Jewish World Review June 26, 2002/ 16 Tamuz, 5762

Wesley Pruden

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Consumer Reports

Does a beard make
a Baptist a terrorist | The Bush administration has clearly lost the momentum that seemed irresistible in the wake of September 11, when all ambiguity was blown away on a date that shares infamy.

The prospect of hanging concentrates the mind, as Dr. Johnson famously said, but nothing is permanent. Nothing much has happened since September 11, so a lot of us have stepped down from the gallows and back to the carefree life. Some of the things the government has done - color-coded warnings, streets-closings to make motorcades safe, warnings of suitcase bombs posted from Moscow - have hardly helped.

The lick-and-a-promise approach to the turmoil in the Middle East suggests that not only is the administration not sure what to do, but it hardly knows how to do it. The only people in the government with focused passion are the faceless ciphers in Foggy Bottom who undermine the Israelis, our only authentic friends in that tortured region of the world, at every opportunity. We would never reward terrorists with a state of their own, so we give them a state and call it something else.

Rhetoric is all. George W.'s long-awaited announcement of a new peace plan sounds a lot like pie in the sky, but really, really delicious pie in the sky, with elections and inaugural balls and limousines and helicopters and motorcades just over the horizon, all with whipped cream and maybe a cherry on top. The whipped cream is sour and the cherries are spoiled, but maybe nobody will notice.

We have to forgive the skeptics for thinking that politics overrides all, because it certainly seems to be so. How else to explain, for one small but telling example, Norman Mineta and the shuck and jive at the nation's airports?

Mr. Mineta is the token Democrat in the Bush Cabinet, the only willing Democrat the head-hunters could find in the wake of the bitter Florida recount when all the Democrats were angry to the point of bitter exhaustion. Mr. Mineta, who as secretary of Transportation is in charge of what passes for security at the airports, values political correctness above actual security, so the "random" harassment of airline passengers proceeds to the ludicrous example of singling out as suspected terrorists dozens of little old ladies, babies, cripples in wheelchairs and even Al Gore and Dan Quayle.

This is done to avoid recognizing the obvious, that the only people who are interested in flying airplanes into office buildings are Islamic terrorists, mostly from Saudi Arabia. Logic would tell most people that neither Al Gore nor Dan Quayle, whatever their rivals and critics might think of their politics, are likely to hijack a Boeing and fly it into the White House. No doubt both Al and Dan would like very much to return to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but in a limo, not a Boeing 747. Mr. Mineta, however, is taking no chances. Al grew a beard after the '00 election, so who can be sure he's still a Baptist? Dan Quayle swings a mean putter; who knows whom he might swing it at?

"Do not subject persons or their property to inspection, search, and/or detention solely because they appear to be Arab, Middle Eastern, Asian and/or Muslim," the Transportation Department, at Mr. Mineta's behest, decreed to airport searchers. "Ask yourself, 'But for this person's perceived race, ethnic heritage or religious orientation, would I have subjected this individual to additional safety or security scrutiny?'" If the answer to this question is no, the searchers were told, such a search is illegal.

The Mineta minions insist the searches are random, but they are anything but that. Random means without aim or pattern, and anyone who has taken an airline flight in recent weeks could see that passengers are not taken out of the line at random, but are carefully selected to make sure they are not, and could not be, actual suspects. When a television interviewer asked Mr. Mineta whether he thought "a 70-year-old white woman from Vero Beach, Fla., should receive the same scrutiny as a Muslim young man from Jersey City," he replied: "I would hope so."

This might make Mr. Mineta feel good about himself, but such procedures only divert the searchers from identifying actual terrorists.

Only a tiny, tiny fraction of Muslims and Arabs are terrorists, and we should be careful never to forget this. But the odds that a swarthy man from Riyadh has a bomb in his shoe are far, far greater than that an 80-year-old blue-eyed Lutheran granny from Minnesota is plotting to fly the plane into the Capitol dome.

Such is the game the government insists on playing. One day soon, if we survive, we'll have to get serious about the threat of terror, both on the West Bank and at the airport, and let political correctness be damned.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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