If you head over to the Corner today, you’ll see that formal discrimination against Muslims (i.e., “profiling”) is the hottest thing in National Review since segregation went out of style. And I suppose it’s worth conceding that if the only thing you were concerned about on the planet was minimizing the risk that someone would blow up an airplane next week, that a formal policy of systematic discrimination against Muslim travels would probably reduce that risk.
But it really can’t be said enough that not only is systematic formal discrimination against Muslims an ethically troubling concept, but the strategic costs of becoming a country that engages in systematic formal discrimination against Muslims are rather high. I would like to live in a country where if a teenage American Muslim reads on a message board somewhere that the United States is a racist country hell-bent on persecuting Islam that he thinks “no it isn’t” not “that’s why I got singled out for strip searches when we went on vacation last winter.” Nor do I want the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority to come under political pressure at home to divest from US firms because Emirati citizens who visit the US are being treated unfairly. Right now if a talented Bangladeshi scientist is weighing offers between an American and a European university, I can honestly tell him he’ll find the US a more welcoming place — that’s a strength we have as a society and as a country, and not something we should be eager to give up.
The United States is a gigantic, diverse country that does business and policy all around the world. Air travel in this country is as safe as it’s ever been. Taking reasonable steps to make it safer would be nice, but cutting ourselves off from a huge swathe of the world and poisoning relations with 1.5 billion Muslims is going to be much worse than an exploding airplane. We could enhance security by making everyone fly naked, but common sense is that it wouldn’t be worth it. Institutionalizing systematic formal discrimination would, unlike all-nude flights, have only indirect costs on America’s white Christian majority but the costs would be real enough and it’s not even remotely worth it.