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Sam Harris: In Defense Of Profiling


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Someone explain to me how this isn't an incredibly racist statement or why Sam Harris is taking talking points out of the Pamela Gellar Islamophobia playbook: http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/in-defense-of-profiling

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 (after all, what would Adam Gadahn look like if he cleaned himself up?) But there are people who do not stand a chance of being jihadists, and TSA screeners can know this at a glance.
Of course Sam Harris denies that he thinks we should profile based on race but then turns around and says we should profile based on their ethnicity which somehow magically makes him less racist:
1. 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.
So we won't profile everyone who's dark skinned but we'll treat everyone from Iraq like they're terrorist suspects or something? Is this the kind of person who Harris thinks we should profile?

 

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I am not a fan of Sam Harris. I started his book The End of Faith several years ago (before I had any opinion of him) based on the recommendation from a friend. From the outset, I found it to be polemic and shallow. I got about half way through before concluding that it was a complete waste of time and money. So, I put it down and never finished it.

 

George

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Please let me provide the disclaimer that I believe the bulk of Muslim people do not harbour aggressive tendencies towards non-Muslims. I do not know enough about Islam to say whether Islam is, or is not, a religion of love, but I do know there are many loving Muslim people. I believe the majority of Muslims in the western world are so. I do not know enough about countries like Iran and Iraq to provide an opinion. Like many, on TV I see great crowds in places like Iran protesting and threatening against non-Muslims (usually America), but I have no idea what percentage of the Muslim population they may represent.

 

With that out of the way let me say that I understand profiling to be:

 

"The recording and analysis of a person's psychological and behavioral characteristics, so as to assess or predict their capabilities in a certain sphere"

 

So in that sense I don't complety agree with you, Neon. I think Harris is trying to put words to what I see as a very difficult matter. He sounds like he is being practical, albeit his message comes across blunt and seems harsh. I think an acceptable balance to all on this matter may be hard to achieve.

 

How do you profile anyone without being discriminatory? Do you think that all people should be profiled or none? I will presume (happy to be corrected) that you see some value from a law enforcement/defence point of view, that there is some value in profiling. If you do think like that, how would you prefer the authorities determine just who to profile? It would seem to me that in choosing whom to profile, judgements are made about character, associates, practices, opinions, etc. That isn't discrimination but the best effort to try and focus resources where they have the most impact. Whilst the authorities could be wrong, it's what they do with this information that matters more (in my opinion).

 

I think there is some validity to what Harris says - statistically the pendulum seems to be in the favour of jihadist, fundy, Muslims blowing people up, and/or planning such. Yes, there have been instances of white Christians doing the same, but I don't think it is incorrect to say that there have been less instances and that such are a less threat to your country. Again, I may be wrong.

 

Where do we direct our resources? At the most likely target area or a scattergun approach? Like I previously said, how do you exactly determine just who to profile?

 

But I agree with what I think is your sentiment. That is, I think you are saying we shouldn't think all Muslims are bad because of the actions of some. We shouldn't single them out for unfair treatment just beacuse they are Muslim. If such people were being treated unfairly as a result of profiling, then I think we have a different argument.

 

I find it difficult to accurately define all that I think about on this issue, so this post is not as thorough as I would like out of respect fron brevity on the forum.

Edited by PaulS
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Please let me provide the disclaimer that I believe the bulk of Muslim people do not harbour aggressive tendencies towards non-Muslims. I do not know enough about Islam to say whether Islam is, or is not, a religion of love, but I do know there are many loving Muslim people. I believe the majority of Muslims in the western world are so. I do not know enough about countries like Iran and Iraq to provide an opinion.

 

Paul,

 

I lived for eleven years in Saudi Arabia (ending in 1990), arguably the most conservative Islamic society. Just like in the West, there is a wide variety of points of view, although fewer avowed atheists. They have their fundamentalists to be sure. But, they also have those who are progressive and those who are largely indifferent to religion. I experienced very little antagonism and no hostility. And, I had close Saudi friends

 

Some of what has occurred in the Middle East following 9/11 is a backlash to our reaction to 9/11. Many Muslims felt that we were invading their lands and trying to impose our culture. Keep in mind that many Muslims experienced European colonialism within living memory.

 

Further, we should be careful about conflating culture and religion. Religion exists in a cultural milieu and will reflect that milieu. Also, we should not generalize too much about Islam. Islam in Saudi is different from that in Egypt which is different from that in Indonesia or India.

 

George

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Thanks for that George.

 

I didn't lose anyone in 9/11 so it might be easier for me to say this, but I think the invasion of Afghanistan was a mistake, as was Iraq. At the time I didn't really think so, but with hindsight I think it has done more harm than good. I mean that as no reflection on the diligent service people who risked their lives, continue to do so, and in some instances even paid with them.

 

I think there has been way too much fearmongering (by our politicians as well as yours) which has just fed the issue and actually created a perception that doesn't accurately reflect reality.

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How do you profile anyone without being discriminatory? Do you think that all people should be profiled or none? I will presume (happy to be corrected) that you see some value from a law enforcement/defence point of view, that there is some value in profiling. If you do think like that, how would you prefer the authorities determine just who to profile? It would seem to me that in choosing whom to profile, judgements are made about character, associates, practices, opinions, etc. That isn't discrimination but the best effort to try and focus resources where they have the most impact. Whilst the authorities could be wrong, it's what they do with this information that matters more (in my opinion).

 

I think PZ Meyers has some good tips on how to properly profile for terrorists in his rebuttal of Sam Harris' article: http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2012/04/30/no-racial-profiling-please/

 


  • Whenever you design a security system with two ways through — an easy way and a hard way — you invite the attacker to take the easy way. Profile for young Arab males, and you’ll get terrorists that are old non-Arab females. This paper looks at the security effectiveness of profiling versus random searching.

  • If we are going to increase security against terrorism, the young Arab males living in our country are precisely the people we want on our side. Discriminating against them in the name of security is not going to make them more likely to help.

  • Despite what many people think, terrorism is not confined to young Arab males. Shoe-bomber Richard Reid was British. Germaine Lindsay, one of the 7/7 London bombers, was Afro-Caribbean.

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I think the invasion of Afghanistan was a mistake, as was Iraq. At the time I didn't really think so, but with hindsight I think it has done more harm than good.

 

I was ambivalent about Afghanistan at the time. I thought then and even more now that a more limited, more surgical operation against al-Qa'ida would be better. I was vehemently against the Iraq War from the outset. I wrote multiple letters to our paper and politicians. I went to anti-war rallies locally and in Washington, all to no avail. It has been -- predictably -- a disaster that has made Americans less safe.

 

Unfortunately, Americans generally wanted revenge and George Bush was more than accommodating (never mind that there were no Iraqis involved in 9/11).

 

George

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I lived and worked in Iran during their revolution in the 70's. I was treated with respect and when the revolution was going down people stopped me in the streets and said don't be afraid. They were truely concerned about my well being. The same caring experiences I had in Morrocco and other Islamic countries in the 70's. When Bush and Halliburden invaded Afghanistan and I spoke up about my good experiences and debated the logic, Americans treated me worst than I was treated in the Middle East.

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I lived and worked in Iran during their revolution in the 70's.

 

Soma, Just curious, where were you. I was in Saudi at the time and our company had operations in Iran. I had a visa from Iran to visit (personal) Iran just when the stuff hit the fan and never made it.

 

George

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I think PZ Meyers has some good tips on how to properly profile for terrorists in his rebuttal of Sam Harris' article: http://freethoughtbl...ofiling-please/

 

I don't think Myers actually offers any tips at all, he just critisizes and argues against Harris' opinion. He doesn't seem to provide any solution at all. As for the security 'expert', I don't think he really understands profiling. In his article he equates profiling as pulling over a car of black people just because they're black - that's not profiling. Just some points to think about Neon:

 

1. Profiling isn’t harassment. It is not discriminatory. In fact, the idea is that the profilee shouldn’t even be aware that s/he is being profiled. It isn’t a case of their rights being damned. Profiling is simply the tool used to sharpen the focus on to the right people – in this case potential terrorist threats. Then the authorities investigate those who make it to the shortlist (again, I would expect covertly, otherwise they play their hand) and if there is evidence of wrongdoing or strong grounds for taking it further, then they take action. Profiling isn't about pulling aside a Muslin-looking person simply because they look Muslim, and making them undergo a strip search or waterboarding.

2. In relation to the statement "It would be far more effective to catch them before they show up at the airport, on the basis of associations and activities”. Hmmm. And how do the authorities do that? Do criminals and terrorists make it clear who their associates and potential accomplices are? I would have thought profiling would assist the Police identifying who they might have to 'catch'.

3. You don’t invite the attacker to look for the easy way, the fact of the matter is that the attacker will look for the easy way to beat the sytem, not matter what you put in place. I don't think anyone would expect anything less of somebody who is intent on carrying out their actions. There is in fact no way around this without removing every single person’s freedom. Not practical.

 

Profiling might not be the single, best tool for preventing attacks. But it is one of a suite of measures that can assist in focussing limited resources. Best bang for your buck perhaps. As well, this sort of thing is new for everybody. We never had to worry about it much say 20 years ago. I expect a perfect system, where no innocent person ever gets caught up in the system, is unrealistic. Which I might add is my main reason for being against capital punishment - but I don't mean to start another debate.

Edited by PaulS
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Soma, Just curious, where were you. I was in Saudi at the time and our company had operations in Iran. I had a visa from Iran to visit (personal) Iran just when the stuff hit the fan and never made it.

 

George, I was in Tehran. It was a great experience. I just came out of India from being a monk and found work teaching English for the Iranian Airforce. The Revolution only took 11 days. It started at the airforce. I was at the main base, but was sent to the other end of the city. We were having major problems at our base because students wanted to get kicked out to join the protest. At the main base other teachers told me the Shah had an elite force of 10,000 who attacked the base because of the protest. They came down the streets leading to the base with tanks ect. and the people and students couldn't repel them. I was told helicopters were shooting bullets that were going through the roof so they opened the armory and gave the weapons to the people in the neighborhood. They retreated. I was sent back to that base, but the revolution had started. One day they had bon fires in the streets. They were burning the banks and liquor stores. The airforce told us they couldn't give us a ride home because they were afraid the busses would be damaged. At that time I had long hair and a beard because as a monk we couldn't cut our hair. I had dark hair at the time and could have passed as a Sufi or Mullah, but I had a Brittish friend with blue eyes and blond hair. We walked passed the fires and people emotionally breaking windows and doors, imagine the pent up energy, and that is when in the midst of the violence and chaos people approached us concerned about our health. I am fortunate to have witnessed a revolution and have had a front row seat. I was so use to hearing guns at night that it felt strange when I left not to hear them. It is funny how we adjust and get use to the backdrop we are placed in. If you came we probably would have met and became friends because we would have gone through that ordeal together. Once they had the guns they attacked one police station at a time and accumulated more. The final day the protestors approached the army and said brother we love you and they laid down their weapons. The Shaw had left long before this happened. It reminded me of the scene at Kent state except our National Guard shot our students. After the revolution is was even more interesting to see how the people set up local committees and built on that to form a new government, quiet different than what was reported in the press.

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Soma,

 

Wow, what an experience. I have know several people (Westerners) who were there at the time including a man and his wife who gave birth at just that time. They had quite a story to tell.

 

My closest experience was the Gulf War. I was living well within Scud range and had 17, if I recall correctly, fired in our area. These were surreal, pinch-yourself moments - is this really me with missiles exploding overhead and parts raining down? Is this me with a gas mask on?

 

I guess enough usurping the forum with our war stories which are largely irrelevant to any issues of interest here.

 

George

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What an amazing experience for both of you. Glad you both weren't killed either. What amazing experiences to go through and live to tell.

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I don't think Myers actually offers any tips at all, he just critisizes and argues against Harris' opinion. He doesn't seem to provide any solution at all. As for the security 'expert', I don't think he really understands profiling. In his article he equates profiling as pulling over a car of black people just because they're black - that's not profiling.

Meyers suggested that if they profile at all, they should profile for suspicious behavior, not for what clothing they wear or what religion they believe. Edited by Neon Genesis
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Meyers suggested that if they profile at all, they should profile for suspicious behavior, not for what clothing they wear or what religion they believe.

 

Who decides what type of behaviour is supsicious and what isn't? In this case, Harris is saying muslims are suspicous 'because' they belong to that religion (I don't agree with his opinion). I mean there would be some that would find it very suspicious if you actively followed a vehemently jihadist leader. The individual themself might not do anything 'suspicous', but if this leader openly advocated blowing people up at mosque services, services that the individual attended every week, would you at all be concerned? My point being that no matter what tactic you employ, human decision making comes into the equation, and we each hold our own views, often reasoned to the individual but not neccessarily to anyone else.

 

But back to the point in the OP, racisim is about race. Harris suggesting all muslims and people who look like muslims should be screened, is not be defintion racist. Furthermore, you seem to be putting words in Harris' mouth when you question if "we'll treat everyone from Iraq like they're terrorist suspects or something". Harris doesn't say that. To the contrary, Harris actually says "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)."

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From the article itself:

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.
Harris specifically says himself that he thinks it's crazy not to consider ethnicity and nationality when profiling for terrorists. If it walks like a duck....
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PaulS, I appreciate your comments.

 

I think a discussion about profiling in the West in deeply affected by the high regard we have for the Individual. We don't want to do anything that would inconvenience an Individual for the safety of all. It's the American way. I exaggerate.

 

The Israelis are not burdened with this weight.

 

So why, I asked, are we still allowed to board airplanes at Ben-Gurion International Airport with bottles and tubes of liquid brought from home, while in Heathrow or JFK they confiscate our face cream and toothpaste?

 

"Oh, that's simple," he answered matter of factly. "We use racial profiling, they don't."

...

Here we don't have that option, the powers that be have mandated that security and the comfort of the majority must triumph. Every month or so, the Israeli media publishes the case of an Arab-Israeli who missed a flight because of the security checks, and of course all of us have privately heard horror stories of visitors who were put through hell.But the basic premise remains unquestioned and the authorities never apologize. These are simply the procedures ensuring everyone's security, they respond.

http://www.haaretz.c...logies-1.261075

 

Back in 1986, there was no particular reason to single out pregnant Irish women as likely anti-Israel terrorists. But Israeli security have long been suspicious of single women traveling alone, and they have no hesitation in asking the most personal questions about their relationships and private life. (She was also, unknowingly, carrying a bomb in her suitcase, hidden there by Hindawi, [her fiance] and primed to explode when the El Al plane was somewhere over Europe.)

http://www.bbc.co.uk...iling_work.html

 

In Denver, American jurisprudence has found that drivers should be warned by a sign that a photo radar van is ahead. We don't want to take responsibility for our behavior and safety.

 

My family are primarily of Scandinavian ancestry but my cousin is tall, with dark hair and narrow face. In her frequent travels she is occasionally delayed by her looks. In conversations she laughs about it.

 

I think the nature of this discussion changes with how safe we think the world is, and how unfettered as individuals we should be.

 

Dutch

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We can argue all day about whether or not "profiling" is right or wrong, but the truth is that we all do it.

 

Making quick decisions about the likely behaviours of strangers is a survival technique. We decide who is more likely or less likely to harm us, and we do it fast. Refusing to judge people by absolutely anything but their character is a lovely ideal, but is not realistic. When I'm walking by myself down the street and I pass a group of men, I assess the situation (as a woman, fyi) and will often make the choice to avoid walking by them. Sure, they might be perfectly nice gentlemen, but they might not be, and I would rather them think I'm a sexist moron than be put in a situation that is not safe.

 

It's too bad that some radical Muslims have caused such chaos and mistrust for peaceful Muslims world over, but it's the world we live in. Easy to say as a white girl, I know. I can't say what I would do in that situation. Right now, some radical, angry Muslims are causing a lot of problems for a lot of people in the world. Based on that information, it would be stupid to pretend like an incident isn't even a slight possibility. As long as the violence continues, so will the profiling.

 

However, how do you really profile someone based on their religion? Not all Muslims have dark-skin, and not all Muslims dress in a way that easily identifies them as Muslims anyway...so I do see some flaw in that.

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From the article itself: Harris specifically says himself that he thinks it's crazy not to consider ethnicity and nationality when profiling for terrorists. If it walks like a duck....

 

Not to 'consider'....Taking into account somebody's ethnicity and/or nationality as a consideration is not racism. Racism as defined in Wikipedia as:

 

Racism is generally understood as either belief that different racial groups are characterized by intrinsic characteristics or abilities and that some such groups are therefore naturally superior to others [1][2] or as practices that discriminate against members of particular racial groups

 

In case you don't understand where I'm coming from, I say Harris' comment isn't incredibly racist because 1) he's not saying one race is better than another, and 2) he is not suggesting any pratice that discriminates against members of any particular racial group. Profiling isn't discrimination.

 

The reality is that some Muslims are choosing to blow themselves up almost on a daily basis in an effort to kill those who aren't muslim (or aren't the 'right' muslims). This is pretty much not happening in America. As opposed to being racist, I just see it as downright silly to say that connections to Islam are not a factor to take into consideration in these circumstances. I think that is what Harris is trying to say.

Edited by PaulS
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Not to 'consider'....Taking into account somebody's ethnicity and/or nationality as a consideration is not racism. Racism as defined in Wikipedia as:

 

Racism is generally understood as either belief that different racial groups are characterized by intrinsic characteristics or abilities and that some such groups are therefore naturally superior to others [1][2] or as practices that discriminate against members of particular racial groups

 

In case you don't understand where I'm coming from, I say Harris' comment isn't incredibly racist because 1) he's not saying one race is better than another, and 2) he is not suggesting any pratice that discriminates against members of any particular racial group. Profiling isn't discrimination.

 

It is racism if Harris thinks all brown skinned people are religious terrorists who should be treated as criminal suspects. And why doesn't Harris demand that the government profile white male Christian pro-lifers just in case one of them might be a radical abortion clinic bomber or plotting to murder another abortion doctor? Why is it only Muslims that he's singling out?
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It is racism if Harris thinks all brown skinned people are religious terrorists who should be treated as criminal suspects. And why doesn't Harris demand that the government profile white male Christian pro-lifers just in case one of them might be a radical abortion clinic bomber or plotting to murder another abortion doctor? Why is it only Muslims that he's singling out?

 

Neon,

 

Obviously there is some misunderstanding concerning how you and I are reading the article. When I read Harris saying "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", I read that he doesn't think all brown skinned people are religous terrorists. That's just my take on what he says.

 

I think he is singling out Muslims because in the current environment it does seem to be Muslims doing the blowing up almost on a daily basis (albeit a tiny minority of jihadists), as opposed to white male Christian pro-lifers (although these have wreaked havoc before). It's just statistics and the best bang for your buck, when you take into account limited resources.

 

I think most people if they were honest, would say they were more concerned of being blown up by a muslim than a white Christian (if they are concerned at all). That doesn't make it right and I wish it wasn't that way, but in the current environment, there is some sense in that. It will naturally be a fine line between going too far and discrimination vs protection and balance of sensibilities.

 

Cheers

Paul

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Here's a list of murders of abortion doctors: http://www.prochoice.org/about_abortion/violence/murders.asp Here's a list of all the abortion clinic bombings: http://www.prochoice.org/about_abortion/violence/arsons.asp In comparision, how many successful Muslim-led terrorist bombings have occured on U.S. soil since 9/11?

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