TCS Daily


Profiles and Courage

By Lee Harris - October 1, 2003 12:00 AM

It is time for us to re-examine the concept of what is misleadingly called "racial profiling" as a technique for preventing reoccurrences of the kind of catastrophic terror unleashed on our shores by the 9/11 hijackers -- and to make this re-examination not in the interest of promoting narrow-minded xenophobic paleo-conservatism, but in order to preserve the inclusive values of traditional American liberalism.

It is ideology-induced folly to think that the response of ordinary Americans to another 9/11 would be the desire for even greater tolerance toward Muslims both in our country and in the world. This would not occur. Instead, the question that ordinary Americans would be asking themselves in the aftermath of a second 9/11 is a simple one: Why do we send our soldiers to terrorists in Iraq, when in America we refuse to take even the most obvious precautions against the entrance of such terrorists into our country, and even onto our airplanes? If we are sending our boys half way around the world to fight terrorism, why don't we at least begin taking it seriously here at home?

There are many, of course, who would condemn such a populist fury as bigoted or racist, just as they condemn the mere idea of using any form of targeted monitoring of specific groups as a technique in the war on terror. But those on the other side of this issue -- that is to say those who are troubled by our excessive delicacy concerning such "preferential" profiling -- have a better point than they may think.

A major theme of my book Civilization and Its Enemies is the fact that the enemy of civilization has almost invariably been embodied in the exact same social configuration: it is always a gang of young men, from adolescents to men in their twenties and early thirties, who have adopted a deliberate strategy of ruthlessness toward the society around them, for the sole purpose of achieving power for themselves and their cronies.

In certain cases, it is true, such a group employs a set of religious and/or political symbols as an ideology to justify their conduct, but in all of these cases the ideological superstructure of the group is simply a technique for inducing the group to believe itself charged with a higher mission, thereby permitting the individuals within the group to de-civilize themselves; that is to say, to act in ways that grossly violated the norms of accepted civilized conduct.

What mattered about the Nazis, the Italian fascists, and the Bolsheviks was not the intellectual content of their various creeds, but the emotional impact these creeds had on those who subscribed to them. Each such ideological system permitted the true believer to transform himself from being a well-behaved member of a civil order into being a ruthless fanatic capable of the most despicable betrayal of the ethical standards of that order.

Seen from this perspective, the enemy of civilization is hormonal and chronological, and not racial or religious. It is, to put it bluntly, a function of the testosterone level, rather than the ideology -- and much less the ethnicity -- of its possessor. And this is just as true today as it has always been.

These gangs of men may be black, like Shaka Zulu's warriors, and like the boy murderers of Liberia today, or white as in the Vikings and the Klu Klux Klan; or they may be any color between that they wish, since color is absolutely irrelevant. They may arise also from any religion they chose -- Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu -- since neither doctrine nor sect affects their hormone-driven lust to dominate over others through the practice of ruthlessness and terror. Hence religion is relevant, as is culture and virtually every other possible ethnic consideration.

The righteous horror expressed at the very thought of what is so misleadingly called "the racial profiling of Arabs" is the most conspicuous evidence of how trapped we are in the modes of thinking made utterly irrelevant by 9/11. What we need to focus on is not a racial type, but a hormonal and chronological type, young men in the same age group as the 9/11 hijackers and from the same background -- not because we have anything against this background, but for the simple fact that men from the same background are likely to share common values. As in a quarantine policy against an epidemic, what counts is the probability of contact, and nothing else. This is not rocket science, nor is it racism.

The desire for "racial profiling" is not a desire that is expressed much in public -- and how would you expect it to be when it is referred to by such an invidious label; but this desire is frequently expressed in private, and the people who express it are often lifelong Democrats and sincere admirers of both President Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton; by people, in short, to whom racial profiling against African-Americans is an abomination -- which it clearly is.

Republicans who believe that President Bush need only fear attack from the pacific-mind, neo-Carterite Democrats should remember that many of the old Labor Democrats still retain their populist roots, and should recall that in 1992, Clinton won the Presidency not by toeing the line of the academic elite, but by embracing those positions that resonated in the mainstream of middle America, such as support for the death penalty. In a tug-of-war in the Democratic Party between the ideologues and populists, it is dangerous to write off the latter. Populism is where the Democracy Party began, and it is the earth to which it has periodically returned, like Antaeus, in order to re-invigorate its dwindling strength.

To most observers in the media, both on the right and left, such a reversal would appear unthinkable, but it has happened before, and there is no reason it may not happen again. The primary drawback of any intellectual elite, of either right or left, is that it all too easily deceives itself into thinking that the entire country thinks and feels the way it does. Well, the country doesn't -- a fact that has profound political consequences in the wake of 9/11.

For the truth that has most eluded intellectual observers is the fact that the bulk of the American people could not have accepted a response to 9/11 that was even a hair's breadth more liberal and tolerant than the response given by President Bush and his administration. And, make no mistake about it, the average American's toleration of the Bush administration's toleration is fragilely perched on the absence of any further 9/11's.

If catastrophic terror strikes the United States again -- or worse, again and again -- the current leadership in both parties is all too likely be swept away by a mass movement led by much harder men whose control of the military might and industrial capacity of this nation will not be inhibited by any notions of political correctness, nor by even the merest lip service to the principles of liberal internationalism. History reveals vast popular movements that sweep even the greatest leaders into insignificance: a truth encapsulated in Bismarck's remark that his own seemingly masterful effect on historical events was an illusion, and that in truth his impact on the world had been no greater than the impact you can exert on the current of a river by dangling your hand over the side of your boat, and letting the waters sweep around it.

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