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Monday, August 28, 2006

Discrimination won't make air travel safer

In an attempt to protect innocent travelers, members of the U.S. government and national security organizations have suggested installing racial and religious profiling in airports nationwide - singling out and scrutinizing Middle Eastern and Muslim airline passengers.

The thought of such a practice should make any reasonable person cringe - it reeks with discrimination. To target and humiliate a minority group, even for security reasons, creates prolonged bitterness toward the majority. And if only Middle Easterners and Muslims are frisked extensively, Americans are making them into second-class citizens.

In 1954, Oliver Brown - plaintiff in the landmark civil rights case Brown v. Board of Education faced a similar plight. The state of Kansas wouldn't sanction black students' admission into white elementary schools. This obvious separation, which was solely based on skin color, led to a groundbreaking Supreme Court decision in support of the civil rights movement.

In its summary of the case, the Brown Foundation states, "Brown v. Board of Education was not simply about children and education. The laws and policies struck down by this court decision were products of the human tendencies to prejudge, discriminate against and stereotype other people by their ethnic, religious, physical or cultural characteristics."

Sometimes in a democracy, the majority must be compelled to behave in a socially responsible manner in order to prevent rampant discrimination and, possibly, the complete dissolution of a minority group from society.

To put this into perspective, imagine what it would be like to be 5 years old again: You're waiting patiently in the security line at the airport with your parents, and - as you and your entire family are not of Middle Eastern descent - you are greeted with smiles from the security personnel and briskly moved along without even a look of suspicion.

Looking behind you, you notice a boy your age and his family who have dark skin, are wearing traditional Islamic clothing and are being pulled aside by armed security guards. You see the bewildered eyes and humiliation in the faces of these individuals as they are interrogated and searched extensively as Caucasian, Black and Hispanic passengers stroll through security.

The repeated exposure of children to this kind of separation of religious and ethnic groups can only result in subconscious stereotyping of themselves and others. Even if the child grew up in an unprejudiced family, what he or she witnessed will leave a lasting impression. And, therefore, extends the vicious circle of yet another stereotype.

There is, undoubtedly, an essential need to keep a watchful eye on suspicious people in any airport. However, if racial and religious profiling is employed, it will only result in a further injury to American society, and cases such as Brown will become commonplace.

In order to preserve America's principles of equality, we must continue to search all airline passengers regardless of appearance. There will be some irate grandmothers and many confused toddlers, but such is the price we pay for being the freest country in the world. To compromise our civil rights on the basis of racial and religious profiling is a direct, inexcusable violation of American values and the equal protection of law guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. [Link]

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