FWA: Flying While Arab
Steve Adubato, Ph.D.
For the last several years, virtually everyone in New Jersey, particularly
black and Latino political leaders, have argued that racial profiling
is dead wrong. The head of the state police was fired for making
public comments about which racial and ethnic groups were most inclined
to commit certain crimes. All sorts of pressure has been heaped
on the state police and local law enforcement authorities to not
use race in deciding who gets pulled over and who doesn't. Virtually
every politician in the Statehouse has publicly railed against the
practice. Black religious and civil rights leaders constantly pressured
former governor Christie Whitman as well as legislative leaders
to do something about the problem. The argument has been that racial
profiling has driven a wedge particularly between young black men
in the largely white police establishment.
Yet, after September 11, the practice of profiling or targeting
"Arab-looking" men has become the norm. If we were to
be honest, most of us, including me, would be uncomfortable and
have second thoughts about getting on to an airplane with several
"Arab-looking" men on the same flight. (I say "Arab-looking",
because many of the people we think are Arab are actually not.)
You're not supposed to say it in public, but it is true. There have
been many "Arab-looking" men who have been asked by pilots
to leave a plane before it departs for "safety reasons."
New Jersey Attorney General John Farmer who currently plays a key
role in ending the practice of racial profiling against blacks has
had very different things to say when it comes to the profiling
of "Arab-looking" men. Farmer has said that because there
are approximately 200 suspected terrorists or terrorist sympathizers
in New Jersey who look Arab, then it is perfectly acceptable for
law enforcement authorities to use profiling to stop, question and
possibly detain "Arab-looking" men who might be on that
list. Does that sound like a double standard to you?
In a recent 20/20 report on ABC, reporter John Stossel examined
this issue by speaking with a significant number of African American
men and women at Newark Airport. Every one of them said that it
was not only acceptable to profile "Arab-looking" men,
but it should be encouraged. One young black man said "they
are the ones' who are doing this, so they are the ones' that should
be stopped." When Stossel asked the young man if that wasn't
the same as stopping a young black male on the New Jersey Turnpike
because young black men are committing most of the violent crimes
in America, the guy just looked at Stossel with a stunned expression.
DWB (Driving While Black) has become a popular acronym for those
who have been critical of the practice of racial profiling against
young black men. Yet, there is a new acronym that is particularly
prevalent in these uncertain and scary times. It's FWA, Flying While
Arab. My problem is, I know it is wrong to profile anyone based
on race, ethnicity or gender. I wouldn't want to be profiled because
my name ends in a vowel. Am I supposed to be more inclined to be
involved in organized crime because I am Italian American? How would
I feel if a cop pulled me over to see if I had a gambling ticket
in my pocket or a gun in my glove compartment simply because my
last name is Adubato?
Obviously, I wouldn't stand for it. I would say it is un-American.
I would argue that it is unconstitutional. I would demand my civil
rights. Yet, I have to fly in about two weeks to North Carolina
and I keep asking myself how I am going to deal with the prospect
of several "Arab-looking" men on the same flight. Would
I be reluctant to actually fly? Would I be tempted to get off the
plane? Would I talk to other non-"Arab-looking" men and
prepare for the prospect of something actually happening and devise
a strategy to protect ourselves and others? Am I the only one thinking
this stuff? I don't think so. Like I said, I know it's wrong, but
it's how I feel. What's worse is not only that I'm feeling this
on a personal level, but that I'm actually thinking that our government,
particularly law enforcement officials should be doing the same
thing. On some level, I do want "Arab-looking" men questioned
and possibly detained. I would feel safer if none of them were on
the plane. But that's crazy. The vast majority of the people we're
talking about are American citizens. They have the same rights we
do. They and their forefathers came here for the same reasons ours'
did. For freedom. Yet, since September 11, all that has changed.
It's time for all of us, particularly those of us who happen not
to be "Arab-looking", to do an awful lot of soul searching.
Don't you think?
Steve Adubato, Ph.D. is a commentator, lecturer and former state
legislator. Dr. Adubato is also an Emmy Award-winning television
anchor and syndicated columnist.
He can be reached by fax (973) 509-1659 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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