The atheist author Sam Harris says:
We should profile Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim, and we should be honest about it. And, again, I wouldn’t put someone who looks like me entirely outside the bull’s-eye… But there are people who do not stand a chance of being jihadists, and [airport] screeners can know this at a glance.
In his addendum addressing the uproar, he says that those who ‘don’t see the link between Islam and suicidal terrorism’ might object to this but that it is a fact that ‘suicidal terrorism is overwhelmingly a Muslim phenomenon.’ He adds:
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…
I suppose Sam Harris has a point – that is if you believe that one’s ethnicity, dress, gender and nationality (very different things from behaviour) can give some indication of one’s potential.
If so, we might take him up on his suggestion and profile Christians in order to avert the real risks of far-Right extremism in Europe and the USA. Of course this is absurd because – in most instances – you can’t tell who is Christian, atheist, Sikh, Muslim, Hindu, animist, or humanist just by looking at them. And even if you do manage to herd all the Christians into one special screening area (maybe after an interview as this information is not on one’s passport) how can you assume that they (or Norwegians for that matter) are potential Breiviks or far-Right terrorists?
It’s the same with Muslims.
Harris will find my example of profiling Christians incomparable because he will say that Islamic terrorism is a greater risk. Of course it is today but the first victims of Islamic terrorism – and for many decades and long before September 11 – are Muslims themselves or those deemed to be such. In any case, which threat is greater is irrelevant if we agree that profiling is an absurd and racist way to address far-Right political movements like Islamism.
This is exactly what I keep banging on about when I speak of what can happen if you allow the far-Right to have hegemony on the debate on Islam, terrorism, and Sharia law because the post-modernist left and many liberals are too pathetic to stand for social justice, citizenship rights and equality.
Sam Harris’ argument shows clearly how far-Right discourse has crept into the language and politics of some atheists and secularists.
Like Harris, the far-Right conflates Islam, Muslims, terrorism and Islamism so as to make it seem as if they are all one and the same. And like them, he blames all Muslims for Islamic terrorism. Profiling can only be an acceptable response if one allocates collective blame.
If you want to know more about the distinctions between Muslims and Islamists you can read my speech on the Islamic inquisition though I talk about this in many speeches, articles and blog entries but it’s basically the difference between Christians and far-Right extremists.
As an aside, it’s interesting how the concept of profiling always and only comes up with regards to minorities. Harris says he doesn’t mean that non-whites alone must be profiled but now he is the one who is being totally dishonest.