapping turned into pounding, I realized there was a problem. The gathering of two others who joined him now also gave me a hint that perhaps it wasn’t a computer problem after all. When my gift of observing the obvious kicked in, I asked them if there was a problem.
“It doesn’t make sense. But, there’s some kind of security check on your name,” he said. They looked at each other, looked at me and then looked at each other with that same I-don’t-get-it look. Long story short, about 40 minutes later, they circumvented the system in order to clear me to get on the plane.
While I’d started to get nervous about making my flight, I breathed a sigh of relief. It may not have made sense to them but it did to me. On paper, I was a 30-something Egyptian who may have been male trying to get on a non-stop cross-country flight.
I wasn’t just relieved to get on my flight to see my friends. I knew that they would eventually figure out that I was safe. I was thrilled and thanked them for having stopped someone with my profile. I know we’ve heard this before. But, it is worth repeating that not every Middle Easterner is a terrorist. But on September 11, every one of those terrorists was male, Muslim and Middle Eastern.
So the drama that has ensued over racial profiling is absolutely ridiculous to me. If there’s nothing to hide, then aren’t you happy to get on a plane or a train knowing they’ve checked anyone fitting the profile? Sure, there may be others who don’t fit the profile. But, does that excuse us from checking those who do?
The debate now surrounds New York subways. Police are taking measures to make sure that here is no profiling. Are you kidding? I find it absolutely irresponsible to not profile. In a recent MSNBC report, David Aarsonson of American University’s Washington College of Law said this: “Can they focus on Arab Muslim men? Probably not.”
Aarsonson went on to explain the reasoning. “They have to have procedures for who gets selected, whether it’s every fifth or tenth person, which involve neutral criteria.” It appears that political correctness has replaced common sense. I’m sure Osama bin Laden is loving this! Is this the best way to ensure the safety of the American people? I highly doubt it.
While I think it is critically important to protect our individual liberties from further and future government involvement in our lives, we must grapple with the reality of our post-9/11 world. I’m not advocating a limitation of our individual rights. What I am proposing is a little wisdom, common sense and strategy in the war on terror, the greatest threat not only to liberties but to our very lives.