I’m not Racist! I have White Friends!

Sam Harris yet again raises the spectre of Racial Profiling. It’s okay though!
Although I don’t think I look like a jihadi, or like a man pretending not to be one, I do not mean to suggest that a person like me should be exempt from scrutiny. But other travelers fit the profile far less than I do. One glance at these innocents reveals that they are no more likely to be terrorists than walruses in disguise. I make it a point to notice such people while queuing for security at the airport, just to see what sort of treatment they receive at the hands of the TSA.

The problem with this argument is that we do not know what terrorists look like. They don’t fit a stereotype in the same way that most people do not fit into stereotypes. It’s why we have those pesky judges and juries when it comes to deciding whether or not someone comitted a crime rather than simply looking for “Criminal Chararacteristics”.

The example Sam gives is a elderly couple who were searched and forced to follow the same rules and regulation all passengers have to follow. Well tough shit Sam, if I don’t get to fly with my giant bottle of mouthwash, bourbon and toothpaste, then granny doesn’t get to fly with them either. That’s the way a fair and sane society works. An insane society works by saying “What Could They Possibly Do With That Box Cutter? They look harmless enough!” and look where that lead us to? TSA randomly pick people out for extra scans and tests? Okay, but I don’t see why you should assume that there are no old people who are terrorists or why they shouldn’t be subject to the same level of security. Technically, TSA should do this to everyone and not just a random sample.

There are terrorists from across the globe of various ilks. Yizthak Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish terrorist. The Atlanta bombings, Unabomber and Timothy McVeigh were all white. Rajiv Gandhi was assasinated by a Tamil (a suicide bomber no less) and his Mum by a Sikh terrorist. At this rate we are just better off checking every one. If we are running by stereotype then I am quite likely to be a suicide bomber myself since I am Tamil and that’s what they are famous for (TSA reads this? I am not a suicide bomber, I am just making a point)

After much preparation, the couple proceeded toward the body scanner, only to encounter resistance. It seems that they had neglected to take off their shoes. A pair of TSA screeners stepped forward to prevent this dangerous breach of security—removing what appeared to be orthopedic footwear from both the woman in the wheelchair and the man now staggering at her side. This imposed obvious stress on two harmless and bewildered people and caused considerable delay for everyone in my line. I turned to see if anyone else was amazed by such a perversion of vigilance.

How is this a perversion of vigilance? By the very definition of vigilance, everyone gets to be scanned. And taking off your shoes is an obvious stress? Then why the fuck do I have to do it? It’s not stressful to take your shoes off. It’s a minor inconvenience caused by a single attempted terror attack by a man called RICHARD who was a British Carribean islamic convert. Therefore making him completely unassailable by the standards of racial profiling since “Jamaicans” aren’t well known for their massive muslim population and support for Al-Qaeda. This incompetent terrorist tried to set fire to his own shoe in the hope that PETN (nitrate) explosive would explode. It didn’t and he just burnt his own feet before they captured him.

The man behind me, who could have played the villain in a Bollywood film, looked unconcerned.

And here lies the problem. Sam himself has just demonstrated how utterly pointless racial profiling is.

The vast majority of people in Bollywood are hindus and are unlikely to blow up a plane in the name of Allah and Jihad. Infact the vast majority of muslims are unlikely to blow up a plane in the name of Allah and Jihad, but more are likely to sympathise with those that do if you single them out to fuck with their travel experience.

There are Islamic fundies who look like everything from central african to white to asian to indian to south east asian. Infact Islam is one of the biggest faiths in the world. However the stereotype is “Swarthy Middle Easterner, Beard, Turban or Woman in Hijab/Niqab”. This is primarily a decision by the colour of their skin and it’s a terrible one because we have had situations where we have shot someone who wasn’t “muslim” because we thought they were a terrorist solely due to appearances.

In fact, my wife and I once accidentally used a bag for carry-on in which I had once stored a handgun—and passed through three airport checkpoints with nearly 75 rounds of 9 mm ammunition.

How do you do this by accident? How bad must you be to forget that “Duh! Guns aren’t allowed in Planes”. Does Sam just leave handguns lying around his house with no knowledge of them? Is this an actual true statement ? Because I don’t think that this is an acceptable thing to admit to.

Is TSA that lousy at their job? What would have happened if they caught him? (If you want to be silly? What do you think would have happened if Sam was called Ahmed and they caught him with the gun?)

Imagine how fatuous it would be to fight a war against the IRA and yet refuse to profile the Irish? And yet this is how we seem to be fighting our war against Islamic terrorism.

The british actually had more success by just checking everyone rather than trying to determine some mythical level of irishness. Remember the UK had the Lockerbie bombing so was not stranger to the scourge of Islamic extremism.

We should profile Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim, and we should be honest about it.

Islam is a faith… any human can believe in Allah just like any human can believe in Jesus or Krishna. They aren’t related to the colour of your skin or even the clothes you wear.

Now riddle me this, how the hell are you supposed to differentiate between them all? They all LOOK like people you would see everyday in different parts of the world yet they are all Muslims. That’s nearly the entire world that looks like these people. Do we reall think that harassing people because they “may look a bit muslim” is betteer than letting terrorists through based on the fact they didn’t look very muslim? How muslim do you have to look to set this off? This plan is terrible on so many different levels because it hacks off all the muslims and lends credence to the feeling of victimisation. You also hack of all the people who you “THINK” look like Muslims but are not. You also really weaken your security system because there are blind spots in it when it comes to people who happen to “not look like muslims”.

In any case, it is simply a fact that, in the year 2012, suicidal terrorism is overwhelmingly a Muslim phenomenon. If you grant this, it follows that applying equal scrutiny to Mennonites would be a dangerous waste of time.

That may be the case, but the entire point is not just the halting of islamic terror but terrorist organisations irrespective of which god they believe in. While it may be true that it is islamic terrorists that are gunning for us, it also remains true that the way to kill terrorism is to cut off the supply of terrorists which is to stop genuine idiocy against muslims and give them a say in helping stop terror. Without their support nothing can be achieved and alienating them will just drive them to support the terror groups.

When I speak of profiling “Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim,” I am not narrowly focused on people with dark skin. In fact, I included myself in the description of the type of person I think should be profiled (twice). To say that ethnicity, gender, age, nationality, dress, traveling companions, behavior in the terminal, and other outward appearances offer no indication of a person’s beliefs or terrorist potential is either quite crazy or totally dishonest. It is the charm of political correctness that it blends these sins against reasonableness so seamlessly. We are paying a very high price for this obscurantism—and the price could grow much higher in an instant. We have limited resources, and every moment spent searching a woman like the one pictured above, or the children seen in the linked videos, is a moment in which someone or something else goes unobserved.

Sam includes himself because he knows that no one would ever mistake him for a muslim. Why? Because he knows that the stereotype of muslim is “Swarthy Middle Easterner” and Sam Harris is not that. No one in their right minds in the west (bear in mind that many people post 11/9 couldn’t tell the difference between Muslims and Sikhs) would think he was a muslim anymore than they would think he was a hindu because of stereotypes. And stereotypes have killed in this case before. And it’s not like the USA isn’t short of cases where stereotypes haven’t lead to mishandling of people and cases resulting in utter tragedy.

What Mr. Harris doesn’t get is how dehumanising this is. That for his safety people like myself who aren’t muslim but who look “muslimesque” need to be checked for his safety. In response to 11/9 and 7/7 we have killed far more muslims than they have killed… A collosal 113000 in Iraq alone vs 3050 dead in these two attacks. We are far more dangerous to them than they are to us.

Imagine that you work for the TSA and are executing a hand search of a traveler’s bag. He is a young man in his twenties and seems nervous. You notice that he is carrying a hardcover copy of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. You pick up the book and ask him if he likes it. He now appears even more nervous than before. You notice something odd about the book—the dust jacket doesn’t seem to fit. You remove it and find a different book underneath. How do you feel about this traveler’s demeanor, and the likelihood of his being a terrorist, if the book is:
A. The Qur’an (in Arabic)
B. The Magic Mushroom Grower’s Guide
C. Overcoming Impotence: A Leading Urologist Tells You Everything You Need to Know
D. Dianetics

I do like Sam Harris and his work but this article is dumb. The guy seems to think that Israel’s approach to security has HELPED reduce terrorism when all it has done is to create a society that is endemically racist. Palestine is not free. It is a ghetto. It is a reservation. It is a “black only neighbourhood”. It is a walled off area where the only Jews around carry a lot of firepower. It’s an area where you are not free if you say Salaam rather than Shalom. It is a theocracy. It’s really that simple, do you think this sort of airport security helps in creating peace or has helped in maintaining the status quo of hatred by feeding the (quite real) Palestinian persecution complex?
Israel’s security measures are equal parts draconian and brutal. If it were any other group of people doing this sort of thing we would put up posters with Amnesty International logos and make witty and incisive jokes about their leaders and country. For example? North Korea?

Does North Korea know that they have named all their missiles after penises?
Because as of now their missile program looks like it could use some viagra.

We don’t with Israel mainly because we kind of created that mess and any criticism has to begin with us going “yeah, maybe creating a nation based on a 2000 year old book at the cost of other people is a terrible idea”.

Claiming that what they do is good doesn’t look at the social ramifications of what you are doing. You are basical
ly limitting the freedom of one group of people based on what they look like.

Sam Harris may have letters from Muslims who would rather be treated poorly than risk death on a plane. That’s fine. However I would rather everyone be treated the same rather than claim safety bythe application of stereotype.


  1. says

    Now, to be fair, a grandma in a wheelchair wearing orthopedic shoes, and a grandpa with a walker is a waste of time and resources for the TSA to be checking them out, at the expense of someone younger, and therefore, more likely to be a terrorist. Let’s face it: SOME profiling is beneficial, much as I, a liberal, don’t like to admit.

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