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Republican Calls for Profiling by Turban

This editorial was one of the very few news items reprimanding aspiring Congressman Paul R. Nelson for his thoughtless comment. However, even this piece fails to illuminate sufficiently. First, appearance-based profiling is a highly flawed concept. Second, it is particularly flawed in the case of turbans because a turban-wearing gentleman at an American airport is almost certain to be a Sikh, not a Muslim. Although an enlightened commentator speaking on C.N.N. today (August 20) did make that point, such pontification seems inadequate, given an audience that is largely unable to distinguish sheik from Sikh. (This comment was published in The La Crosse Tribune on August 22.)

The La Crosse Tribune, Wisconsin, Aug. 18, 2006

Photo: Paul R. Nelson

Republican congressional candidate Paul Nelson recently addressed an issue most politicians would have been too afraid to bring up: Whether we should use ethnic or religious profiling to help prevent terrorism.

That's a debate worth having. But he spoiled it all with a stupid, insensitive comment.

Asked in a radio interview how he would be able to tell what a Muslim male looks like, Nelson replied: 'Well, you know, if he comes in wearing a turban and his name is Mohammed, that's a good start.'

Nelson is running against incumbent Democrat Ron Kind, who faces a primary challenge from Chip DeNure, an antiwar candidate from La Crosse.

It's possible to have a discussion about terrorism and profiling without resorting to stereotyping and insults. But Nelson has taken a serious issue and cheapened it with a ridiculous and degrading comment. Then he went on to say that he didn't understand why his remarks would be controversial. That's a very telling comment.

For a better way to press the issue of profiling, check out Kathleen Parker's column in Thursday's Tribune.

Parker, a conservative syndicated columnist, argued that most acts of terrorism in the past several decades have been done by Muslim males between the ages of 17 and 40. She listed several specific terrorism incidents as examples.

And then she quoted Abdel Rahman al-Rashad, the head of an Arab television channel who wrote two years ago: 'It is a certain fact that not all Muslims are terrorists, but it is equally certain, and exceptionally painful, that almost all terrorists are Muslims . . . We cannot clear our names unless we own up to the shameful fact that terrorism has become a Muslim enterprise, an almost exclusive monopoly, implemented by Muslim men and women.'

If we're going to have this debate, let's do it through reason and argument - and not by making condescending and insulting remarks.