Friday, October 19, 2001

Have Patience

In today's Wall Street Journal "Opinion Journal", Peggy Noonan presents an saddening essay. I won't repeat it here: If you're not reading Ms Noonan regularly, you should be.

But I will explore one question that comes to mind: How wary should we be?

In the aftermath of the events of September 11th, there remain unknown numbers of cells still active in this country. Apparently there are also some caches of low-grade anthrax, not deadly enough for a bold stroke, but enough to annoy, to distract, to foment fear and distrust.

My first reaction was that if this is an attack, it's an inept one. Now I'm not so sure. With only a handful of well-placed envelopes, someone has succeeded in creating an atmosphere of high alert. With one, count 'em, one fatality, and a handful of cases responding well to antibiotics, our adversary has caused us to stop and question every spill of talcum powder and coffee creamer on the east coast.

Did they know that would happen? Are we being nibbled to death by baby ducks? Are they laughing at us while they ready the real other shoe?

I'm inclined to think I'm giving them too much credit. They're not that clever. If the public statements from the Taliban and bin Laden are any indication, they really don't understand us well enough to have planned that kind of campaign.

But in the back of my head there is a nagging shadow of a doubt.

There's another component to the question with which I began this comment, one that Ms Noonan addresses more directly.

Before 9-11, if you met someone strolling down your street that you didn't know, it meant nothing. "Tourist", you might say, and move on. Now you wonder. Especially if the "tourist" is differently-complected than yourself, most especially if he "looks Middle-Eastern", you wonder.

This is "profiling", and that word was in real danger of becoming the 21st century buzzword for "racism" -- until now.

Now, I think, we understand (and if we don't, we had better come to understand it pronto) that profiling is not necessarily a bad thing. It's standard procedure for any crime investigator: You build a profile of the perpetrator, so you can go where he's likely to be and see if you see him. You have to start somewhere, duh.

Yeah, sure, you say. You only say that because you're white. You don't know, man, you don't know.

Well, it's true that I am white. And I'm male, which (say some) is another strike against me. And I'm middle-aged. (Yer out!) I'm even Southern. And straight. (Five for five! Bingo!)

The irony of anyone deducing from this information that I am incapable of understanding what it's like to be "profiled" -- well, it's rude to laugh, but I can't help it.

I'm profiled every darned day. And it is Incorrect for me to resist being profiled. But that's okay, because I know I'm not guilty of anything. It's contingent upon me to prove, by my words and by my actions, that I don't fit the profile. That other people who resemble me in some way are not me, and do not speak for me.

Be combative, and you get combat. Be courteous, and you get courtesy. Usually.

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