In the run-up to last month's Dutch election, Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk, known locally as "Iron Rita," declared her intention to pass a ban on religious garments that cover all of a woman's face. According to one Dutch parliamentarian, full face covering is so rare that the ban would apply to less than one hundred of the Netherlands' one million Muslims. Verdonk nevertheless insisted the ban was a needed from a "security standpoint." Picking up on recent comments by British parliamentarian Jack Straw, Verdonk elaborated that "people should be able to communicate with one another." Apparently, communication is impossible with a veiled woman.
The United States has two main resources to combat terrorism: The hard power of military might, and the soft power of diplomacy that comes from convincingly claiming the moral high ground. Five years after the 9/11 attacks, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the Bush Administration has gutted both.
On the one hand, the military is stretched to the breaking point across Iraq and Afghanistan. As noted analyst Olivier Roy and many others have explained, the big winner of both Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom has been Iran. Ironically, America is in a weaker military posture today in regard to two of the three charter members of the so-called “Axis of Evil” -- Iran and North Korea -- than at any moment since 9/11.
Terrorism penetrates the psyche by being unpredictable. Terrorists rely not only on the element of surprise but also on a second-level uncertainty to strike so deep: The difficulty of knowing exactly who the terrorist might be. Background is no guide. Many of the 9-11 plotters had tertiary educations. Others, like the self-starting (and foiled) millennium bomber and former petty thief Ahmed Ressam, came from the social margins. Ethnic profiling, proposed again recently by New York Representative Peter King, hardly works. The July 2005 London attackers and the recent High Wycombe arrestees both defied racial stereotypes. Any halfway calculating terrorist group, moreover, will simply work around ethnic profiling.