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Looking The Wrong Way

This column was written by Heather Mac Donald.
Time to get real: Only Muslims commit Islamic terrorism. By definition. Ask Osama bin Laden, who called on Muslims, and Muslims only, to kill Americans wherever they can find us.

Yet the New York Police Department has promised that its new policy of subway bag checks will be scrupulously random. This senseless sacrifice to political correctness will waste precious police resources with little improvement in public safety.

The British police have just released photos of the suspects in the Thursday subway bomb attempts. Did the police look for freckled-face Irish lassies on the subway videotapes? Unlikely. The suspects all appear to be South Asian or North African. The British are indifferent to the civil-libertarian hysterics because they were just attacked and fear they will soon be again. It will apparently take another strike on U. S. soil to wake up NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly and the rest of the American law-enforcement establishment that public safety comes before political correctness.

To be sure, random checks have a certain logic. There is always a chance that al Qaeda will be able to persuade a Minnesotan grandmother, say, to carry a bomb onto a New York subway. If law enforcement pays extra attention to people of apparent Muslim origin, it risks ignoring the non-conventional Islamic terrorist.

But that risk is far smaller than the risk that while a police officer is inspecting the golf-club bag of a Manhattan banker on his way to Westchester, a Pakistani carrying a bomb will slip onto the Number 4 line. It is unlikely that al Qaeda and other Muslim terror groups have recruited large numbers of Anglo-Europeans to their cause; the vast majority of would-be killers remain al Qaeda's core constituency: disaffected Middle Easterners, South Asians, and North Africans.

The disconnect between what we know and what we do remains stunning to behold. Public discourse after the 7/7 bombings focused exclusively on Muslim extremism -- has it been exacerbated by the Iraq invasion, say, or is it provoked by an abstract ideological hostility to the West? Yet when it comes to taking action, government officials pretend that all groups are equally likely to commit Islamic terrorism and that Muslim identity should play no role in targeting preemptive law-enforcement action.

There's always a hope that the NYPD is lying through its teeth, and will in fact allow its officers to notice national origin and back them up against the inevitable lawsuits. If Commissioner Kelly means what he says, however, it will be most interesting to observe whether following another New York attack, the NYPD searches for leads among worshippers in St. Patrick's Cathedral with the same alacrity as it canvasses Brooklyn's radical mosques.

Heather Mac Donald is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.

By Heather MacDonald
Reprinted with permission from National Review Online