To gratify Arab-American voters in the swing state of Michigan, in the October 11th Presidential debate Republican nominee George W. Bush called for weakening two counter-terrorism policies. "Arab-Americans are [racially] profiled in what's called secret evidence. People are stopped, and we got to do something about that," Governor Bush said. "My friend, Sen. Spence Abraham [the Arab-American Republic Senator from Michigan], is pushing a law to make sure that . . . Arab-Americans are treated with real respect."
Although Governor Bush conflated two issues, Arab Americans appreciated the gesture. According to a spokesperson for a leading Arab-American organization, their highest domestic priority is the repeal of the "secret evidence" section of the 1996 Anti-Terrorism Act. To prevent terrorist gangs from murdering U.S. government secret informants, this law allows the government to provide evidence from unidentified moles in the immigration hearings of foreigners suspected of terrorist links. The government has deported or detained a number of Arabs hoping to immigrate to the U.S. due to testimony by witnesses they were never allowed to confront.
Similarly, people of Arab descent are stopped and searched at airports more often than many other ethnic groups. This is because the secret "profiles" given security workers advising them whom to watch most closely are believed to refer to the fact that a disproportionate number of hijackers and bombers have been Arabs.
The day after Governor Bush's remarks, 17 American sailors died in a terrorist attack in the Arab nation of Yemen. The bombing of the U.S.S. Cole, however, did not stop Vice President Al Gore from echoing Bush's calls to end these two anti-terrorist techniques in a meeting with Arab-American leaders on October 14th. Ironically, on October 20th an Egyptian-born immigrant Ali A. Mohamed plead guilty in Federal District Court to helping Osama Bin Laden plan the 1998 bombing of the America Embassy in Kenya. ...
The success of Arab-Americans this year in rallying heavyweight politicians against "secret evidence" may mark a turning point in the long, previously one-sided political struggle between Arabs and Jews in the U.S. Arab-Americans seem to be on the verge of wining on an issue opposed by leading Jewish powerhouses. On May 23, the Anti-Defamation League gave testimony before Congress, co-signed by the American Jewish Congress and B'nai B'rith, in favor of keeping some version of secret evidence.
There is some room for compromise on secret evidence and airport profiling. A Jewish counter-terrorism researcher suggested, for example, that airport security personnel should be trained to be more courteous. Nonetheless, anti-terrorism policy remains essentially a zero-sum contest between Arab-Americans and Jewish-Americans. The stronger the measures, the more innocent Arabs who will be harassed. The weaker the measures, the more Jews who are threatened by political violence.
Besides their ever-increasing numbers, Arab-Americans are gaining power because they've now mastered the traditional liberal Jewish vocabulary that elevates what might seem like practical clashes in power politics into tests of moral principle. On secret evidence and airport profiling, Arab lobbies have put Jewish organizations in the uncomfortable position of championing law and order over civil liberties, racial equality, and immigrants' rights.
The Bush Administration conducted a study in June 2001 to ascertain whether airport personnel had stopped subjecting Arabs to more security scrutiny.
We now know that the airport ticket agent who checked in Mohammed Atta on the morning of 9/11/2001 said to himself, as he told Oprah in 2005:
"I got an instant chill when I looked at [Atta]. I got this grip in my stomach and then, of course, I gave myself a political correct slap."
Michael Touhey told a reporter:
Then Tuohey went through an internal debate that still haunts him.
"I said to myself, 'If this guy doesn't look like an Arab terrorist, then nothing does.' Then I gave myself a mental slap, because in this day and age, it's not nice to say things like this," he said. "You've checked in hundreds of Arabs and Hindus and Sikhs, and you've never done that. I felt kind of embarrassed."
It wasn't just Atta's demeanor that caught Tuohey's attention.
"When I looked at their tickets, they had first-class, one-way tickets - $2,500 tickets. Very unusual," he said. "I guess they're not coming back. Maybe this is the end of their trip."
Indeed, it was.