Don't Panic! February 20 2002

Terror tips for the terrified

The FBI recently issued a warning about "teddy bear bombs." What's going on?

The answer, in a word, is profiling. The answer in two words is ethnic profiling. In seven words, the answer is really stupid and utterly useless ethnic profiling.

On Jan. 15, a Middle Eastern-looking man who appeared to be between 22 and 35 years old walked into a California Wal-Mart and paid cash for a bunch of Valentine's Day teddy bears, along with some small propane gas canisters and BBs. On Feb. 4, the store notified the FBI about the purchase, and the government issued an alert for "teddy bear bombs," asking the public for help identifying the man.

Despite the lack of any evidence of a crime or criminal intent, an FBI spokesman justified the alert and manhunt by saying, "After Sept. 11, that purchase warrants that we take a closer look."

Huh? Did I miss something? Did investigators find BBs in the World Trade Center rubble? Did they find a turbaned Beanie Baby in the Pentagon wreckage? Despite the G-Man's tactful (read: deceitful) statement, it's not the purchase that warrants a closer look, it's the purchaser. Since Sept. 11, federal law enforcement has singled out Middle Easterners — mostly Arabs — for unprecedented scrutiny. I'm not talking about interviewing people before they board airplanes; several thousand people — living legally in the United States and with no links to terrorism whatsoever — have been interviewed by the police. Over a thousand have been detained, incommunicado, without being charged with a crime. And if they're charged with a crime, President Bush has reserved the right to have them tried and possibly executed in secret military courts, even if they're legal residents of the United States.

Setting aside, for a moment, the legality of detaining non-criminals and trying civilians in secret military courts (admittedly two rather large things to set aside), how does any of it make us safer? Now that innocent people with no knowledge of terrorism are being arrested, innocent people who may have useful information about terrorism are scared to talk because they feel the government will mistreat them.

Don't just take my word for it. Immediately after 9-11, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee encouraged interviewees to tell the government everything they know. Now they're telling interviewees to get lawyers and advising them that they don't have to answer any questions at all. Way to go, Mr. Ashcroft.

In light of the government's insistence on the use of ethnic profiling, I've come up with a list of items that law-abiding Middle Eastern-looking men between 22 and 35 (like myself) should avoid buying from Wal-Mart. I'd hate for the FBI to miss a real terrorist just because they're busy following me. So next time you're at Wal-Mart, avoid the following:

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing a Will and Microsoft Flight Simulator 2002. Forget profiling — that's the sort of purchase that would make your own mother call the FBI on you.

Pop Rocks and Coca-Cola. Urban legend has it that combining these two products has caused deadly explosions in the stomachs of countless children. It's particularly lethal if you're the friend of a friend of a friend.

American flags, lighter fluid and matches. You'd better be planning a cookout, or else the FBI is gonna wanna have some words with you in private.

Parliament's 1978 funk classic, Motor Booty Affair. Everybody knows dat shit is da bomb.

E-mail questions to andisheh@ creativeloafing.com.??

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