On "Meet the Press" yesterday, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) repeated his call for law enforcement officials to profile Muslim Americans as possible terrorist suspects, arguing, "Most Muslims are outstanding people but the threat is coming from the Muslim community." I found Rep. Keith Ellison's (D-Minn.) response pretty compelling.
"I'm an American, and I'm concerned about national safety, public safety, just like everyone is. But I think it's ineffective law enforcement to go after a particular community. I think what we need to do is look at behavior and follow those leads where they would lead. So, like if Tamerlan Tsarnaev is evidencing dangerous behavior, by all means, go after him. But once you start saying we're going to dragnet or surveil a community, what you do is you ignore dangerous threats that are not in that community and you go after people who don't have anything to do with it. [...]"[T]his ricin attack, for example, that's an act of terrorism, that doesn't come out of the Muslim community. We don't have enough law enforcement resources to just go after one community."
The ricin letters strike me as an especially persuasive point -- the suspect, who was arrested and taken into federal custody over the weekend, isn't a Muslim. Profiling wouldn't have done any good, and working from the assumption that the attempted terrorism had something to do with Islam would have sent law enforcement searching in the wrong direction.
King's concern is over "political correctness," but when the concern should be over efficacy -- rely on actionable intelligence and pursue credible leads without regard for suspects' religious beliefs. Why make this solely about religion when there have been so many terrorist incidents in recent years that didn't "come from the Muslim community"?
I'm not altogether sure what, specifically, King even has in mind. In his "Meet the Press" interview, the Republican lawmaker pointed to the NYPD "knowing where the threat is coming from" -- presumably a reference to the NYPD's enhanced surveillance of Muslim communities in recent years -- but as Sy Mukherjee noted, an Associated Press investigative series in 2012 found that the department's actions had "a severe chilling effect on speech, religious activity, and community life" while failing to yield a single piece of actionable intelligence.
So what is Pete King talking about?