29 April 2012

Sam Harris says we should profile Muslims

Alright, so I disagree with Sam Harris about free will (kind of). I disagree with him about the safety of fireplaces, and I think his musings on transcendent experiences are kind of nonsensical. But I still love The End of Faith, I thought The Moral Landscape was right on the money, and I agree with him about all sorts of other random stuff (like self-defense).

But with his latest piece, I really have no idea what he's smoking. It must be powerful stuff though, so I hope he's nice enough to share. He begins his thesis by pointing out something we all agree is ridiculous: searching children and/or disabled elderly people as part of airport security. I mean really, how many bomb threats do we think we've thwarted by asking grandma to park her scooter off the side so she can be frisked by a rubber-gloved TSA agent? He then proceeds to argue, unconvincingly, that profiling is okay – specifically, Muslims. Because, y'know, a non-Muslim jihadist is an oxymoron, and everyone knows that only Muslim jihadists are interested in acts of terrorism. 

It's a short piece, so I encourage you to read it if you haven't already. But I just want to point out some things that seem to me to be, I dunno, fucking obvious, that Sam Harris didn't really consider:
  • Muslim terrorists who know that TSA agents are screening for Muslim-looking people aren't going to show up at the airport in robes and beards. In fact, the 9/11 hijackers were, to my knowledge, all dressed just like normal Joes. Here's a pic of one of the hijackers from 9/11, courtesy of Wikipedia. See if you can spot the guy in robes who is, like, obviously a Muslim jihadist:

  • There are a couple of billion Muslims in the world, only a trivially insignificant percentage of which are crazed jihadists. Most are normal, nice people just like you and me. 
  • Shockingly, other people besides Muslim jihadists want to kill people. Do we profile white Christian males because one of them blew up a Federal Building?
  • Sam is showing a great deal of privilege by suggesting that it's really not that big of a deal to profile all the Muslim people. Easy for him to say when he's not in the minority being marginalized. When we account for the Timothy McVeighs of the world and the fact that most of the world's two billion Muslims don't want to blow you up, random searches are probably just as effective, and probably more so, as singling out any group who fit one broad ethnic description.
  • Sam's touting a mindset that would worsen the stigmatization and marginalization of Muslim-Americans, who are having enough of a hard time as it is thanks to dickheads who believe everything they hear on Fox News. 

Okay. *Breathe*

So, we all agree that frisking kids and grandpas is a little over the top, and doesn't actually make us any safer. And Sam's arguments are wholly shortsighted, and frankly most of us who aren't as stupid and vile as Ann Coulter have already figured out that we can't just profile whatever minority we feel is convenient. Is there a middle ground? I'm not going to pretend to know the answers to something as complex as airport security. But I think most of us would agree that current TSA procedures are excessive, ineffective, occasionally invasive, and an annoying inconvenience that is not helping the airline industry's bottom line. But one thing that definitely won't do anything but make matters worse is to single out a minority of people who are already facing an uphill struggle to be treated with fairness and dignity.

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