Targeting the Foreign Born by Race and Nationality: Counter-Productive in the 'War on Terrorism'?

Pace International Law Review, Vol. 16, 2004

Posted: 22 Jun 2016

See all articles by Thomas M. McDonnell

Thomas M. McDonnell

Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University

Date Written: 2004


The terrorist attacks of September 11, perpetrated by Islamic extremists from foreign lands, have branded American consciousness perhaps even more deeply than any other tragedy to befall the nation. The first foreign attack on the mainland United States in nearly 200 years, September 11 has been burned into the body politic and represents a visible threat to our security and to our way of life. Americans naturally have demanded immediate measures to apprehend those responsible and to insure that similar attacks may not happen again.

Governmental officials responded frenetically to September 11. Among other things, federal authorities immediately questioned and detained hundreds of immigrants from Islamic countries, and Congress rushed to pass the Patriot Act in such a short time that not only did our representatives little debate the bill, but few had time to read the “complex, far reaching anti-terrorism [and anti-immigrant] legislation” in its entirety. Following the aftermath of September 11, policies and practices against the foreign born have continued. Aside from President Bush’s authorizing military tribunals to try only foreigners, not American citizens; both the state and federal governments, often with the help of private citizens, have engaged in unprecedented racial profiling of innocent South Asians, Arabs and Muslims living in this country.

Although understandable given the authors of September 11 and the awesome magnitude of the attacks, the government’s policy of racial profiling Arabs and Muslims is likely to contribute to anti-American attitudes both here and abroad, to discourage Arabs and Muslims from cooperating with the United States police and military officials, and to weaken moderate elements of Arab and Muslim societies while strengthening the extremist elements both domestically and internationally.

Additionally, racial profiling is morally wrong. Racial profiling generally constitutes discrimination — using a person’s race or religion as a substitute for evidence of wrongdoing. We are more true to ourselves and can better protect our society by adopting more measured investigative approaches and by doing the hard but time tested methods of investigation, with the aid of the Muslim and Arab communities and in cooperation with our allies throughout the world.

Keywords: Terrorism, Counter-Terrorism, Racial Profiling, Ethnic Profiling, Religious Profiling, Muslims, Islam, Discrimination, Flying While Muslim, Driving While Black, War on Terrorism, Struggle against Terrorism

JEL Classification: K19

Suggested Citation

McDonnell, Thomas M., Targeting the Foreign Born by Race and Nationality: Counter-Productive in the 'War on Terrorism'? (2004). Pace International Law Review, Vol. 16, 2004. Available at SSRN:

Thomas M. McDonnell (Contact Author)

Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University ( email )

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