Throughout her career, journalist Asra Q. Nomani has never shied away from challenging conventional wisdom among Muslims when it comes to Islamist extremism and the threat of terrorism.
In her latest article at the Daily Beast website, Nomani makes the argument for airline profiling based on religious and ethnic backgrounds. Citing academic research and nearly a quarter-century of Islamist driven airline bombing plots, including World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef's work with al-Qaida leader Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to blow up a dozen airplanes to the attempted Christmas Day bombing over Detroit last year, the most likely threats to airplanes share certain traits, she said. It's an extension of an argument she made during a debate last week.
"In the debate, I said, 'Profile me. Profile my family,' Nomani writes, "because, in my eyes, we in the Muslim community have failed to police ourselves."
She acknowledges "this is an issue of great distress to many people," but points to emerging data shows that a large portion of terror cases involve Muslims who "trace their national or ethnic identity back to specific countries."
That shouldn't be ignored, even if it creates disproportionate attention on certain travelers.
According to audience responses, Nomani and her colleagues prevailed over an estimable trio which argued against religious and racial profiling for airline safety. Among them, former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Debra Burlingame, whose brother was the pilot of American Airlines Flight 77 that was hijacked and crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11. They argued that such profiling is ineffective and counter-productive. Behavior is a better indicator, they argued.
After the failed Christmas Day attack, Investigative Project on Terrorism Executive Director Steven Emerson advocated "smart screening," which would combine the two approaches by including factors such as behavioral signs and appearance along with ethnicity and religious identity.
You can read Nomani's full article here, and see last week's Intelligence Squared debate here.