Paul Majendie, Reuters, August 15, 2006
London — A top British Muslim policeman has warned that any moves to “terror profile” airline passengers would create a new offence — “traveling whilst Asian”.
Media have reported the government is discussing with British airport authorities a system of profiling — where security staff focus their search efforts on people they regard as suspicious on grounds such as ethnicity and religion.
Such a move could spark outrage among Britain’s Muslims but aviation experts said profiling was vital to break the gridlock at airports, in chaos since last week due to tightened security after police said they foiled an Islamist plot to bomb planes.
Former British police chief John Stevens said airport bottlenecks could be reduced by careful targeting, with “young Muslim men” a focus.
Metropolitan Police Chief Superintendent Ali Desai, one of Britain’s top Muslim police officers, said of the plan: “What you are suggesting is that we should have a new offence in this country called ‘traveling whilst Asian’.”
“What we don’t want to do is actually alienate the very communities who are going to help us catch terrorists,” he told BBC Newsnight on Monday.
Many of Britain’s 1.7 million Muslims accuse the police of unfairly targeting their community in their crackdown on terrorism after last year’s suicide bomb attacks on London’s transport system by Islamist militants that killed 52 people.
Since 2000, police have arrested over 700 people — many of them Muslims — under tough anti-terrorism laws but have brought only a handful to court. The vast majority have been released without charge.
Muhammad Abdul Bari, general secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain, was eager to dispel a siege mentality, saying “If you treat a community as a problem community, you are not going to get support from them.”
Asked what he thought passenger profiling might provoke, he told Sky News: “It could end up in racism unfortunately.”
“If the profiling is done on the basis of race and religion, it will be wrong, it is not going to work.”