INSOLUBLE STRAWMEN: I like this term, and I think it serves to describe many of the arguments made against the use of profiling for law enforcement. Regardless of the type of profiling (be it based on race, gender, religion, country of origin, &c.), the objections to it are generally similar in form: they construct an unresolvable conflict between the goal of the profiling and the basis for the objection, and they set up this conflict using arguments that are predicated on the goal of the profiling (namely security) already being met.

As a concrete example, take this article by David Chang in the Daily Bruin titled "National Insecurity".

Performing arts organizations have always had to jump through hoops just to convince government agencies to allow international artists to enter the United States. With the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and the current conflict with Iraq etched in the nation's psyche, the process of booking international artists has turned into an episode of "Mission: Impossible." ...

"There's a list of countries where males, not females, coming into the country have to do face to face interviews," UCLA Live Director David Sefton said. "The FBI are involved in the visa-granting process for the first time in history. That fortress-of-America thing has become much more of a factor. The whole so-called Homeland Security Initiative has really made it more difficult to bring in artists from a whole list of countries, including Pakistan, who is supposed to be on our side, and Cuba, who to my knowledge hasn't expressed an opinion one way or the other." ...

Mitoma [a festival organizer] is deeply apprehensive about the culture of fear and mistrust the nation seems to be creating. Not only are international artists hesitant about coming to the United States, but organizers are also shying away from enormous obstacles the government has placed in front of them. ... "The irony and pain is that it's a time of great need, and this U.S. government's policy has locked the doors, thrown away the key, and said, 'We're not sympathetic, and we have to defend the national security,'" Mitoma said.

Part of the problem with the article, of course, is that the author doesn't have a comment by an actual government entity but rather quotes an opponent of Homeland Security who attributes a certain attitude to the government. The article states that artists from suspect countries have always had to "jump through hoops" to get visas, but are these hoops any different than those required for non-artists? The underlying assumption of the whole article is that strict visa requirements for artists are not necessary for protecting the country, but no solution is proposed because the problem is not solvable.

There are two possibilities, neither of which is practical. First, eliminate the new visa rules and allow everyone from these now-suspect countries to enter based on the previous standards. This is unacceptable for security reasons, and will clearly not be implemented. Second, create a set of special rules that allow artists to bypass the strict visa requirements that apply to other people. Aside from the security issues that might raise (terrorists disguising themselves as artists, or other abuses of the special system), I can't see this as being politically acceptable to the left. It is, in fact, a type of job-profiling that by its very nature should violate the same morality that causes some people to be upset by other forms of profiling.

David Chang does highlight an important side effect of heightened national security, but he does so in a way that denegrates the security measures put in place by the government without offering a viable alternative. In fact, no alternative exists that would satisfy security concerns as well as the morality that decries the original profiling. The fact that some international artists now have more difficulty performing in the United States is important, but the direct and implied criticism of the government is unwarrented and based on an insoluble strawman.



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