We Only Should Search Whom We Ought

For my money, one of the most powerful songs in all of musical theatre, as short as it is, is South Pacific’s “You’ve got to be carefully taught”. It was deemed inappropriate, controversial, anti-American…but it was perfect. More, after the jump: It exposed racism, up close and personal, and made audiences uncomfortable. (Mirrors have the same effect on me.)

When employing parody, you don’t want to waste a powerful message like “You’ve got to be carefully taught” on something trivial. Fortunately, Sam Harris is not dishing us up trivia.

I’m just being cautious, re-vamping the plan
Cos we don’t want to search every woman and man
Just the ones who look dangerous, scary, or tan
We only should search whom we ought

We’ve got to admit, cos it only seems fair
There are characteristics that give us a scare—
Not people like us, but like them, over there
We only should search whom we ought

You’ve got to be searched, before you can fly,
If you’re wearing a turban instead of a tie
As we let all the folks wearing crosses slip by…
We only should search whom we ought!
We only should search whom we ought!

Ok, now that you have suffered through my parody, you deserve the real deal.


  1. Dorothy says

    Again with a thank you. That song has stuck in my head since I first heard it. Anti-American? no. It’s anti-hate.

  2. zackoz says

    If I recall correctly, the show was going to tour in South Africa in the bad old apartheid days. Mainly with this song in mind, the producers sought assurances that the show would be performed unamended in entirety. When responses were unsatisfactory, the project didn’t proceed.

  3. HP says

    I’ve been an atheist for years,
    Since 1984 at least.
    “No Horsemen Four for me,” I cried,
    (Per Diderot: “No kings or priests.”)

    “Sam Harris is a mighty man,” I’m told.
    His errors mount egregiously.
    “He wrote a book at a convenient time!”
    Why must I take him seriously?

    Now, Hitchens was an idiot, too,
    And yet he wrote so very well.
    I understand why some are so confused —
    Theresa can go straight to hell.

    But Harris lives, and writes, and speaks,
    And nonsense spouts imperiously.
    Have I not better things to do?
    Why must I take him seriously?

    (Okay, regarding the actual subject matter: Has everyone here seen the 1962 Italian-Algerian-French movie “The Battle for Algiers”? In the opening, pre-credits sequence, we see a young, veiled Muslim woman, leaving Algiers proper and entering the Arab quarter. When she reaches her apartment, she cuts her hair, applies makeup, and changes into mod, early sixties, fashionable clothing. She returns to the French quarter of Algiers, and enters a soda shop, where teenagers just like her are enjoying sodas and dancing to rock-and-roll. When she leaves, she conveniently forgets her purse. This is followed by a massive explosion, flying debris and body parts, and the screams of the merely wounded. This is the inevitable result of profiling.)

  4. Cuttlefish says

    I’ve said it before; I’ll say it again: I have the best goddamned commenters in all seventeen corners of the interwebs.

    You people humble me. I am not worthy… but, fortunately, neither is anyone else, so I’ll keep posting and keep having remarkable people comment. And the world will reap the benefits.

    Thank you. All of you. And right now, HP, zackoz, and Dorothy.

  5. Crudely Wrott says

    My mother bought the sound track album of South Pacific and was playing it not long after I became aware of the hatred and fear that infected my father (who Ma had divorced when I was still in swaddling clothes).

    He had custody of me for a month each summer starting in 1956, when I was five years old. While it was a great adventure to fly way out to Wyoming and learn to be a cowboy from him (he was one of the last real ones), I was confused and frightened when he tried to teach me to hate brown people.

    Listening to You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught and talking with Ma was one of the first deep lessons in humanity I ever learned.

    I have been grateful ever since that I never became a bigot like he was. I also discovered that I could learn important and useful things even from people who are bent and broken. I used to be a pretty good hand when it came to punching cows and I still have a cowboy work ethic. Thanks, Pap, You taught me more than you ever intended.

  6. says

    Great idea! Concentrate on harassing people who “look like muslims” and might be trying to blow up aeroplanes. That isn’t going to convince people that you’re a legitimate target, is it?

    And meanwhile, people who don’t fit the criteria of “looking like a muslim” and/or are trying to attack other targets besides aeroplanes get a free pass.

  7. Linda Grilli Calhoun says

    I’m sorry; I hate to be the wet blanket here, but Sam Harris is trying to offer a solution to a very real problem. Have any of you read yesterday’s news? Another underwear bomb was discovered. They’re still after us.

    As lame as his suggestion may be, all I’m hearing in response is to call him a bigot. Do any of you have any concrete suggestions to offer that are any better? If you do, put them out there.

    He’s good friends with Aayan Hirsi Ali. He sees what she goes through to stay alive. How would any of you cope with her situation? Is it right for ANYONE to have to fear for her life because of her WORDS? We all, rightly, stuck up for Jessica
    Alquist when she was threatened, but although that was, and is, horrible, she’s not in the kind of danger that Ali is.

    Read the Qu’ran. Read the screed. Even if Muslims are not themselves violent, they BELIEVE that stuff. It’s OK with them that their prophet was a pedophile. It’s OK with them that other Muslims murder. Censorship is OK with them. If they were in charge, this website, this conversation, would be cause to kill us.

    We all need to get real about this. L

  8. Cuttlefish says

    His solution would have Aayan Hirsi Ali searched, because she looks like a Muslim.

    Actions, not appearances, are what matter; to the extent that we focus on [relatively easily alterable] superficial physical appearance, we waste resources. Harris offers a knee-jerk “solution” that exacerbates rather than alleviates the problem.

  9. Linda Grilli Calhoun says

    Cuttlefish, I agree with you that Harris’ solution isn’t a good one.

    All I’m saying is that instead of just criticizing him and calling him a bigot, people need to come up with something better. It’s easy to shout people down, especially if they allow themselves to be targets. It’s a lot harder to think a knotty problem through and come up with ideas that might actually work.

    And, in difficult situations, there are no perfect solutions, so any potential solution can be criticized. But, that is not enough. L

  10. Randomfactor says

    To me, one of the worst aspects of such racial profiling is that it is intended to lower the costs of invasion of personal liberty in the name of “security.”

    In the same way that the abolition of a draft allows us to lower the “costs” of going to war. As in: nobody I know has been killed…

    Some things should ONLY be done at great expense, and that expense shared as widely as possible.

  11. ThoughtCriminal says

    Dear Linda

    But your underwear bomber was identified as working for the Saudi Arabian spy services in coordination with the CIA (go and check AP, The Guardian et al.). It is probably mostly spin to make the drone war in Yemen popular within the U.S. However,
    if you murder people by drones, some relatives/friends will take exception to those murders and some will want revenge. That’s human nature.

    “They” will be after you as long as the United States is
    conducting illegal, undeclared wars and/or use drone technology all over the world. “They” are not after you because of the Qu’ran, “their” god, after all, is modelled after psychotic Jehova. “They” are after you because you have been murdering “their” civilians for decades. (And, in some of “their” countries, you can freely state that you are an atheist as I have done in Tunisia, Morocco, Syria, and Lebanon.)

    Please go to Pharyngula and read why racial profilling is just not making sense. At all. By the way, I hope you are aware that the country with the biggest Muslim population is Indonesia…do “they” look Muslim for you?

  12. says

    Several people have pointed out that profiling most of the people and then checking a few random ones enables terrorists to look like “not the profile” and reduces their chance of getting caught to a fraction of what it would be if there were simply random checking of the same number of people. See Bruce Schneier’s analysis (referred to from recent Pharyngula articles about Sam Harris or just look him up).

    I favor bomb sniffing technology of the air around the planes plus random checking. Concentrating on people who buy one-way tickets will ensure that your terrorists buy round-trip ones.

  13. Roxane Paczensky says

    I must be weird. When I read Sam article I thought he was arguing that there were groups of people we should not be subjecting to rigorous searches at airports, such as elderly people in wheelchairs having their orthapaedic shoes searched and 3 year olds having their sandals searched. I thought he was arguing that time wasted searching these types of people could have been better used to search other people, like himself, who are more likely to be a threat. I thought he was arguing that elderly people and small children were being included as subjects to be searched out of a misguided notion that airport security should be seen to target all types of people equally lest some types of people get offended at being preferentially targeted.
    I thought his musings on his personal observations regarding what happens at airport security check points were worth considering. He suggests he may have been searched when he inadvertantly left bullets in his bag instead of being given a pass had security resources not been wasted in searching disabled old people and very young children.
    I think the opportunity to discuss if we’re OK with elderly disabled people and very young people being considered an equal threat deserving of being searched has been lost in this fight. I don’t know if profiling works. Sam suggests it’s use by airport security in Israel proves it does. Either way, while the opponents to “profiling” continue to rage against Sam’s article disabled elderly people and very young children are still being subjected to rigorous searches at airports while men who look like Sam are getting a pass who might have something we rather they didn’t in their bags,

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