Does Terrorism Really Have a Face? The case of Jihad Jane

You might have heard the news this week of the suburban American woman who was charged with involvement in a terrorist plot against a Swedish man who produced a controversial cartoon of Mohammed. A Danish cartoonist also published cartoons of Mohammed in the same year that sparked rioting and demonstrations around the world. He was also the target of a foiled attack at the beginning of the year.  

In response to the failed Christmas day terror attempt I wrote here about the limits of profiling and why it is foolish to scapegoat people of particular backgrounds in the search for terrorists. Jihad Jane’s story brings that point back to mind. As usual, one can see that Al-Qaeda and its sympathisers are one step ahead on this. Common sense should have told us that this would be the response from terrorists who are determined to carry out their plans. Did security officials really believe that Al-Qaeda was just going to fold its arms in frustration because they could not deploy people from certain nationalities and racial backgrounds with ease anymore?  Even the use of Umar Farouk in the underwear bombing plot showed how they are branching out into using people considered non-suspicious to get around profiling. They might have found the ultimate decoy in Jihad Jane.  The 46 year old blonde from Philadelphia whose real name is Colleen La Rose was an asset to her co-conspirators because she is white and American. Never would it have occurred to airport and other security officials to pull her aside and scrutinise her more closely because she does not ‘look like a terrorist’ or more accurately, the image we have assigned to terrorists.

Is Jihad Jane going to mean that blonde American women also join the list of suspects? Is her story going to stop the rest of us unfortunates whose nations have been listed on the terror watchlist from being subjected to harassment in the name of security? I think I am right in giving the answer to both questions as no.

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