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Mon, Oct. 21

Insensitivity is worth safety

War demands much of a nation's citizenry, but only in America does war demand sensitivity training. We're so earnest, so caring, so apologetic as we go about the business of war, our enemies must smile in their sleep.

President Bush was the first to get his wrist slapped for using terminology that some found offensive when he suggested that our war against terrorism was a "crusade." We who are, presumably, insensitive knew just what he meant. Uncapitalized, the word means "a remedial enterprise undertaken with zeal and enthusiasm," according to Merriam-Webster.

But the term offended some followers of Islam because, capitalized, "Crusade" refers to the Christian military expeditions in the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries to win the Holy Land from the Muslims. A less-sensitive person might have viewed Bush's use of the word as ironic, interesting, clever or even dangerously witty. But we also recall that, notwithstanding Bush's successful rendering of a well-written speech, we're still talking about George W. Bush.

Next to offend the sensitivity monitors was the administration's tagline for the latest non-religious crusade — "Operation Infinite Justice." This, too, rubbed certain scholars of the Islamic faith who said only Allah (scratch that, "God") can exercise infinite justice. The Bush people, who doubtless spent hours and exhausted many great minds coming up with an appropriate title, are rethinking their choice of words.

We're no longer supposed to say "Allah," but are encouraged to use "God," as well as to Americanize other Islamic terms to reduce what one critic calls our "exotic orientalism" of Muslim issues. Ingrid Mattson, vice president of the Islamic Society of North America, says that programs such as CNN's recent "Behind the Veil" contribute to the marginalizing and stereotyping of Arab-Americans, some of whom have suffered persecution and even death in the wake of the attacks.

Meanwhile, members of the Religion Newswriters Association have voted to become more sensitive in their reporting. No more "Islamic terrorists," for example, even though some terrorists refer to themselves this way.

An RNA resolution, passed at the group's annual meeting, reads: "Terrorist acts are committed by individuals and groups for reasons that often involve a complex mix of cultural, religious, nationalist, economic and psychological motives." Journalists reporting on recent events should "avoid stereotypes (and) be aware of the complexity of religious traditions and to use care in attempting to describe the motives of terrorists."

For the record, let's note that unprovoked violence or discrimination directed toward Arab- and Muslim-Americans is unacceptable and un-American. We must deal with the idiot element of our nation, which regrettably persists regardless of tragedy, preferably with the same zeal and enthusiasm as that we intend to direct toward Osama bin Laden. For them, a little Taliban justice doesn't seem excessive.

No one blames those of Middle Eastern extraction for being outraged when people single them out for persecution. We're all in this together. But there's a difference between persecution and inconvenience. Being threatened or otherwise harmed because of your ethnic origin is persecution. Enduring a little extra scrutiny because, as it happens, your ethnic origin is the same as that of terrorists who just killed more than 6,000 innocent civilians is inconvenience.

Semantical concerns such as those Mattson and the RNA voiced may be protesting too much when so much is at stake — our nation's freedom and our very lives. Words and shades of meaning are relatively unimportant when measured against the risks of biological warfare and hijacked airplanes that fly into tall, densely populated buildings.

Indeed, semantics may be at the root of our confusion over racial profiling. As currently understood, racial profiling refers to the idea that police might investigate a person only because of his race or ethnic origin. But there are obvious differences between typical domestic cases with which we're all familiar and war-time circumstances.

When a police officer apprehends and searches an African-American only because he's black, assuming no other mitigating factors, that's unjustified racial profiling. When an airport security guard searches a male of Middle Eastern extraction after a historical terrorist attack by males of Middle Eastern extraction, that's common sense. A terrorist attack of such enormous proportions, followed by a declaration of war, makes racial profiling a temporary necessity that no patriotic American should protest.

Let me put it to you this way: If a 5-foot-6-inch, 115-pound middle-aged woman of Northern European extraction with shoulder-length, tastefully highlighted hair and dark-brown eyes who speaks English with a slight Southern accent recently had hijacked an airplane and killed thousands of people, I'd gladly subject myself to extra scrutiny. With a patriot's, if not a crusader's, zeal and enthusiasm.


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