“Jihad Jane”: One more argument against profiling

The story of Colleen LaRose reminds us that we can't know what a terrorist looks like

Topics: Terrorism, Broadsheet, Love and Sex,

"Jihad Jane": One more argument against profilingIn this June 26, 1997 booking photo released by the Tom Green County Jail in San Angelo, Texas, is shown Colleen R. LaRose. LaRose, the self-described "Jihad Jane" who thought her blond hair and blue eyes would let her blend in as she sought to kill an artist in Sweden, is a rare case of an American woman aiding foreign terrorists and shows the evolution of the global threat, authorities say. LaRose is accused in an indictment filed Tuesday, March 9, 2010, of actively recruiting fighters, as well as agreeing to murder the artist, marry a terrorism suspect so he could move to Europe and martyr herself if necessary. (AP Photo/Tom Green County Jail)(Credit: AP)

Anyone who’s paid attention to analysis of racial profiling from sources other than right-wing radio talk show hosts has probably gathered by now that it does not work so well. Kim Zetter and Patrick Smith have written about it for Salon, and Malcolm Gladwell famously compared it to (also misguided) legislation banning particular dog breeds. It unfairly targets innocent people, it’s been shown to produce fewer accurate identifications of criminals than not profiling, it wastes resources and of course, it leaves out every baddie who doesn’t fit the profile.

This last point is inevitably brushed away by proponents of racial profiling, who think it should be obvious that Arab men are far more likely to be terrorists than, say, middle-aged white ladies, and that justifies far more scrutiny of the former group. Stories about men of color being killed by police who presumed too much, or white English men boarding planes with explosives, or white Texan men flying planes into federal buildings never seem to make a dent in such opinions. But the indictment this week of American Colleen “Jihad Jane” LaRose, who along with foreign terrorists was involved in a plot to kill a Swedish artist, has produced an unusually large onslaught of commentary on the limits and dangers of the practice. Are people finally getting the picture?

You Might Also Like

They should be, since even LaRose herself pointed out the obvious. “On the Internet, she allegedly boasted that her appearance and nationality would allow her to travel freely and without scrutiny as she went about her mission,” writes The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson. As Patrick Smith has written in his “Ask the Pilot” column something like five billion times since September 11, 2001, the greatest weapon those 19 al-Qaeda members had going for them was not box-cutters but the element of surprise. That was also what made pregnant Irish woman Anne-Marie Murphy seem like a good choice to (unwittingly) carry a bomb onto an El-Al plane for her boyfriend in 1986. Obviously, it’s not that hard for terrorist organizations to recruit someone who looks nothing like the men Newt Gingrich thinks should be “actively discriminated against” — so what do you suppose their next strategy would be if racial profiling became official policy? (Or probably already is, given the unofficial discrimination happening at airports all over the place.)

And the idea that we all know what a terrorist looks like is dangerous not only because it means people like LaRose might teach us the hard way that we don’t, or because it puts innocent people at risk of tragic overreactions by authority figures, but because it reinforces the idea that “terrorism” is only committed by one kind of person. Colleen LaRose is nothing but the latest in a long line of white American terrorists: Timothy McVeigh, Ted Kaczynski, Shelley Shannon, Eric Rudolph, Bruce Ivins, Scott Roeder, James von Brunn, Andrew Stack III — the list goes on. This country is crawling with hate groups and disturbed loners with axes to grind, many of whom share a race and at least loosely a religion, but somehow, you never hear calls for increased scrutiny of white people or Christians. You never hear anyone suggest those groups should be expected to give up their rights, privacy and dignity for the good of us all.

Nor should anyone suggest that, since it would undoubtedly lead to — get this — wasted law enforcement resources, harassment of innocent people and missed opportunities to catch criminals who don’t fit the profile. If all “looking like a terrorist” means is that you share a race with someone who’s committed an act of terrorism, then guess what, every single American qualifies. So even if you believe racial profiling is appropriate, the only logical move is to treat us all as equally suspicious.

 

Kate Harding is the co-author of "Lessons From the Fatosphere: Quit Dieting and Declare a Truce With Your Body" and has been a regular contributor to Salon's Broadsheet.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>