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Freedom will be defended at the cost of civil liberties

Why do the prominent people I like keep munching on their feet? I’d only just finished dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s on Neil deGrasse Tyson’s ignorant condescension toward philosophers, (basically philosophers are bad scientists because Neil doesn’t understand philosophy) and now I discover that Sam Harris is proposing that muslims are profiled at airport security screenings.

Sam HarrisWe 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.

PZ Myers was, as is his habit, a little too fast on the draw and immediately jumped to the conclusion that Sam Harris supports racial profiling. Hemant Mehta, likewise keeping with his habit, was a little bit more measured and charitable. To be fair to Sam he explicitly isn’t exempting himself from looking like a Muslim. Although to be less fair Adam Gadahn looks perfectly clean to me, which makes it sound as if Sam equates traditional middle eastern Muslim appearance with uncleanliness. (Not cool.) However, even given Sam’s inclusion of his own appearance and his subsequent clarification that he’s “not narrowly focused on people with dark skin,” (as opposed to ‘broadly,’ I wonder?) this just left me wondering whence Sam’s proposed knowledge-at-a-glance is supposed to arise.

He does offer some hand-waving and a very vague suggestion that “ethnicity, gender, age, nationality, dress, traveling [sic] companions, behavior in the terminal, and other outward appearances” might be indicative of “a person’s beliefs and terrorist potential” peppered with an ad hominem for good measure, that if you disagree with this Barnum statement, you’re either crazy or dishonest. Oh, so that’s it? All I have to do so that I too may be able to reliably identify Muslims at a glance is to consider every single one of their observable characteristics? Gee, thanks, Sam. I’m glad we cleared that up. If we implement this method of yours today, I’m sure the American prisons will be filled to the brim with would-be terrorists in no time. We just have to glance at people and take into account everything about them. Genius!

Look, contrary to Sam’s criticism towards his detractors, this – to me – isn’t at all about political correctness. Nothing could be less of a factor to me: I’ve drawn Mohammed two years in a row. It’s just that for a man who otherwise prides himself on rigorous sceptical and critical thinking backed up by facts, this idea of Sam’s seems remarkably sloppy, ill-conceived, and quite frankly it seems ideologically clouded by Sam’s (perhaps justified) animosity toward Islam. Sure, dislike Islam for valid reasons if you want. It’s certainly not less deserving of criticism than, say, Catholicism. However, please base policy upon factual efficacy, not personal dislike, however warranted it might or might not be.

Emaratis (from UAE), Omanis and and I think a ...

Efficacy, after all, ought to be the crux of the matter here, and I can’t for the life of me understand how Sam imagines this will work. There are around 1 billion Muslims in the world, most of which aren’t terrorists, so even if we could somehow magically recognise them “at a glance,” how would that help? And what about Sam’s claim that “it is simply a fact that, in the year 2012, suicidal terrorism is overwhelmingly a Muslim phenomenon?” Is it now? Because I was under the impression that 94% of all America-based terrorism was perpetrated by non-Muslims. Depending on the base rate, of course, it seems likely that you’d catch more terrorists by systematically ignoring all the Muslims.

In any case it’s all irrelevant if we can’t reliably detect Muslims at a glance. So either Sam Harris must be proposing racial profiling after all or else he must have some Disney-scenario held in his imagination where Muslim terrorists show up at the airport cackling evilly and sporting full orthodox beards while wearing keffiyehs, thawbs, and sandals. As opposed to looking like Everlast here, who’s been a devout Muslim since 1996. (Not that I’m implying, mind, that Everlast is likely to blow up anything but mics.)

You know what, Sam? I’ll just let Sage Francis play you out.

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I’ll show you which culture to pump your fist at, which foot is right to kiss.
We don’t really know who the culprit is yet, but he looks like this!
We know who the heroes are; not the xenophobes who act hard.
“We taught that dog to squat, how dare he do that shit in our own back yard!”
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8 Responses to “Freedom will be defended at the cost of civil liberties”

  1. Sigmund Vestergaard says:

    I’m shocked by Sam Harris’ comments! Sounds very ignorant to me!

  2. Heini Samuelsen says:

    You say: “what about Sam’s claim that “it is simply a fact that, in the year 2012, suicidal terrorism is overwhelmingly a Muslim phenomenon?” Is it now? Because I was under the impression that 94% of all America-based terrorism was perpetrated by non-Muslims.”

    But that’s hardly fair, since Sam is specifically talking about *suicidal terrorism*, and that’s also what the TSA is mainly concerned with.

    The 9/11 hijackers, the London bombers, the shoe bomber, and the underwear bomber, would all fit the profile Sam is recommending. If most suicidal terrorists fit a certain profile, how does it not make sense to target this specific profile?

    • Why would you single out suicidal terrorism as opposed to any other kind? If I’m in danger of being blown up I don’t particularly care whether it’s by a person who’s going to make a clean getaway or by one who’s going to take herself with me. I’d want them both to be stopped.

      However, I’ll gladly play this game. Show me some actual statistics to suggest that suicidal Muslim terrorists pose a significantly higher risk than any other kind. So far I’ve only seen flat assertions and anecdotal evidence.

      Regarding how it doesn’t make sense to target a certain profile, if most suicidal terrorists fit it, I’ve already addressed that. The onus is on Sam Harris (and perhaps you) to show what this supposed profile actually consists of. How do you recognise Muslims at a glance exactly? Oh, yes. That’s right. They’re going to show up in Arab garb while loudly singing praise to Allah and preaching death to infidels, aren’t they?

      • Heini Samuelsen says:

        The reason I single out suicidal terrorism is simply because this is what Sam Harris is talking about, and what the TSA is mainly trying to prevent. I don’t see the point in including abortion clinic bombings, or animal liberation, even though these are classified as terrorism. If the terrorist is not suicidal, there’s a pretty good chance that he’ll avoid having to go through the security check entirely. The point is, if our hypothetical terrorist is in a position where he might be profiled by the TSA, there’s a pretty good chance he’s suicidal.

        Here’s a quote from the Wikipedia article on Suicide attacks: “According to a report compiled by the Chicago Project on Suicide Terrorism, 224 of 300 suicide terror attacks from 1980 to 2003 involved Islamist groups or took place in Muslim-majority lands.[67] Another tabulation found a 4.5 fold increase in suicide bombings in the two years following Papes study and that the majority of these bombers were motivated by the ideology of Islamist martyrdom.[68]”

        Here’s a profile: “Middle Eastern-looking”. Or how about “Anyone not Caucasian”? Those profiles would have caught most, if not all, of the terrorists I mentioned in my previous post…

        I am well aware that all Muslims do not look Middle Eastern, but most of the aforementioned terrorists did. I’m seeing a trend.

        That may, however, be too inclusive to be feasible. So let’s narrow it down to weirdos in gowns with beards. Too exclusive? The terrorists will figure out to shave and put on jeans? Let’s find some middle ground then.

        My point, and the one I think Harris was trying to make, is that checking old ladies, and little children in the name of PC is stupid. It makes sense to focus less on some individuals, and more on others. This focus must be based on looks and behavior. This is called profiling. If most of the previous attacks were committed by terrorists fitting a certain profile, it makes sense to target this profile. I fail to see the outrage?

        • Here’s a profile: “Middle Eastern-looking”. Or how about “Anyone not Caucasian”?

          Right, so we’re back at racial profiling. Which is precisely what Sam Harris denied suggesting.

          Those profiles would have caught most, if not all, of the terrorists I mentioned in my previous post…

          Colour me unconvinced. Many of them could easily pass for Caucasion or non-middle eastern.

          That may, however, be too inclusive to be feasible. So let’s narrow it down to weirdos in gowns with beards.

          Which is exactly how the 9/11 highjackers weren’t dressed. They were wearing t-shirts, jeans, and were clean-shaven.

          Too exclusive? The terrorists will figure out to shave and put on jeans? Let’s find some middle ground then.

          No, they won’t “figure it out.” That’s what they’re already doing. Look at the image. And what “middle ground?” How exactly do you recognise a Muslim terrorist at a glance? That’s the entire point of what I wrote. Honestly, if you’re not going to even bother reading my post or even learn the most rudimentary facts, why the Hell should I take your opinions seriously?

          I fail to see the outrage?

          Yes, but you also have a massive failure of reading comprehension and fact-checking, so it’s not surprising.

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