When Profiling Doesn’t Work

Paulin-Ramirez left and LaRose right

Paulin-Ramirez left and LaRose right

The issue of racial profiling to stop terrorist attacks was made more complicated last week when the arrest of Colleen LaRose was made public and Jamie Paulin-Ramirez was arrested. LaRose and Paulin-Ramirez, both American, were arrested for being involved in a  plot to kill the Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks for his depiction of the Prophet Muhammad in 2007.

The cases of LaRose, who called herself “Jihad Jane,” and Paulin-Ramirez, dubbed “Jihad Jamie” by the media, raise the issue of how effective  racial profiling is. Both women are Americans who had converted to Islam and allegedly planned to kill Vilks.  The fact that these two women do not fit the stereotypical profile of a terrorist underscores the fact that there really is not one definition. We saw this also with Joseph Stack’s attack on the IRS building.

There is an individual element to all the news stories that we hear about people who are radicalized, an aspect that too many times is overlooked or completely ignored. In my opinion, it has been difficult to define who a terrorist is because we want to apply broad definitions that do not account for individual differentiation or context. The above cases highlight the failure of profiling based on ethnic, religious, linguistic, or racial categories. This profiling assumes that all terrorists are male, of Middle Eastern descent, and of course Muslim. In fact acts of terror are not perpetrated only by one group or one type of person, and it is incorrect–and unethical–to insist that they do. Rather than focusing on a type of person, problematic behavior should be the criteria regardless of background.

What do you think of “Jihad Jane” and “Jihad Jamie”? Should profiling still be used? What can we learn from this story? Please share your comments below.

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