Sam Harris: We Should Profile Muslims at the Airport

Sam Harris is bound to get a lot of pushback for his latest essay, in which he makes the case that Muslims — or anyone who looks like s/he could be Muslim — ought to be specially screened at the airport:

Is there nothing we can do to stop this tyranny of fairness? Some semblance of fairness makes sense — and, needless to say, everyone’s bags should be screened, if only because it is possible to put a bomb in someone else’s luggage. But the TSA has a finite amount of attention: Every moment spent frisking the Mormon Tabernacle Choir subtracts from the scrutiny paid to more likely threats. Who could fail to understand this?

Granted, I haven’t had to endure the experience of being continually profiled. No doubt it would be frustrating. But if someone who looked vaguely like Ben Stiller were wanted for crimes against humanity, I would understand if I turned a few heads at the airport. However, if I were forced to wait in line behind a sham search of everyone else, I would surely resent this additional theft of my time.

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.

When discussing this, keep this in mind:

Harris isn’t a racist. I don’t think so, anyway. He’s making (what he feels is) a logical argument in favor of profiling. So if he’s wrong, focus on why his argument doesn’t make sense.

A few immediate points to bring up:

  • With a billion Muslims in the world, and only a freakishly small fraction of them involved in any sort of jihadi activity, it would arguably be just as time-consuming and wasteful to go after all of them as opposed to a random search.
  • Do all Muslims look alike? No. There are black Muslims and white ones. There are also plenty of brown people (*Hemant waves hello*) who aren’t Muslims. So unless you’re just going after women in burkas and brown guys with long beards, I don’t know how this plan would would avoid becoming a case of racial profiling. And I don’t believe Harris is arguing that should happen.
  • Wouldn’t it be smarter to just screen people who have traveled to specific countries, who buy one-way tickets, who look nervous/shady, etc? Those things seem perfectly doable with current technology… and TSA simply keeping their eyes open.
  • Would the ramifications of specifically profiling Muslims do more harm than good? Wouldn’t we be giving young Muslims a reason to distrust (and despise) the American government?


About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    The 911 hijackers were clean shaved, with ordinary hair, no head gear, and wore very western clothes. Nothing about their appearance said “Yo! I’m a Muslim!” If I were planning to do a naughty thing, I would not dress and groom myself to look like some stereotype that people might suspect might do a naughty thing. I’d put a lot of effort into looking quite the opposite.

    • http://twitter.com/Cafeeine Cafeeine

      This would especially be the case if we took Harris’ advice and made this profiling an open policy.

      Quite frankly I suspect that this sort of racial/religious profiling already goes on, if not in hidden policy at least in an unofficial, or unconscious level.

    • articulett

      But they did have Muslim names. Also they came from countries that were predominantly Muslim. Would you prefer they search such people thoroughly or just search every 10th person or so –even if they are an old lady or little girl? I don’t mind the extra searching of me so long as they are doing a thorough search of those who appear to be in the same category of people who think there great rewards in dying for one’s faith– you know, young men named Mohummed, for example.

      How about if a person’s passport is from Pakistan or the UAE– do you think they should be treated exactly the same as the group of teenage girls from Iowa going to cheerleader camp? What about those who only purchase one-way tickets? Shouldn’t we get maximum value for time wasted in airport lines? I think this is already going on to some extent under the radar. I hope it is anyhow.  Don’t you want the 30 year old guy named Mohummed with a Saudi Arabian passport to be searched as thoroughly or more thoroughly than you are? Or do you really want the searches to be completey random?

      How is it that they decide who to search right now? Who wouldn’t prefer a more efficient system– faster and more likely to detect dangerous people? Are people who might be profiled willing to undergo more scrutiny knowing that it might catch more actual terrorists? Is there anyone satisfied with the system the way it is now?  I don’t even think most people who might be profiled would complain that much if they believed it was more likely to catch an actual terrorist on their plane.  How much extra time are you willing to spend in line so they can pat down Sam Harris if they miss they ignore the group of Muslim men who have one way tickets? Wouldn’t you be more willing to waste time for the reverse? I think most people would.

      • monyNH

        “Don’t you want the 30 year old guy named Mohummed with a Saudi Arabian
        passport to be searched as thoroughly or more thoroughly than you are?”

        If I’m the 30 year-old guy named Mohammed from Saudi Arabia who just wants to visit Disney World with my family, or attend a conference, or go home for spring break…I’m guessing the answer would be no.

        • articulett

          Is your answer no? How much extra are you willing to pay and how much longer are you willing to wait in line for what kind of airport security. Does it bother you to wait extra while they search old ladies? Do you think random searches are the most effecient use of the money? What would you like to see in exchange for your money and your time in line– or are you satisfied with things the way they are now? Do you feel like you are being profiled?

          • quantheory

            Is profiling a better option than reducing the number and extensiveness of searches across the board? I think that the fear of terrorist attack is vastly disproportionate to its possibility, and that our security is too hard on everyone. So it doesn’t seem like an “Arabs vs. old ladies” issue to me. (Besides which, Arab elderly people? Arab children? Do they get the same consideration?)

            • Demonhype

              This.  So much this.  Most of this is simply security theater to cater to paranoia and cowardice–it does nothing to make people safer, it is an exaggerated effort compared to the risk it pretends to prevent, and serves no other purpose than to make people “feel” better.  Because while it doesn’t work, it makes the fearful uninformed and ignorant intuitively “feel” like it’s making them safer.  And when it turns out the warm finger of safety in their rectums isn’t quite as comforting as they’d thought it would be, do they reassess anything?  Nope!  They still want their illusion of safety, but they want that gloved finger going up the ass of someone who will never be them–someone of the wrong color or wrong name or wrong religion.    That way they can still keep their pweshus security blanket while letting someone else pay the price for it.

              Oh, it’s also to reinforce a police state mentality on the people of this country, IMO.  Most general or random searches, both governmental and private business, are to ease people out of any state of mind that suggests to them that they have any rights, not even the right to bodily autonomy.

              • Sharon Hypatia

                 You nailed it completely, Demonhype.
                Except that it is not just an illusion of safety, but a CYA for the authorities. If the terrorists used a method that had been tried before,  the howls would be  “How could you let them do it again? You should have known!”
                The political fall-out would be enormous.

              • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/ Ani Sharmin

                Demonhype,

                while letting someone else pay the price for it 

                This, exactly. People act like it’s okay if something unfair’s being done, so long as it’s being done to someone else and not them. In Harris’s article, one of the things that really bothered me was that he seems to think that the inconvenience of waiting in a long line is a legitimate concern and complaint — but that being discriminated against isn’t, even suggesting that Muslims (or people who “look Muslim”) should be okay with it.

      • The Captain

        ” Don’t you want the 30 year old guy named Mohummed with a Saudi Arabian passport to be searched as thoroughly or more thoroughly than you are? ” This is why your stupid…. You don’t know me very well do you?

        • articulett

           I’m not stupid and I work with Muslims– who want certain profiling done– for their own safety.   I have talked with them about this issue.  Moreover, I have a student who seemed to be searched extra because his passport was from Pakistan and he seemed glad that the airport was taking the extra precautions when I asked him if he felt like he was being profiled.  Clearly some people don’t mind being profiled and are eager to show they have nothing to hide.  If there are Muslims who want Muslims profiled for their own safety, then I figured it was worthwhile for me to re-think my position. I’m certainly willing to spend more time at an airport if it translates to increased safety. But I’m not really pleased about spending more time for them to search people  in extremely low risk groups.

          Do you really think that completely random searches are the best investment of your time in money.  Are you surprised to find that there are who Muslims would disagree? There are also former Muslims such as Ayan Hirsi Ali who I suspect would disagree. Does their opinion matter at all to you?

          • The Captain

            No.. Your stupid if you think brown people deserve more scrutiny than me! But thank you for advocating for an easier time for my hijinks when I’m in public because I’m white. I hope you have to sit next to me on a plane when I get my booze and drugs and porno past security. Have a nice flight racist bitch. 

            Also Important part:
            “Clearly some people don’t mind being profiled and are eager to show they have nothing to hide” but not you huh?!

            • Carrie

              Using sexism to fight racism? well done…

              • The Captain

                Ahh trust me, I use “bitch” as a gender neutral term. Although the internet likes to think otherwise my RL friends think I am probably one of the least “sexist” people around.

          • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

            That many Muslims don’t understand security doesn’t change the equation.  This isn’t (just) about rights and dignity.  Racial profiling makes us less secure.  End of story.

            • Demonhype

               Thank you.  This is like when some MRA says “but I know women who LIKE being treated like sex dolls and servants, so therefore it’s a good thing!” or racists who say “I have black friends who don’t think there is any racism in the world, therefore racism doesn’t exist anymore!”  It’s an excuse and proves nothing.

          • https://twitter.com/#!/OffensivAtheist bismarket

            I’m not sure i agree with you on EVERYTHING but i also understand why your saying it & don’t think it’s because your racist, unfortunately some peoples arguments boil down to, i don’t agree with you, you are racist, i can shout the loudest so i win. Not everyone here resorts to insults, so don’t be disheartened by one nasty person. Peace.

            • The Captain

              I assume I’m the person you are mentioning. But no, I do not think she is racist for not agreeing with me, nice straw man. I think she is racist, because she is asking that people should be judged, and given different treatment by their race. Get it!? 

              Now do I think she is racist because she “hates” middle eastern people? No. I think she is racist because she is too intellectually lazy to judge a person individually, so it’s easier for her to judge an entire group instead. But that’s still racist.And I have lived long enough in the south that I have no respect for idiots who advocate treating people differently because of the color of their skin so I feel no reason to not insult them. Frankly I find people who think crude words are more “insulting” than the idea that someone should be judged by what their ancestry simply pathetic!

              • https://twitter.com/#!/OffensivAtheist bismarket

                 Fair enough, seems i may have been wrong, sorry i took your words to mean something they didn’t but i’m still not convinced she’s proposing what she is because she’s racist, there could be genuine utilitarian reasons she’s advocating this.

      • JD929

         The problem is that the terrorists can and have radicalized non-muslims.  Don’t forget that Tim McVeigh was an ex-Army white supremacist, and he killed 800 people.  The shoe bomber and underwear bomber killed no one.  I think it’s unwise to ease the pressure off any demographic because that would be a demographic that is exploited – a child’s plush toy or a wheel chair can be used to cause trouble.

        One-way tickets should be considered, but don’t forget that if terrorists realize that buying a round-trip gets you less risk of trouble, then they’ll buy round trips.

        • articulett

           That’s true about Timothy McVeigh– and the Norway guy was a blonde Christian extremist. However,  our policy used to be to listen to hijackers because we thought they’d be interested in saving their own lives– this isn’t true of Muslim extremists. They are willing to risk their lives (and the lives of others) to reach paradise. It’s something their faith encourages.  So we’ve changed our policies to reflect the fact that some people are willing to blow up themselves and others because they truly believe god wants them to.  These people are more of a threat to air travelers than those who run away from the horrors they inflict.

          I understand that if terrorists think we are profiling, they’ll get women and children and other types to do their dirty work so I’m not sure I’m for it.  But who is satisfied with the system we have now? Do we get the best safety for our money and time?

          It seems to me that people who are angry about the issue are not really offering better solutions.  Moreover, I know Muslims who think that Muslims should be profiled because THEY are afraid of flying with Muslim extremists. Some have left Muslim countries because of the extremists. They seem to understand better than we do what Muslims are willing to do in Allah’s name.  There are Muslims who truly believe the will be rewarded if they die fighting for Allah…  they WANT to die fighting for Allah.  If the Muslims I know are afraid of such people, then maybe I should be too.

          I don’t have a strong opinion on this because I don’t travel a lot– but I can see why people (including Muslims) would be irked at having to stand in lines an extra half hour while old ladies and famous people are searched and more risky travelers were not.  If passengers are paying more money in ticket prices for airport security, then shouldn’t the most efficient system be used?

          • The Captain

            Here’s something you don’t seem to understand, I don’t know or trust you. I don’t trust you any more than I trust that muslim looking person you think I should be afraid of. Your race, or religion does not give you any special favor with me. And the more I think about it, the more I trust you even less, because your trying to get security to look at someone other than you. Same with that old person you also think is special, I don’t trust them either. For all I know their crazy kid shoved a bomb up their old senile ass. 

            So search all of us, or none of us, because neither the old lady, the little kid, the white guy, or you are special, I trust none of ya.

          • Demonhype

            “Well, maybe institutionalized racism isn’t a good idea and has been shown not to work, but if you can’t come up with something better then I win by default!”

            Creationist argument techniques seem to be seeping into other debates.

            BTW, people all over, as well as here, have made suggestions as to how else to do it.  You just don’t want to hear it and are pretending it never happened because you’re dedicated to your racist method.
             

          • jdm8

            The most efficient airline protection system is done by Israelis and they don’t use race, origin or religious garb because people of European descent have cropped up as terrorist offenders too.

            I don’t say the Israeli airline system is perfect, but the current system we have as Americans is security theater in comparison.  Taking the wrong tack will only perpetuate the theater.

            • Sam

              Have you really looked into the Israeli way of doingit? they discriminate against Arab people everyday even having security escort them to their flights.. not allowing them to be alonein their airports

        • TheAnalogKid

          800?

          • jdm8

            You’re right, I grabbed the wrong number, 800 injured.  168 were killed.

      • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

        Hi articulett,
        Your questions seem to be rhetorical, but if they’re really addressed to me, please be aware that I am merely pointing out the obvious problem with profiling people according to their physical appearance.  None of the rest of the issues or considerations that you have raised are implied, pro or con, in my statement.

        • articulett

          Suppose we asked Muslim Americans what would make them feel safest in regards to air travel? If they were more willing to be searched in order to feel more secure and protected from extremists, then it might be worthwhile to consider it.

          I work with Muslims who seem to fear the more extremist members of Islam more than I do. 

          • Demonhype

            I know lots of people who think that everyone should be searched on every streetcorner, be intimately searched and tested before being allowed to work any job, and would have no problem living in a veritable police state if that would make them “feel safer”.  That does not mean that it works, that it makes anyone safer, or that others should be subjected to a gloved finger in the ass just because you or anyone else find it a comforting security blanket.  Same goes for Muslims.  If I can find some Muslims who are willing to be subjected to racism to “make us safer”, why does their opinion count more than the Muslims who aren’t willing to trade their rights and equality away for an illusion of safety?  Why does the pro-gloved hand crowd get top priority and get to force that gloved hand up an unwilling ass?

            • T-Rex

              Makes one wonder why you make so many “gloved finger in the ass” references.

          • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/ Ani Sharmin

            articulett,

            I’m afraid of extremist members of Islam, too, but I’m not going to volunteer to be discriminated against.

            The thing is, you could make this argument about any religion. You might find Christians or former Christians who are concerned about the extremism in their group, and who might be okay with profiling or discriminating against Christians, but that doesn’t mean it would be okay.

            Profiling’s just being suggested in this case, in my view, because we’re talking about a group (Muslims) that are in the minority here in the US, so it’s possible to convince a lot of people it’s okay, since it doesn’t affect them.

      • Denis Robert

         By that logic, everyone called Sean, Seamus or Patrick should be stripped searched, since the Irish have committed the vast majority of terrorist attacks in the UK in living memory. But of course you’re not advocating that, since Irish people are white.

        • articulett

           What are you talking about? No doubt if Irishmen were driving airplanes into buildings because they imagined their god wanted them to, we’d all want our airport security doing more extensive searches on such types– even other Irishmen… and Muslims! I think you are very confused and arguing a straw man. To undergo a search at the airport is not taking away anyone’s rights. It doesn’t harm anyone. We are all subject to such searches. We all have a vested interest in feeling safe when we fly– except those that are hoping to get to paradise via plane crashing! The question is how do you make security the most efficient– or do you forgo efficiency so that no single group of people is more subject to frisking and x-rays than any other? You have failed to provide an option– instead you seem determined to take offense. I take it that you are satisfied with the current system. You are fine being delayed so long as the old lady travelling with her grandkids is just as likely to be searched as the young Muslim travelling alone.  (By the way, you seem to be under the mistaken impression that Muslims come in a single color. Being a Muslim in a religion– it isn’t a race. In fact, there is no genetic basis for “race”– but that’s another story. The Muslims I know would probably be classified as “white” by you.)   

          Do you think insurance companies are profiling when they charge people in higher risk groups more insurance? Who do you want examined more closely– a single man with unusual enthusiasm for hanging out with children or a single woman with the same enthusiasm? In general, which one do you feel safest leaving your child with? Do you think a nun is as likely to be a pedophile as a priest? Is it profiling to note that statistics show that most pedophiles are men? Is it profiling to note that “though most men are not violent, most violent people are men”? Can you tell the difference in that statement? Is it profiling to note that the hijackers that posed the greatest dangers to air travellers were Muslim men? Cock pit recordings show that these men were praising Allah as they drove into buildings– certain that they were on their way to paradise for their acts! Would you change your mind if Muslim men wanted Muslim men to be searched more thoroughly on their fight than Asian grandmas and Hispanic families even though it meant more thorough searching of themselves?

          What if TSA agents were afraid of being accused of profiling so they bent over backwards to not search those who fit the hijackers demographic for fear of upsetting them or people like you? After all, what have they got to lose– they’re not the ones flying. And if their jobs depend upon them not giving the impression of profiling, then you can bet they will search and overlook as need be to keep their jobs– rather than to keep passengers safe.  What if TSA agents were trained by having unlikely suspects sneak in box cutters or more than 3 ounces of liquid or gun powder– old ladies and Chinese families and groups of gospel singers– in order to teach the TSA agents not to profile?  We can all pretend that these people are equally likely to kill themselves and other passengers due to their faith even though statistics do not bear this out. Would you feel safer? Do you really think it’s a good to spend just as much time and energy doing invasive searches on low risk passengers as it does on ones who fit higher risk demographics?

          Sam Harris always seems so much smarter to me than his biggest critics. You seem to have heard what you wanted to hear and miss what people are actually saying.

        • https://twitter.com/#!/OffensivAtheist bismarket

           I live in the UK & have travelled to NI during the troubles & the security, at least on the Welsh side at the Hollyhead ferry was massive compared to say Dover, or even Harwich with it’s pretty much direct link to Amsterdam (Back in the day), so YES profiling did/does go on & you know what? It was pretty successful.

    • Athest From Hell

      Well if we mandate that Muslims clearly self identify themselves as Muslims, may be with a crescent shaped badge, it will lot easier to profile them and avoid future terror attacks. Give Sam a couple of year he will be proposing such a solution.

      • Demonhype

        I think they’d like that.  After all, it would make us all so much safer!  And not one of them would get the reference, unfortunately.  The few who do will bask in the old “well, this is totally different, becuz….” bullshit.

      • articulett

         I doubt it– but I bet it sure makes you feel holier than thou to say so!.

    • randall.morrison90

      If you make a racist argument then you are a racist.

      Sam Harris does not just argue for profiling, he also makes arguments for torture, pre emptive nuclear war, and The Mecca Option.

      Yep, he is a racist.

  • gski

    Knowing almost nothing about airport
    security I can’t comment on Sam Harris’ suggestion. However, it does
    seem to me the Israels are doing a pretty good job and I would trust
    what ever they could suggest.
     

    • Fuzz

      Israelis do behavioral profiling, which I personally think would be the best. The only problem is that it takes a LOT of training and a LOT of good agents and a LOT of time. Considering that Israel’s largest airport is equal to Kansas City (in passenger volume), it’s hard to envision how we could implement such a system here.

      • Simon

        Whenever I went it seemed their policy was simply: interrogate and frisk *everyone*. There is a reason they instruct passengers to arrive three hours early. 

      • I_Claudia

         I can also say from experience that the Israeli method has the added effect of making just about everybody feel  unwelcome and ill-treated. They treat you like a suspected criminal, and interrogate you as if they just know you’re hiding something. My mother, who is a frail woman married to an ethnically Jewish man, was given “special” treatment and sent to an interrogation room for further questioning, which besides being terrifying almost meant they lost their flight out of the country.

        Oh, and they also practice entirely open racial profiling. Considering how regular security forces treated anyone Palestinian, a treatment that made me want to hide my head in shame simply for witnessing it, I hardly dare imagine what it must be like at airports.

        Not saying this isn’t effective mind you, it appears to be extremely effective. I’m just saying that it can have unintended harmful effects. I’ve already heard from several non-Americans that the absurd security circus at airports puts them off returning to the US. I don’t really think becoming more like the Israelis would help the matter, in addition to the difficulties in practical implementation you mention.

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      What El Al does is to spend a lot of time asking probing question. 

      “So you’re going to visit your Uncle, what does he do?”
      “And where did he go to school?”
      “And what does his oldest son do?”
      At some point, if your story is fake, it breaks down.

      The thing is, El Al is the size of a very small US airport.  They can afford to use highly trained people and spend a lot of time on each passenger.

      http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2010/01/adopting_the_is.html 

    • Simon

      I have traveled to and from Israel many times for work and their airport/airline security is a big reason I am glad I am not required to visit again. If US airports adopted the same policies for passengers and freight the country would grind to a halt. 

      • http://beerwithstrangers.com Tony Russo

        Yes. Frankly it’s the pretense of security that drives me nuts. I don’t fly often but when I do, eventually I think: “I’d rather blow up than have to empty out my oversized snow globe.”

  • http://twitter.com/oceanclub Paul Moloney

    “When discussing this, keep this in mind: Harris isn’t a racist”

    Sorry, you state this as fact; given Harris’ past record, I don’t think it has been sufficiently proven as a fact. Frankly I think the man is a negative to the atheist movement.

    What on earth does “looking like a Muslim” even mean, unless one is an idiot? One of my Muslim friends looks Chinese. One looks Samoan. Does Harris think terrorist attackers wander into the airport with huge beards & niqabs looking like something from Central Casting?

    P.

    • RebeccaSparks

      I generally find Harris racist and misogynist-not in that I think he’s secretly a member of KKK.  He’s racist in that unself-reflexive white male privilege way that identifies women as targets of violence and non-Western/white countries as barbaric and tragic.

       He has also written extensively about Islam as an extremist religion, like he believes there are no moderate Muslims at all.  I think assuming he means Muslims should be treated as potential terrorists fits pretty well with everything else he’s said.

      But while I think Harris is racist, I think it’s a good idea to point out why racism is not going to help isolate potential terrorist threats.  I think Mehta’s list as why the argument is essentially nonsensical is a good place to start.

      • Hibernia86

        I call BS on your claims. Where did he say anything about targeting women with violence or saying that non-white countries are automatically barbaric. You won’t find that in his writings. While I agree with Hemant that there are problems with racial profiling, I also think that when you make assumptions about him based on his gender and race (and yes that is what you are doing. You have no proof to back up your claims besides his race and gender) then how are you any less sexist or racist than you accuse him of being?

    • brianmacker

      Clothing, hair style, etc. Carrying a Koran. Passport says Muslim. Holy cow, you people are dense.

  • Amelia

    And you also have to consider the kind of mentality that a policy like that would promote – our country sees you, and anyone who has a remote possibility of sharing your religion/background, as a likely threat. Welcome to the US! 

    I hate slippery slope arguments, but if you’re okay with that kind of mentality in the airport, you’re okay with it in everyday society. If we’re willing to indulge in an almost entirely irrational fear at the expense of the dignity of decent, harmless people, I think that says something very negative about our nation as a whole.

  • http://twitter.com/nicoleintrovert Nicole Introvert

    His post made me think rather uncomfortable thoughts.   I think (hope) he was going more for the approach of: Stop treating grannies, people with disabilities, and small children like they are definitely the ones hiding bombs. 

    In the past week I read two stories via The Consumerist that were horrid.  One was about a young girl, elementary school aged, who had cerebral palsy.  The TSA agent flipped their shit after the father made some suggestions on how to approach his child knowing how skittish she is around strangers.

    The other about a 4 year old girl who ran through security to hug her grandma being detained.  Because the grandma could have passed the 4 year old a gun and some dope.

    *sigh*   It is a damn theater but what to do about it?!

    • CelticWhisper

      On the topic of what to do about TSA, consider joining the (political) fight against it.

       http://www.travelunderground.org

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    Completely aside from any racism and bigotry, from a security perspective this is just plain completely stupid.

    For one, most terrorists are not Muslims.  For another, if you profile people with a specific look, then terrorists will just change the look.  I’m really hoping Bruce Schneier will weigh in on this, because Sam is way outside of his expertise here.

    • LouisDoench

      because Sam is way outside of his expertise here.

       That has never stopped Sam Harris before. It won’t in the future.

  • Miko

    Harris: But there are people who do not stand a chance of being jihadists, and TSA screeners can know this at a glance.

    This is nonsense.  No matter what security procedure is adopted, the people trying to beat security are obviously going to do everything they can to be the opposite of what the screeners are looking for.

    Furthermore, contrary to Hemant’s objection, the fact that Harris said this is a pretty fundamental proof that he is a racist.  The idea that you can know things about people “at a glance” is the philosophical core of racism.

    Wouldn’t we be giving young Muslims a reason to distrust (and despise) the American government?

    Yes, but from a rational perspective they (and non-Muslims as well) ought to distrust and despise the United States government either way.

    • http://twitter.com/Cafeeine Cafeeine

      “The idea that you can know things about people “at a glance” is the philosophical core of racism.”

      Not to defend Harris, but I don’t think that’s what he’s saying. He’s saying that kindly old grandmothers and kids (for example)  are obviously not terrorists ‘at a glance’. 

      The problem with ‘at a glance’ is that it works only when you don’t have someone trying to fake their intentions. If starting tomorrow kindly old grandmothers are exempt from any searches as a matter of policy, Jane Terrorist would get a job in a nursing home and sneak explosives in the suitcase of Grandma Jones when she’s visiting her grandkids.

      • Erp

         Or they get women willing to sacrifice themselves and their baby (or someone else’s baby) or kid.

        • http://twitter.com/Cafeeine Cafeeine

           Yes, the same rationale applies. I used the grandma example to point out that you don’t have to be a wolf-in-sheeps-clothing to make the point, as even the sheep can be dangerous.

          If people might say that this is unlikely, it only takes one false negative to create an incident, so the idea that little old ladies are obviously innocent doesn’t fit well. I don’t like the airport security theater (love that phrase) but I don’t think openly selective checking of this sort will solve any problems.

    • brianmacker

      It’s not nonsense. That six year old girl hugging her grandmother was, of course, not a Islamic terrorist.

  • http://twitter.com/0xabad1dea Melissa

    Anyone with a serious interest in the TSA etc should most definitely be reading the blog of Bruce Schneier http://www.schneier.com/ 

    It’s a little wrongheaded to assume that the only people who could ever want to do something are jihadists, it’s a little wrongheaded to assume there’s much correlation between physical appearance and danger level, and I’m sick of hearing of my friend, who has a clearance and works in security and flies several times a month, being harassed because he wears a turban. 

    It’s also extremely misguided to think that we are still in some sort of high danger of planes being hijacked by terrorists any time in the near future. It was like the Trojan Horse: it only worked because it was completely unexpected that they would literally crash the things, as almost all previous hijackings had ended with the plane safely landing with the travelers going home safe in the end. Now, everyone KNOWS to fight back, because we all know that suicide plane bombing is a real tactic.

    A far more likely plan would be to just detonate inside the checkin queue where hundreds of people are crammed into one room, who haven’t yet been checked by security.

    Not to frighten you or anything.

    • LouisDoench

       Yeah, the lock on the door pretty much stops the 9/11 style attack nowadays.

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/FVZZGUNKDN7SFK77ATIFMNNJJA Jeff Xeno

         +100

    • http://profiles.google.com/whoreslie joe smith

       “it’s a little wrongheaded to assume there’s much correlation between physical appearance and danger level”.
        a lone male loitering near  a women’s shelter is gonna send out a more of a vibe than a 17 year old girl, and it should.

      • http://twitter.com/0xabad1dea Melissa

        And what does that have to do with this situation?

        Everyone travels. EVERYONE. Every demographic, every kind of person. And they all have a right to. 

        And as others have said – what kind of moron terrorist would go out of their way to look like a stereotypical Muslim when trying to be covert? They look like ordinary people. 

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

      He can choose not to wear the turban, though.

      No, that doesn’t justify the increased scrutiny — especially if he HAS CLEARANCE — but it is a viable solution to the problem.

    • Sharon Hypatia

       Is your turbaned friend named Singh?

    • Pseudonym

      This. A thousand times, this.

      It’s hardly worth engaging with Sam Harris on this issue, because he seems to be completely immune to facts on all matters relating to security and the reality of terrorist threats. How about we all just agree to ignore him and listen to experts instead?

  • Pianodude

     On the question of whether someone is a racist, I found this video very helpful to keep arguments from taking the wrong turn:

    http://youtu.be/b0Ti-gkJiXc

    In a nutshell: Don’t speculate on whether someone is *generally* a racist or not, keep the discussion focused on their actions and remarks.
    Following that, Harris’ remark is indeed racist for the reason that Miko and Melissa have pointed out: Racism is based on the assumption that you can draw conclusions from a person’s physical appearance to their inner qualities.

    • brianmacker

      So if I see someone in a bee suit (outward appearance) and assume they are a beekeeper, then that is racism. Great, I’ll have to remember that. NOT!

  • Onamission5

    I wasn’t aware that TSA agents had mind reading abilities, that they could tell what people were thinking or planning just by looking at them.

    Just about everything I have read in the past couple years suggests that our biggest current threat from terrorrism is domestic seperatist groups, which are mostly white, mostly christian extremists.  Placing priority focus on “muslim looking” (whatever that means, sheesh) passengers ignores the biggest threat and lets any and all non-brown potential terrorrists skate right on through.

  • MG

    This is two problems–Should we openly profile muslims?  And an entirely separate question: should we continue to bend over backwards to put on a big public show of impartiality, and depriving people of their time, their privacy, and their dignity by publicly groping the elderly, infants, and big fat white guys in trucker hats?

    • The Captain

      Why does a fat white guy have more of a right to his time than a brown person?

      • MG

        Um-DUH? he doesn’t. The point is, in the effort to make it look like they aren’t they are watching one particular group, the TSA goes out of their way to make everyone’s life hell. Including a certain big fat white guy in a trucker hat who was pulled out of line for a detailed search THIRTY-EIGHT TIMES in an eighteen month period between 2003 and 2005. (My husband, who was working field service and traveling constantly.)

        • The Captain

          “he doesn’t” simple… then nobody does. 

          If your big fat husband keeps getting pulled out of line, perhaps he looks like a shady fellow. I’m glad they searched him. 

    • monyNH

       Do you think Timothy McVeigh ever wore a trucker hat?

    • quantheory

      There’s a third question, which is whether groping all the Muslims solves anything. If the answer is “no”, then why are we OK with anyone being groped, and what the hell would profiling solve?

  • sesoron

    I, a white man with a robust, reddish beard, have been “randomly” pulled aside for extra screening both times I returned from overseas (once from Japan, once from Germany). I’ve always suspected a certain amount of tacit profiling was at work there. Anyone else have similar experiences?

  • Atheist From Hell

    What is your justification for not calling Harris a racist. He like Hitchens is a bigot. These two pseudo-intellectuals would love nothing more than to have all Muslims carry an ID card clearly identifying them as Muslims in public. From there it is only a few more steps to internment camps and a final solution.

    Please call a spade a spade. Scratch this atheist cover you will find a xenophobe.

    • articulett

       Being Muslim, isn’t a race– it’s a religion.  Islam is a religion that teaches that killing infidels and dying for Allah is a way to earn a place in heaven for you and your family. It is the predominate religion of suicide terrorists and the single biggest predictor of who is likely to be a threat to be a threat to other passengers.  Granted, the risk is low and I’m not sure groping or these invasive x-ray machines actually make anyone more secure… but if they are going to happen, do you want it to be completely random, or would you prefer to have fewer grannies and families searched so that more time might be focused on people who seem to fit in with these folks:  http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-IGimUcQFiX0/TmtcUuOZy1I/AAAAAAAAK4E/ZOUpqfeJSh8/s1600/hijackers.jpg

      Insurance companies use actuary charts to assess risks and some think it might be smart to have airport security follow a similar procedure.

      If you want to call Sam anti-theist– go ahead. But racist? What “race” are Muslims?

      • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

        What “race” are Muslims?

        How does Sam propose we identify the Muslims?

        We should profile Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim

        (emphasis mine)Oh, ok, so we should just screen everyone.

  • http://opinion8d.tumblr.com/ Sam

    “Harris isn’t a racist. ”

    Um, yeah, that’s racist. Like, really. “Let’s single someone out for terrible treatment based on the color of their skin.”

    Sorry. You can claim NOT to be racist all you want, but his own words condemn him.

    • Marguerite

      I have to agree with this. Since you can’t actually tell if someone’s a Muslim by looking at them, then what he’s saying is “let’s profile brown-skinned people.” How is this not racist? 

      • articulett

         Most Turks are Muslim and the ones I know seem to be what would be classified as white. And  there are many black Muslims as well (Mohummed Ali; Kareem Abdul Jabar). I think you are confusing race with religion.  What “race” are “brown skinned people”? Hispanic? Biracial? Philippine? Indian? Egyptian? Persian? American?

        Though I doubt you’d find many blonde or red-haired Muslims, being “Muslim” is not a race. 

        So how much longer are you willing to wait in an airport line so that you feel secure that the grandma and families with babies are just as likely to be thoroughly searched as the single guy with an Arabic name traveling alone? How much more money are you willing to pay for a ticket to ensure that everyone has an equal chance of being put through an extensive search?

        Or do you think we should just go back to the type of security that we had before 9-11?

        • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

          All I know is, the current screening process is ridiculously time-consuming and ineffective. It’s theatre, pure and simple. We are no safer now than we were before 911, we just have this elaborate illusion of “doing something”, making us feel safer.

      • http://twitter.com/Cafeeine Cafeeine

        “Since you can’t actually tell if someone’s a Muslim by looking at them,
        then what he’s saying is “let’s profile brown-skinned people.””

        So… you admit that can’t actually tell what a Muslim is by sight, so
        your first assumption is that the obvious connection is ‘brown-skinned
        people’?

        Who’s being presumptuous here, Harris or the people calling him racist using racist preconceptions to do so?

        Harris is making the point that some categories of people, like the
        elderly and children may be exempt from searches, sort of like
        ‘anti-profiling’ techniques.  He’s admitting that the position he’s advocating would keep himself in the to-watch list, so claims of racism based on this don’t ring true.

    • Hibernia86

      Nowhere did he say that all muslims are terrorists or all brown skinned people are terrorists. He just said that in today’s world, a huge amount of the terrorism comes from Muslims. There are problems with racial profiling that Hemant and others have raised, but you can’t cry racism when someone talks about the fact that the terrorists we face are Muslim. This is just a fact.

      • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

        That sounds suspiciously like the guy blacksplaining to me that it’s just a fact that black people are statistically more likely to commit a crime, so it’s only natural that we should focus our limited resources where they’ll be the most effective.

        • Hibernia86

          Blacksplaining? Don’t you mean whiteplaining? I dislike all of the -splaining words that people use because they use race/gender/sexual orientation words in a negative way, but you should at least be consistant in their meaning.

          And we do often focus our limited resourses in poorer neighborhoods with the most crime which often happen to be black. That is simply because that is where the police are most needed.

          • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

            Don’t you mean whiteplaining?

            Yes, that occurred to me in the kitchen afterwards.  And that it was just a poor word choice in general.

            What you have to be careful of when ‘targeting your resources’ is that you don’t end up less effective.  The reasons that can happen are different in these two examples.  With airport security, terrorism is a moving target.  They can adapt to what security measures we have in place.  After the shoe bomber, and the required removal of shoes, Bruce Schneier joked, “Next thing they’ll plant bombs in their underwear”.  Sure enough.

             In neighborhood crime, if police start looking for crime based on color rather than ‘real’ indicators like behavior, then they get lazy and substitute color for more effective indicators.  They start to focus on one color and ignore the others.  Aside from being ‘unfair’ to the target color, it also leads to less effective policing/security.

          • Sharon Hypatia

             O.K. It’s not about profiling Semitic looking men with arabic names (racial profiling).
            It’s about profiling people based on their religion.
            So, how do we determine a person’s religion at an airport?
            Do we make your religious affiliation part of official government documents?
            Do we make people wear a yellow star? red crescent? white cross? red atheist “A”?
             
            This is a case of having a basic right under the Constitution, that you are free until the government has a “reasonable doubt” to suspect YOU, personally,  of violating a law. 
            Everyone believes that until their fear and paranoia says its O.K. to yank this right from SOMEONE  ELSE.
            Just as free speech is tested, not when we grant it to those we agree with, but to those we DISAGREE with, the freedom not to be treated like a suspect should not be based on the group you belong to, but YOUR actions as an individual.

    • brianmacker

      Your comment condemns you as a moron.

  • I_Claudia

    If I were a terrorist about to assault an airplane, I’m pretty damn sure I wouldn’t go for flowing robes, any kind of headgear and long beard. In fact, I would specifically go for a mildly wrinkled suit, a laptop, an overnight bag, a clean-shaven face and a look somewhere between annoyed and bored. That is to say I’d work to look as much as possible like everyone else.

    I assume Sam isn’t silly enough to imagine that terrorists are so stupid that they would’t take such precautions, so what he’s actually saying, when he advocated profiling anyone who “looks Muslim” is to profile anyone who “looks Arab”. So we are going to go for the full on racial profiling, which I’m sure will do wonders for our reputation abroad, especially in the Muslim world, and won’t at all serve as ammunition for extremists looking for recruits. It will also allow us to catch terrorists like this guy , or this guy , or this lady.

    Honestly, my perpetual worry is that terrorists are going to one day look at our ridiculously fortified airports (apparently my toothpaste is a national security threat) and then look at our utterly unprotected elementary schools and do the math of what target is more vulnerable and likely to cause a deep wound in the heart of the nation.

  • Discobisc

    I like Sam Harris, but I totally disagree with him on this one. It’s unfair and racist (even if Sam isn’t generally that way inclined).
    To Hemant’s first point, yes only a small fraction of  all travellers are jihadists. Airport security is disproportionate to the risk because people are still freaking out over 9/11. Why not try to get over it and make airport travel easier for all.  

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

       Because that would “let the terrorists win”, doncha know!

      /snark

  • The Captain

    There are so many problems with this crap from Harris I’ll only hit one. Why stop profiling at airports? If racial profiling is fine for airport security, then isn’t it fine for many other things, I mean more people re killed in robberies than by terrorist right. So shouldn’t we then be stopping the racial group that performs more murders on the street and searching them? How about the racial group that has the highest rate of drunk driving, according to Harris we should stop anyone from that race and give them DUI test whenever we see them. 

    People who argue for racial profiling, among many other problems, are basically arguing for a race based society. Fuck Sam Harris!

    • articulett

       On an airplane, we are all dependent on other passengers. Before 9-11 most people never thought of hijackers that would want to kill themselves to get to paradise. The policy was to give in to the demands of hijackers because there was the assumption that they had a vested interest in living. 9-11 changed that. We became aware that there were people who were willing to drive airplanes into their building for their faith– they would do anything that they could be convinced their god wanted them to do and some thought their god wanted them to punish Americans.  We were forced to consider something we never thought of before– that we could be passengers on such a plane.

      I think the odds are low that this will ever happen again– and I wouldn’t mind going back to the security we had before– I’m not convinced we are any safer now.  But if we are going to invest time and money on airport security, I think most people would prefer to use that time and money investigating those that pose a higher risk and not spending extra time at an airport so that little old ladies, families with babies, cheerleaders, etc. were searched.  If everyone could pick the people they wanted searched in exchange for their time and money, I think there’d be some degree of agreement– even among those who were likely to be chosen most often.  Few people want to spend more time at an airport while unlikely suspects are thoroughly searched so that nobody thinks any racial profiling is going on. I suspect this even includes you.  I think your argument involves a false equivalency and purposefully mischaracterizes Sam’s position. 

      You may think that no-one should go through invasive searching, but that’s a different argument.  You are very confused if you think Sam’s argument is “basically arguing for a race based society”.  He’s pointing out something that is becoming increasingly obvious– some religions are more dangerous to outsiders than others– members believe they answer to a higher power, and they truly believe that higher power advocates violence.  And it’s manipulative to accuse those who point this out as being bigoted. Ayaan Hirsi Ali points this out; is she a bigot?

      I prefer Muslims to Christians in my regular life… they tend to be much more private with their beliefs and not to ask for privileges they’d not grant others.  But when it comes to extremists, I fear Muslim extremists more and I think moderate Muslims do too. Muslim extremists have proven that they are willing to die for their faith– they truly believe they (and their families) will be rewarded for doing so. Can you think of any other religious extremists who would do the same? Christians have a history of killing for god (see the Inquisition) –but not of suicide in order to kill masses of people. 

      • Sharon Hypatia

         articulett, I think you have hit on why Harris & Hitchens seem so bigoted.  They have an absolute hatred of the Muslim religion, believing it is different than many others in that it preaches  its right to convert by using war, terrorism and other acts of violence. They think too many liberals are blinded to this, that we bend over backwards not to be bigots we are deluding ourselves.Harris & Hitchens don’t want to target Arabs or Semites, per se, just the followers of Islam.
        But they never really seem to be clear on how we can focus only on religious affiliation. And, in the case of Islam, religious affiliation has been closely aligned with racial affiliation.
        For all practical purposes, it ends up being bigotry.

      • The Captain

        That was a very long winded way of saying “i’m not racist…but I think some people should be judged by their race so the people of other races can save some time.” 

        Still  a racist position. 

      • The Captain

        You also just skipped past my main point which was, if racial profiling is fine for airport security… then why isn’t it fine for everything else?

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Off-topic rant about the recent Patheos redesign:
    Setting aside the questions of whether it is ugly and whether it is convenient – why is it so freaking slow to load?
     

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-A-Anderson/100000016895400 John A. Anderson

    Richard beat me to it. I would not be concerned about a fellow passenger with a beard and a turban. The 9/11 hijackers wore Western clothing and shaved immediately before boarding the planes.

  • Matt E

    Two blatantly obvious ways this this argument doesn’t make sense:

    First, not all terrorists are Muslims.

    Second, If Harris’ policy is adopted, non-Muslim terrorists will be more likely to target air travel knowing that their chances of getting through screening have increased. After all, Harris made the point himself; TSA has finite resources so if the screen all Muslim looking travelers they will have that much less to screen others.

    • Hibernia86

      But how many non-Muslim terrorists are attacking the US?

      • Parth

         Yeah I’m sure before 9/11 you would’ve said: “But how many Muslim terrorists are attacking the US?”

        The moment you let your guard down or assume some type of terrorists won’t attack the US, it’s already too late

        • brianmacker

          Before 9/11 there were plenty of hijacking and terrorist attacks by Muslims.

      • Carolyn MacLeod

        Well, in Canada, we’ve had Sikh extremists blow up a plane and try for a second, and a period where french canadians blew up mailboxes. In the US, you’ve had a white christian bomber or two (unibomber, McVeigh)
         and anthrax mailings probably from a probably non-christian source.
         

      • Matt E

        Well, according to the Department of Homeland Security, in 2010 there were 10 attempted terrorist attacks by Muslims as opposed to more than 20 by non-Muslims in the same period, so it appears there  are at least twice as many non-Muslim terrorists attacking the US.

        http://www.homelandsecuritynewswire.com/study-shows-more-non-muslim-terrorists-us

        • brianmacker

          Yeah, but they are classifying obvious Islamic terrorist attacks like Fort Hood as not terrorist, and vice versa.

  • Moribund Cadaver

    Harris is letting his own private sense of panic get the better of his reasoning faculties.

    On the surface, he’s attempting to be dispassionately logical.

    But his logic is incredibly shallow here. The objections to his proposal already pointed out are sound.

    Further, his reasoning demonstrates flaws due to extreme tunnel vision. His definition of potential trouble is “stuff Muslims do”. But today, political unrest and cultural upheaval, not to mention the global economy and the pressure it puts on ordinary people, is creating “extremists” from all cultures, countries, religions, races, and creeds. Those clean cut white kids who look like mormons? They could just as easily be neo-nazi  holocaust deniers who have become paranoid at the ‘disintegration’ of their racial purity and out to strike a blow for visibility of white solidarity.

    Nevermind that it’s veeeery difficult not to just outright accuse Harris of demonstrating a debasing degree of privilege with remarks like “oh, I’m sure if you’re X being profiled is a bother, but it’s not so bad”.

    Tell that to brown people who are naturally born American citizens, and not muslims, who have in the last couple of years gotten thrown in concrete cells at the airport, been held for ten hours without breaks or food, and rectally probed by large meat headed white rent-a-cops who audibly sneer about ‘rag heads’ from the other side of the door.

    No bother, really!

  • Simon

    This is not a rhetorical question: what would it take for Sam Harris to be considered a bigot by a large enough contingent of the atheist community?

    • James

      I don’t know, but this has definitely tipped the balance for me.

    • I_Claudia

      I think that multiple verbal and written statements by Harris, even without counting this latest one, make it abundantly clear that he is bigoted against Muslims.

      For anyone that wants to object because Harris has been such an asset to the community, ask yourself this; Do his statements sound bigoted if you change “Muslims” for “atheists” or “Jews” or “blacks”?

      In fact, as in all cases where discrimination is advocated, whether or not the person advocating holds a personal animus and prejudice is by far the least interesting question. Even if you don’t think Harris is bigoted towards Muslims, the important question is whether what he advocates is discriminatory and bigoted. I would say, given the infintesimal proportion of terrorists in the wider Muslim population and the implicit understanding that profiling should be racial, that it is.

  • Mitch W.

    I think what Sam is suggesting is that certain profiles can be excluded, like little old grandmas and young children.  Of course once someone is excluded, people might try to recruit such people, but I have my doubts about the frequency of successful recruiting.  

    The big problems is, the US is the original “Melting Pot”, so to speak, and you have African Muslims, Arabian Muslims, Persian Muslims, Indian subcontinent Muslims, Southeast Asian Muslims, some Eastern European Muslims, the occasional WASP Muslim, and maybe other types I’ve failed to identify here.  The Bali Bombers didn’t look like the 9/11 high-jackers.

    On the other hand, most of what the TSA provides is the illusion of security.  We are wasting much time and money on what is largely vapid effort to make people feel better.  I think the hardened cockpit doors solve about 85% of the issues that allowed 9/11 to happen.

  • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

    Richard Wade is right on the money. Those who are actually planning on pulling some terrorist shit on an airplane are going to to make themselves appear the exact opposite of the expected image of a terrorist. So not only would the profiling be a waste of time and discriminatingly intrusive, but it would also make it easier for terrorists to bypass.

    • Parth

       Just want to add to this: I’m of Indian origin and although I’m not American, 99% of Americans can’t tell I’m not from the US.

      Anyway, I get pulled out of line all the time (once I got pulled aside literally right before I boarded the plane). I asked my friend why this was the case since ‘clearly’ I’m an Westerner. He said terrorist groups have now been using American/British Arabs since they get more slack.

      The point is, whatever TSA ends up profiling for, yeah terrorists  will just use the complete opposite.

  • http://www.zazzle.com/atheist_tees The Godless Monster

     

    I am an Arab-American. Raised both Muslim and Catholic. I
    have been the victim of racist attacks and have even been denied employment
    opportunities because of my ethnic background. It’s painful to this day, even
    though many of these emotional and physical injuries occurred decades ago. That
    being said…

    Shortly after 9/11, I worked on and off for several years as
    a contractor for a DHS contractor based out of Fairfax, Va. MY job was to
    perform investigations and inspections of foreign students and the schools that
    accepted them as part of the SEVIS program. SEVIS (the Student and Exchange
    Visitor Information System) allows the DHS to more effectively keep tabs on
    foreign nationals who are here on student/scholar visas.

    Prior to each university visit, I was given a short list of
    students that had to be investigated and I was free to investigate as many
    additional students as I deemed necessary. It was rare that I was ever given
    the name of an Arab, Indonesian, Iranian, Afghan, Bosnian, Chechen, etc. The
    majority of the individuals assigned to me for investigation were from Canada
    and Northern Europe, with a smattering from southern or eastern Europe.
    Professionally, I could not see leaving my assignments without investigating a
    more “diverse” range of international students and I did just that. Was it
    profiling? Yes, absolutely and I don’t regret it one bit. It was a waste of
    time to only be investigating Norwegian and Swedish teenage girls, and U.S.
    taxpayers deserved better service that Uncle Sam was willing to settle for from
    its contractors.

    After an al-Qaeda attack in Riyadh on
    May 13, 2003, I was hired to work as a private military (security) contractor.
    I worked several assignments as a PMC and my personal travels also took me to Hezbollah
    controlled territory in southern Lebanon, where I have family. Needless to say,
    my passport is filled with shit that just sends all the little TSA grope drones
    into a fucking tizzy.

    So yes, I (almost) always get yanked
    out of line for “the special treatment”, which is why I normally arrive 3-4
    hours early for international flights. Do I care? No, not really. If my getting
    checked out thoroughly allows the other passengers to breathe a little easier
    on the flight, then good. Hell, I’d check me out too.

    When it comes to singling out
    Muslims or those that they think might have names indicating origins from a
    Muslim country, then all I have to say is “lots of fucking luck”. Most Americans
    assigned to airport security are too stupid, too uneducated and too fucking
    inexperienced to deal with even the most basic of tasks, much less trying to
    distinguish between a Serb, a Bosnian and a Chechen.

    By focusing on just Muslims -due to
    the ignorance of most Americans- it will inevitably become nothing more than an
    anti-Arab profiling/screening process.

    Just as all Muslims are not Arab,
    not all Arabs are Muslim.

    Some of us are atheists. J

    • http://profiles.google.com/statueofmike Michael S

      I think you have a good point. Harris assumes that a profile will be accurate and well-executed.

  • quantheory

    I’ve always felt that there were four fairly simple reasons to oppose this sort of profiling:

    1) I don’t think it’s possible to promote racial or religious profiling without promoting racial and religious discrimination, and not just because profiling *is* a form of discrimination. However much you say “don’t be racist”, promoting a policy like this is undermining cultural norms of fairness and encouraging security agents to always notice race. Whether Sam Harris is a racist or not impacts few people directly. Whether racism is encouraged in the TSA, even unintentionally, could affect many people.

    2) Racial profiling de facto already happens. How much do we gain by officially sanctioning it?

    3) It’s difficult to believe that introducing racial profiling is one of the most important ways we can improve security (or the costs thereof). It seems to me we should try to exhaust methods that *don’t* undermine norms of fairness and *don’t* burn through America’s remaining reputation and political capital amongst Muslims. Simply always being strong enough to defend ourselves against terrorism seems like a piss-poor, unsustainable strategy to ward off attack. We need at least a veneer of fairness to show good will (just as one of the best ways to establish peace after a conventional war is to decline to penalize the losing side as much as seems “fair” to the winners).

    4) I think we overestimate the likelihood of another 9/11. It has been over a decade, and 9/11 is still the only incident remotely like it in our history. I highly doubt that hijacking planes is even a salient target to competent terrorists anymore. Those with the smarts and dedication to pull off a serious attack will look elsewhere to rack up a death toll (while we continue to handle cases like that of the underwear bomber, who had little chance of even bringing down the plane he was on). I think we have gone way past the point of diminishing returns on airport security.

    Bonus concern #5: Our constant attempts to strengthen security in the U.S. are increasing budgets for things we don’t really need to be spending on, increasing authoritarian politics, and increasing possibilities for corruption and abuse of power. At what point does it stop being worth it to try to prevent another 9/11, if along the way we become kleptocratic and stagnant? Sam Harris is a utilitarian, more or less. How do we rate a 5% chance of saving thousands of lives against the economic and cultural capital of millions (capital that in the long run also saves lives)? What probabilities and magnitudes actually go into each side, and when does it stop being worth it to pump up security, even to stop another 9/11?

    • quantheory

      Re-reading the article, I also notice that Sam Harris takes the notable approach of relying on the worst anecdotes to make his case. Of course it sucks when a little kid or an elderly couple are pulled out of the line. But what percentage of the time does that happen? And if the system isn’t working out that well anyway, why not advocate an across-the-board reform of searches, rather than trying to blame the TSA for not having a ready-made list of stereotypes about who is/isn’t likely to be a terrorist? Does he have a scientific methodology for deciding how old someone should look, or how normal/loving a child’s parents should look, before you decide not to search them? Or is he using words like “obvious” as a way to advocate allowing people to rely on personal prejudice rather than any clear principles or actual knowledge?

      • Sharon Hypatia

         I read somewhere that the TSA recently  instituted a policy of special screenings for the elderly, disable & handicapped , in an attempt to resolve the problem. I have no details, however.

        • Sharon Hypatia

           Ugh I suck ay typing……..s/b elderly, children & the handicapped

  • http://twitter.com/NontheistCentra Nontheist Central

    I’m really shocked that Sam Harris would say something like this.  I have to say, I’m deeply disappointed…

  • mcbender

    I sympathise with what I think is the premise behind this argument, which Harris has stated before: that the ideas of Islam (or at least several forms of Islam, if not necessarily all of them) are structured in such a way as to promote terrorism. However, I think he’s wrong here.

    If this argument were stated as “people who believe those ideas in Islam which promote terrorism should be examined more closely”, I think it would be defensible. It is also true that there are certain ideas within Islam which if held can affect the way a person dresses and appears. It is by no means clear that the correlation between these two is such that acceptance of the latter indicates acceptance of the former.

    There is no way to detect if a given person fits the criterion of “believing ideas in Islam which promote terrorism” by appearance alone. Nor can we detect this merely by a person’s claiming the Muslim label. And on top of this, there are many ideas outside Islam which also promote terrorism (see, for instance, Christian bombers of abortion clinics).

  • http://profiles.google.com/whoreslie joe smith

    while that comment might make people feel all smug, it’s absurd. everyone now gets a shake-down at the airport . if you have even casually followed the absurdity of the TSA, you would see how time is being wasted searching the elderly , the infirm, children etc. , all to make us feel like we’re not singling people out.

  • quantheory

    I just keep thinking of more problems with this. Are we all aware that a huge percentage of the world’s Muslims are in Southeast Asia? That significant fraction in the United States are converts with little or no Arab ancestry?

    • http://www.zazzle.com/atheist_tees The Godless Monster

       My wife is Tatar and she looks more Asian than Turkic in her appearance. Her brother-in-law is also Tatar (and Muslim) and he’s blond with blue eyes.
      Due to the interbreeding with western Europeans during The Crusades, there are people from my ancestral village in south Lebanon that have light skin and blond or even red hair.

      • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

        You get the same thing in Bulgaria (minus the Muslim).  Nudged my brain because Tatarstan and Bulgaria were, legend says, founded by two brothers.

    • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/ Ani Sharmin

      Even within my family, we look different. (My brother has much lighter skin and hair.) Some people have been surprised to find out my brother and I are related.

      I’ve met Muslims with really different appearances, who are from different countries. The families of a friend of mine and of a coworker are both from the same country (Egypt) but they’re members of different religions.

      • quantheory

        Sounds not unlike my father’s family (though they hail from Mexico). Between all the cousins, we probably cover the 2/3 of the possible human skin tones (from “Chocolate” to “Almost Albino”). Of course the very geography of the Middle East means a lot of different populations meeting and mixing. It really shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that not everyone from any given region is the same color, yet we still talk as if we had these neat, distinct groups…

        And of course Islam has never been confined to (or the only religion in) “Islamic” countries. Of course theocrats have always wanted people to think that a country shares one unified set of beliefs (like when the religious right talks about the U.S. as a “Christian” nation), but that’s never the case. Even with overwhelming majorities, there are still differences within each religion…

  • http://cory.albrecht.name/ Cory Albrecht

    Let’s pretend, for the sake of argument, that we have enough data to show that terrorists are more likely to come from certain definite groups that are visibly identifiable by a combination of style of clothing, physical appearance and name on the passport. E.g. a person wearing business casual but not jeans or a suit, a Scandinavian appearance and a Danish but not Swedish last name.

    If we have that data, should we then do profiling if it could empirically be shown to decrease both false negatives (the
    terrorists you miss because you didn’t pull them aside) and false
    positives (the people you pull aside who are not terrorists) and result in a concomitant in successful terror attacks?

    Now, clearly, that’s one huge freaking “if” that needs to be in 72pt, bold font and blinking red text, and for reasons mentioned by other commenters (like how the terrorists will just disguise to a different combination of attributes) I don’t think that we have this level of empirical, objective data. Also, of the people you turn away at the security check because they scored too high on the profiling and subsequent in-depth questioning and baggage search when pulled aside, how do you know, how do you accurately judge the false vs. true positives.

    Even if it’s racist, but could empirically be shown to work, should it still be done?

  • Paul_Robertson

    I think that it’s a good thing that Harris said this. Right or wrong, he’s expressing a view held by many and banning discussion of an idea doesn’t make it go away. It’s only by exposing these ideas to sunlight that the sort of rebuttals that have been raised here get shared. Personally, I’ve found this thread enlightening. For this reason, I suggest that we should try to create an environment where people can express opinions about contentious subjects without being personally vilified. Sam Harris has a thick skin and I’m sure he is unfazed by the reaction he has evoked, but I’m sure that many people reading some of the responses here would be more inclined to engage in self-censorship in order to avoid being attacked with such vitriol.

  • http://profiles.google.com/mattand08 Matt Andrews

    “Harris isn’t a racist.”

    No, he’s a fucking asshole for supporting the kind of profiling that gets Dick Cheney all hot and bothered.

    Seriously, Hemant. This is bullshit. I get that Sam Harris a leading atheist voice, etc., etc., but justifying  Harris’s ignorant statements with a bulleted list is kind of pathetic.

  • The Vicar

    I continue to hold the same semi-serious opinion as always:

    Everyone going on an airplane should be given a powerful tranquilizer developed specifically for the purpose. They should be packed into tiny, bunk-bed-like spaces for the duration of the flight. At the end of the flight, they would receive an antidote. The passengers would be required to dress in a provided single-use sleeping suit for the duration of the flight, designed to allow medical access in the event of an emergency.

    Anyone desiring to travel by air would have to go to a clinic and be tested for medical intolerance for the tranquilizers. The few with legitimate medical objections would be allowed to bring nothing but a single book and their clothing onto the flight (water and any medically-required foodstuff would be provided).

    This would not only make terrorism much less likely but also allow the airlines to fit more people on a flight. And it would eliminate many of the unpleasant side effects of flying.

  • Guinnessy

    Most of the points you made are what angered me, plus the fact that Harris seems just totally oblivious to his own white privilege. It’s just so totally tone-deaf. Also he seems to make three erroneous assumptions: 
    1) Security theater at the airport actually keeps us safe. 
    2) The primary/most attractive means of carrying out a terrorist attack in the US is an airplane/airport/etc.
    3) That only Muslims (or I suppose only Arab Muslims, because I can’t imagine what else he might mean when he says someone “looks” Muslim) engage in terrorist activity – what about right-wing extremists like McVeigh, Christians who bomb abortion clinics and stalk/murder doctors, and white supremacists like the man who tried to bomb the MLK day parade? 
    Aren’t these people terrorists too? Haven’t there been more attacks like the last two I listed than attempted repeats of 9/11 in the last 10 years?  

  • Hibernia86

    Isn’t this the exact opposite of what you were arguing above?

  • Hibernia86

    Isn’t this the exact opposite of what you were arguing above?

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/ Ani Sharmin

    I absolutely disagree with Harris on this, for some of the reasons already stated, the primary one being that we can’t tell what a person’s beliefs are based on their skin color or the country they’re from. As for the person’s name, that’s not a very reliable indicator, either. Lots of Muslims name their sons Mohammad, the way that many Christians name their kids after characters in the Bible (e.g. Matthew, Mark, etc.), and it doesn’t indicate what the person believes, let alone whether they are an extremist. Even their religious affiliation isn’t a reliable indicator, as such a small percentage of the people in the religion are actually carrying out the attacks. Yes, of course, if someone is behaving suspiciously, then that’s a reason for searching them — but that’s behavior, not skin color or religious affiliation.

    It’s easy for Harris to create a hypothetical situation in which he’d be okay with profiling against himself (the Ben Stiller example), but it’s not really a good argument. First, because, in his scenario, they’re looking for one particular criminal, with some idea of what that person looks like, whereas his suggestion of profiling Muslims treats a whole group of people as suspect, assuming that the person who would commit the crime would look like this group of people. Second, because (let’s be honest) the likelihood of this happening to him is remote. It’s easy to suggest profiling based on appearance as a solution when you live in a society where the odds it happening to you are unlikely. (I have this same reaction when politicians suggest profiling; they know it would be unlikely to happen to them, as they’re well-known figures.)

    I can’t help but notice (and get very frustrated) at the fact that Muslim terrorism gets used as a reason why it’s okay take away our rights. Apparently, when it comes to Christian terrorism, people who “look Christian” (whatever that means) should not be singled out, but when it comes to Muslim terrorism, then it’s okay to single out people if they “look Muslim” (whatever that means). People complain about the infringement on our rights from the security checks, etc. — so how would it become okay if we “only” did this to people who “look Muslim”? Why should I be okay with being discriminated against because of my skin color and name?

    Lastly, if we believe (and I think Harris does) that it’s possible to convince people to leave religion, then it’s even more ridiculous to suggest we should profile against people who “look Muslim”.  The very fact that there have been so many religions in human history (something which atheists usually use as an argument for why it’s unlikely any of them are true) should suggest we can’t predict what someone’s religion will be based on where they’re from.

  • Ray

    “Harris isn’t a racist. “Islam is also not a race.

  • Revyloution

    As an evidence based person, I have to look at security procedures across the world and gauge their results based upon their threats.  In that regard,  Israel seems to win top marks for greatest threat and largest mitigation.  Their policy is heavily based on profiling.

    Profiling seems to work.  Of course, you might get the 85 year old Jew who wants to blow up Italian airliners, but the question here is a matter of averages, not absolutes.

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      You don’t understand the profiling that El Al does.  It’s nothing like “screen the Muslims, ignore the Jews” or “screen the young men and ignore the grandmother”.

      It’s more like, “screen the nervous ones, and the ones who seem unnaturally calm to the point of forced”.  And they screen everyone to a degree.  And it’s really expensive.

      • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

        But it works, so we really shouldn’t knock it. In fact, we should maybe TRY IT.

        • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

          You mean try behavioral profiling?  As mentioned elsewhere in this thread, El Al is roughly equivalent to a small US airport.  They have like 38 planes total.  Their solution, although it works, would not scale to a large US airport, let alone the country.

          As Bruce Schneier (his name comes up a lot, he’s the guy who coined ‘security theater’) points out, most of the cases of caught terrorism have been the result of behavioral profiling.  The others are good in depth counter intelligence, finding out about their plans before they’re launched.  What happens at the airport is mostly useless.

  • Darkwerk

    It seems like Sam Harris is starting from the false premise of the TSA being an anti terrorism team. Airport security isn’t just looking for terrorists. What about drug smugglers, human traffickers, movers of stolen goods and cash… there are numerous situations that security deals with on a daily basis. It sucks to deal with it but it’s a system of being fair to everyone by being unfair to everyone. As bad as it is when going through, I wouldn’t fly if it were not in place. Security, at least, keeps the amateurs from even considering something nasty.

    Another thing I’ll point out: I work at a popular airport in Canada (not for security). Our security team is made up almost entirely of the same peoples that Sam would have them profile.

    • http://profiles.google.com/statueofmike Michael S

      The American TSA was created as a result of the 9/11 attack. It was pretty much a “Anti-terrorism airport squad” from the beginning.

      • Darkwerk

        Prior to 9/11, American airport security was done by private contractors. After 9/11 the TSA was brought about so that the government could make sure the security standards were being performed uniformly across the board. The fact that this change came in response to terrorism does not make these security guards exclusively anti-terrorism focused. They still maintain all the duties that airport security had to perform prior to 9/11. They are the “Transportation Security Administration”, not the “Terrorist Stopping Agency”.

        • http://profiles.google.com/statueofmike Michael S

          The change in execution, as well as the justification for and changes by the TSA in security procedures are all justified as anti-terrorism.

  • https://sites.google.com/site/ferulebezelssite/ Ferule Bezel

    I see no point arguing this.  It can be answered with enough data and some sort of Bayesian weighting scheme.  I don’t have access to the data, nor do I know if it has even been collected, but that is the way to answer this question. 

    I suppose that this could be considered profiling of a sort but if the people working on the algorithms are appropriately blinded (which you would want to do anyway) I wouldn’t consider it nefarious.

  • https://twitter.com/#!/OffensivAtheist bismarket

    Do they really put a finger up your ass at US airports? I was thinking of visiting, but i think i’ll go somewhere else now!

  • Bubba Tarandfeathered

    The issue here, that most people seemed to have forgotten, is that 911 was not about religion, it was about anti-American foreign policy. There are plenty of radicalized American citizens who despise our domestic policies. So everyone should be screened as thoroughly as anyone else.

  • http://ulrichsson.myopenid.com/ Bjoern

    Apart from the detrimental effect “Muslim screening” would have on fostering tolerance, understanding and approaching each other instead or isolating one’s group, one other thing Harris overlooks is that terrorists will adapt. Security starts scanning only people of Muslim faith with long beards and darker skin thoroughly, the terrorists will turn to fundamentalists with light skin willing to cut off their beards to fulfill their god’s wish. Only men are scanned more thoroughly, they look for more female suicide bombers …
    Not to forget that all non-Muslim terrorists are encouraged by  “Muslim screening” since they now have a higher chance of success. 

    Some degree of randomness in the scanning process is probably simply the best strategy.

  • Icaarus

    And with that, I have lost a lot of respect for Harris. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/James-Sweet/1280927267 James Sweet

    Wow, lotta comments… anyway, this argument has been made before, and there is some validity to it, but it is often overstated.  And in any case, since our natural inclination is to profile people based on appearance, it’s somewhat dubious that we’re going to achieve the optimum by calling for more profiling.  More likely is that we should push for less profiling, and in doing so arrive at the optimum amount.

    There is a kernel of truth in this, in that the TSA is not really prioritizing well.  The recent incident with the four-year-old hugging the grandma is a good example of their security theater gone badly awry.  Not to mention their approach of spending huge amounts of money and effort to close obscure barn doors after a single dubious cow nosed its way through…  

    So in one sense, Harris is right that when the TSA makes grandpa take off his shoes or “profiles” people with poor eyesight for their dangerous contact lens solution, they are wasting resources that could be spent actually going after likely targets.  But frisking everybody in a head scarf is not the answer, and has distinctly racist consequences (regardless of the intentions).

  • Dglas26

    Sam Harris is a moral realist. Moral realism polarizes. That is what moral realism does – that’s it’s function and its purpose.

    Unfortunately for anyone reading Harris, four years of general philosophy doth not an expert in analytic ethics make. Perhaps it is all the drugs and meditation that makes Sam Harris think that it does.

  • Darrell

    In my opinion, everyone should be searched.
    Should we give the ones who fall into the special categories (one-way tickets, Muslim, SA passport etc) more attention?  No.

    I say this because whenever there is a loophole in anything in life – people will exploit it. if there is a gap in defences, people will exploit it.  It’s our nature to do so.
    So making it known that certain facts about yourself will garner more attention than others and certain properties will actually mean you are never  or less likely to be searched, then the ones you need to worry about WILL exploit that fact.  So there is no point doing this as you will be less safe.

    Just put up with it.  Life has changed for all of us since the 9/11 attacks.
    Since these searches have been going on there have been several attempts that have failed or been stopped before they could be major news incidents.
    We shouldn’t let complacency start now, remember hindsight is fucking useless

  • Test

    Funny how he mentions ben stiller sine Sam looks just like him.

    Profiling Muslims is useless because terrorists will try to blend in. A better alternative would be to have more intelligence people doing the screening and use technology borrowed from Vegas casinos to detect stress.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/FDGYHBEWVNGUG763L5X4TON3JQ Nazani14

    I’m inclined to say just go ahead and put in those  machines that give a nude image.  They’re nasty, but my sense of violation is not equal to the outrage and delay of making Sikhs unwrap their turbans and checking the diapers of seniors.  The rest of the screening should be performed by sniffer dogs.

  • T-Rex

    Just have everyone undergo a full body cavity search and x-ray all bags. Problem solved.

  • chistat

    Not to do anything crazy like throw science into the discussion but there was an article in Significance magazine a year or so ago that discussed ethnic profiling in airport screening from a statistical perspective. It was quite in depth but their ultimate conclusion was that uniform random sampling performs as well or better than profiling. From the standpoint of effectiveness, there is really no justification for any alleged racism in TSA screening. Why not avoid it altogether (and the us-against-them animosity it creates) since it doesn’t even do a better job of catching terrorists?

    Unfortunately I believe you may have to be a member of the American Statistical Association or Royal Statistical Society to access the archives of the magazine but the article is titled “To catch a terrorist: can ethnic profiling work?” by William Press.

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1740-9713.2010.00452.x/pdf

    • Icaarus

      It works from my office, I’m at a University that pays for a Wiley subscription

    • http://twitter.com/arensb arensb

      There’s also a link at: http://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=490127

      Thanks for posting this: the first question that came to my mind was: does ethnic profiling work? If not, we can just end the discussion with “look, it’s invasive, it’s insulting, and it doesn’t even work”.
      If it does work, then we can at least have a more informed discussion about “Yes, it’s intrusive, but the extra security is worth it” vs. “Yes, it works, but the amount of extra security isn’t worth the cost in intrusiveness.”

      I’m also pretty sure that a lot of people on each side of the question don’t understand the probabilities involved. Specifically, the probability that a terrorist is a Muslim is not at all the same thing as the probability that a Muslim is a terrorist.
      To illustrate: as far as I know, 99% of rapes are committed by men, and only 1% by women. At the same time, I think something in the ballpark of 25 men per 100,000 are rapists (and an even lower number for women, presumably). So the probability that a given rapist is a man (or p(male|rapist), as the statisticians say) is 99%. But the probability that a given man is a rapist (p(rapist|male)) is less than 1%.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chris-Leithiser/593361421 Chris Leithiser

    So it’s cheaper and simpler to discriminate?  I have to feel that if we as a nation want to do that, we ought to pay MORE for it.

  • Denis Robert

    Fundamental problem here is the assumption that there’s a correlation between being muslim and being a terrorist. Although many terrorists in the past 20 years have been muslim, it’s certainly not the majority. In some countries, including the U.S. and the U.K., the vast majority of terrorist attacks in the last 40 years have been committed by Christians (Catholics in the case of the UK, Fundamentalist in the case of the US), not Muslims.  That the most spectacular attack in the US was conducted by muslims does not change the fact that most attacks are conducted (still) by Christians. And in the UK, muslims have not come anywhere close to the kind of mayhem the IRA created in the 70s and 80s, which is within living memory.

    Yeah, Harris is a racist. He has an animus towards brown people that should not be glossed over.

    • http://twitter.com/TychaBrahe TychaBrahe

      A very very tiny proportion of Muslims are terrorists.

      But of the terrorists targeting the United States, the vast majority are Muslims.  There was a huge load of explosives found in Ireland last week, but Irish terrorists have not, to my knowledge, targeted the US.

      • Onamission5

        I believe the DHS and the FBI have both determined that the greatest current threat to the US comes not from external, extremist muslim sources– although that threat certainly exists– but lies with domestic terrorrism from separatist, mostly white, mostly christian groups, which have increased significantly both in number and in membership over the past four years.

  • godlessnate

    You forgot the most important critique of profiling – if we create such a non-random protocol to determine who is more likely to be searched, that allows would-be terrorists additional ways to avoid such measures. If would-be terrorists know that we specifically target muslims, they will go out of their way to employ people who don’t fit that stereotype. In short, racial profiling would make us less safe, not more safe.

  • http://www.summerseale.com/ Summer Seale

    I’ve read a lot of the comments and wanted to clarify a few things:

    1) Israel doesn’t profile on race or religion at all. In fact, there is a famous case where they caught a young woman (from Norway or Sweden – I forgot) with blonde hair who was carrying a bomb which her boyfriend gave her. If they had profiled on race or religion, she would never have been caught.

    2) Israel has a tiny airport compared to American airports, this is true. And El Al doesn’t have a huge fleet – also true. However, this is besides the point. Israel doesn’t profile only people coming into Ben Gurion from Israel or the United States. Israel’s Ben Gurion airport is international and receives flights from all around the world, and every single one of those flights goes through airport security at the other end – whether or not they fly on El Al or not. If, say, you board a plane to Israel from South Africa, on a South African airline, you will still go through Israeli security at the South African side before you are allowed to board the plane. If you board a plane to Japan from Ben Gurion, and you are flying Japan Air Lines, you will still go through Israeli security. As long as your flight is to or from Israel, you will go through their security before boarding a plane. So, as Israel has hundreds of flights every day, and as a country with only around eight million or so people, they can obviously handle the security requirements for such a huge task. This means that we can do that as well. The whole “Israel has such a small airport and fleet” is a nonsensical argument as it has nothing to do with the amount of extraneous security worldwide which they conduct for any incoming or outgoing flights.

    3) Sam Harris isn’t racist. He’s a realist. Islam is not a race, it’s a religion. And for all the people who decry the fact that Sam acts as if there are no moderate Muslims, I wonder how many of the same people act as if there are no moderate Christians? Sam is famous for saying that moderates give cover for extremists – in *any* religion. When he said *any* religion, he bloody well meant it. It’s only other people who start to quibble when it comes to Islam because, well, it’s not politically correct to lump Islam into the bogeyman that we’ve turned Christianity into – for reasons which I understand but find entirely stupid and misguided.

    However, as much as I completely agree with Sam on the dangers and problems of Islam as a whole (as I do with many other religions, which I’ve written about before), I think that he’s misguided on this one. Again: Israel doesn’t profile based on religion, and you would think that they have good cause to do so. But they don’t, because it isn’t smart. However, their profiling works by various other means (Tells, dubious travel routes and history, etc….) This is the better way to profile. We *do* need to profile, but we have to do it the smart way.

    I’d like to add one other thing: It’s really incredibly moronic and puerile to go screaming about how Muslims are being treated a certain way when we’re looking for…Islamic terrorists. After all, how many people here literally screamed and protested the way that Italian Americans were “treated” during the FBI mob wars in the 1970s-90s? Did anyone start screaming about how terrible it was that the FBI started investigating Irish bars for evidence of money laundering to the IRA? Was that something which we shouldn’t have done? I don’t remember reading about how the FBI shouldn’t have profiled the Irish or Italians when investigating their mobs and terrorists, and I don’t remember people being too upset when we set up an internal squad to investigate South Americans when trying to fight the drug cartels during the 90s either (although, I admit, I was a tad bit young then). Or how about when we profile Russian Americans when trying to fight the Russian mob? Does anyone scream and protest about that?

    No, we don’t scream about it because it makes bloody sense. It makes sense because these are a subset group of people who belong to a main group, and *everyone* realizes that you’re only going to catch them by infiltrating the main group before accessing the subgroup. That’s just how it works. For some reason, we’re supposed to let all common sense drop in this area when it comes to Muslims. To get to Muslim terrorists, we’re apparently not allowed to infiltrate Muslim groups or Mosques because it would be “offensive”. How stupid. How incredibly dumb can you get? Believe me, when the FBI was investigating the Jewish mob (and there have been several instances), they don’t hang out in IKEA stores to try to apprehend them and learn their methods.

    I sure wish people would get their collective heads out of their asses on this issue and start talking about it in a more serious manner, accepting the reality of the situation and trying to deal with it as best as possible. We need that conversation to be held by rational people. And the biggest danger of all isn’t that we’re not having it, but that the only people who are having it are the rabid loons from the far right who want to go well beyond the rational into the hateful. That should be the biggest reason we need to take this conversation back and guide it in a far better way than they ever will.

    • chistat

       But we’re not looking for Muslim terrorists. We’re looking for terrorists. Some of whom are Muslim. The distinction is important when quantifying the effectiveness of different strategies. By profiling based on whether someone “looks Muslim” you greatly increase the probability that you will miss a true terrorist who does not fit your profile while only marginally improving the probability of catching one who does. The net effect is negligible or even counter-productive, depending on your starting assumptions of  proportion of Muslims who are terrorists, etc.

      • http://www.summerseale.com/ Summer Seale

        Like I said, I think that looking at Muslims on planes doesn’t work, and I even gave an example.

        I’m talking more generally about profiling mosques and other Muslim groups for general information, which I’ve heard a lot of people disagree with.

        • chistat

           oops, sorry. That’s what I get for reading one paragraph at a time between work tasks.

          • http://www.summerseale.com/ Summer Seale

            Apology accepted. =)

    • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/ Ani Sharmin

      Summer Seale,

      It’s really incredibly moronic and puerile to go screaming about how Muslims are being treated a certain way when we’re looking for…Islamic terrorists.

      No, it’s not. The fact that we’re looking for Islamic terrorists doesn’t excuse discrimination against Muslims.

      I get what you’re saying about looking in mosques if you’r looking for Islamic terrorists, or in the relevant locations if you know that terrorists in a certain group are going to meet in that location. My problem with it is that there are people (and I’m not accusing you of this, but there are others who express this view) who think all mosques should be investigated by default. Not mosques were there’s evidence that something’s going on, but just mosques and Muslims by default, without reasonable suspicion. People protest against mosques even being built in their town based on the assumption that there must be extremism there … just because it’s a mosque.

      To me, it seems like there’s this different level of evidence that’s deemed sufficient, where if it’s suspected Christians are doing something, people expect there should be some evidence that there’ something wrong going on in a particular church … but if it’s Muslims, just the fact that it’s a mosque is enough.

  • http://profiles.google.com/sourblaze David

    Something else (and the Young Turks pointed this out some time back): What’s to stop terrorists from targeting, say, movie theaters instead of planes? So what, should we put scanners in all movie theaters? Should we profile Muslims and basically scare them off from theaters, all in the name of security and “keeping us safe”? And then what? Restaurants? And then what?

    Laugh all you want, in Israel, the terrorists do indeed target places like theaters and restaurants, simply because Israeli airport security is among the toughest in the world.

    • http://www.summerseale.com/ Summer Seale

      Here in Israel, you have to open your bag and get “hand scanned” in a lot of places like shopping malls before you enter the doors. It makes for about a 30 second to 3 minute line to get into a mall (or movie theatre), but people are used to it and it has stopped some serious bombing attempts.

      That also includes getting into the train station or even the central bus station in Tel Aviv (for instance). It’s not everywhere you go, but it’s in most places where there are a lot of people. Some supermarkets have the same as well (mostly big ones).

      EDIT: “Hand scanned” doesn’t mean a pat down. There are these electronic wands that they just run over the front and back of you which detect a variety of things.

  • Robert Thille

    Profiling doesn’t work because the details of “the profile” get out, and then the attackers can take pains to ensure they don’t fit the profile.

  • http://godlessandsouthern.wordpress.com/ MattyP

    This represents the paradox of protecting the country while respecting individual rights. On the one hand, we want to treat everyone as individuals, guilty only of what they, personally, are guilty of, and making them guilty for the crimes of people who look like they do or have similar beliefs to them; on the other, we have certain statistical realities about what groups have members that are statistically more likely to commit certain crimes–in a situation where finite resources are devoted to a task, we want to commit those resources where they will do the most good.

    As for me, I don’t think we should racially or religiously profile people, but it is hard to fault someone for taking the more pragmatic, utilitarian approach.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/XVOR56LHNIAD6Q6JCE4RAZWDYI DC

    I’d rather live in a free and open society than an Orwellian one blanked by fear and paranoia.  We cannot give up on the values and principles on which America was founded on. If we do, we’re one step closer to what those terrorists want. They want one united world ruled by captive and restrictive Islamic law.

  • Bing

    As a brown person who, despite being Hispanic, non-Arab, and atheist (raised Catholic), is constantly confused for Arab/Muslim, I was pretty annoyed at what he had to say. I’ve never felt the need to use the phrase “white privilege,” but, damn, what else could that be? All the relevant points were made already (how it’s wrong from a security point, how it alienates Muslim youth potentially encouraging terrorism and how it’s wrong from the aspect of discrimination). He’s talking about not being “PC,” which nowadays just seems to be something people say to fallaciously rob other people’s argument of legitimacy. That was one of my main problems (besides the blatant security thing). The argument felt like: not everyone’s a potential terrorist, “some” people are more terrorist-y than others and it’s “PC” not to admit that, so profile away. Didn’t like him before, and I sure as heck don’t like him now. 

  • Mona Albano

    This is not only wrong, prejudiced, and misguided. It also makes it easy for terrorists to slip through with people who don’t get pre-judged. It also ignores the fact that most terrorists in America are white male Christians.

    As someone pointed out in 2002, if we go from 10% random screening to ‘profiling’ 8% of travellers, randomly checking 2%, and giving the rest minimal screening, we’ve reduced a terrorist’s chance of being caught from 10% to 2%. Nice going.

  • Simon

    A good example of such pushback: An excellent response to Harris entitled Letter to a Casual Authoritarian: http://starsthroughthestorm.blogspot.com/2012/04/letter-to-casual-authoritarian.html

    Excerpt:

    Even if, in some parallel universe, your proposed policies would be effective, efficiency does not trump moral right. Profiling, torture, and pre-emptive nuclear war are morally wrong regardless of their effectiveness, and for that reason alone — moral wrongness — should not be pursued. As a consequentialist, frankly, you are a moral adolescent, and you should start growing up morally and graduate to deontology and virtue morality. Doing so will give you a real sense of justice. The sooner, the better, please.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sandy-Kokch/100000074576649 Sandy Kokch

    Sam to me is living proof that even highly intelligent people can be dog stupid sometimes. This is the second or third time Ive read something he wrote and thought “Say what now???”

    OK Sam….lets extend your line of logic.

    ALL CHRISTIANS SHOULD BE PROFILED – reason: Anti Abortionists (and other Christian Terror Groups) blow up stuff and shoot people. They do this in the name of their form of Christianity. Their attacks can be relatively indiscriminate. QED All Christians are potentially a threat to air security. ALL Christians should be profiled.

    ALL IRISH PEOPLE SHOULD BE PROFILED – reason: The PIRA, RIRA, UDA etc are all Irish terrorist groups. All have carried out both targetted and  indiscriminate attacks against the general public and securty forces both wthin Ireland and abroad, including attacks focussed on public transport. Thus using Sam logic ALL Irish people should be profiled as potential security threats.

    There are two examples off the top of my noggin……I can play the same dumbass game with people from Japan, Spain and several other places.

    Y’see I know when I write stupid nonsense.

    Seems Sam doesnt.

  • keddaw

    This is a pointless argument.  Screening should be scaled back to pre-9/11 levels and the enhanced intelligence be used to root out suspects (based on real evidence, not generalisations).

    That would be the appropriate balance of risk and intrusion.  Even if it led to a 9/11 event every decade it would still be the correct decision.  c.f. There are tens of thousands of deaths on the roads each year, many of which could be avoided by reducing speed limits and introducing technological measures to cars (e.g. cut out switches for tired/drunk/inattentive drivers) but we don’t because it’s too intrusive.  However naked body scanners and enhanced pat-downs are fine?

    Guess what, locks on the cockpit doors would stop people using planes as guided missiles and the only danger would then be people blowing them up (horrific, but much less costly in lives).  But no, the threat of another 9/11 makes people into terrified sheep and the authorities allow you under their maternal apron if you’ll just cede that little bit more liberty…  Land Of The Brave indeed!

    http://reason.com/archives/2006/08/11/dont-be-terrorized

  • The Captain

    Something else that keeps standing out to me in Harris’s comments, and here a lot… Why do people think old grandparents (or kids) can not be evil/crazy/anti-social? I’ve meet old people who would rather you all be dead than in line on front of them at the bank, so yea, search granny!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000390303945 Tony MacCabe

    It’s not okay for Americans to support anything that looks smells or feels like racial profiling. We destroy ourselves with this thinking. We use to aspire to be more.

  • https://twitter.com/#!/OffensivAtheist bismarket

    Who was it that flew those planes into buildings(& the ground), what did they look like? Maybe the answer lies right there, just sayin’.

    • The Captain

      And who just shot up a temple? What did he look like? Maybe the answer lies right there, just sayin’

      • https://twitter.com/#!/OffensivAtheist bismarket

        You waited months to do that didn’t you? Point taken though!

  • ste4ve

    “Wouldn’t we be giving young Muslims a reason to distrust (and despise) the American government?”

    Perhaps young Muslims should distrust and despise Islamism and Islamists more than they should the American government.

  • Hott4Science

    so everyone on here believes 9/11 went down the way the government says it did.  come on, there are sooooo many things that don’t line up.  Watch “Zeitgeist” or “In Plane Sight” or “Loose Change” – all movies that line up with each other and not the government.  I am not necessarily a conspiracy theorist, however when a tragedy like this happens in this country and they ship all evidence to china to be melted within two weeks of the event, that is just shady.  Not to mention there were IDs and passports in perfect condition located at all the sights “planes” hit that day, and everything else on sight was dust.  Not one bit of what was inside the towers was even a little bit in tact, but the “hijackers” passport was practically brand new looking.  And remember building 7?  Yeah, not many people do, it was the smaller building part of the trade center, and it went down the exact same way as the two towers – like a demolition.  The cause?  According to the government it was a couple of small fires that took the buildings down.  A fire in Madrid was burning for something like 12-17 hours and never collapsed like that, and it was more of a tower than a smaller building like building 7.  Also, a 747 could not have cleared the Pentagon since the roof of the building was still in tact.  The top of the plane would have taken the roof out, no doubt.  In PA, they never even found any evidence of a plane crash, just the ID of the “hijacker”. Did you also know that at the exact same day and time, there were military training exercises going on with simulated circumstances resembling the events of 9/11.  They were literally practicing protocol for an attack on the world trade center by hijacked planes.  It confused the military to the point that it took almost an hour for them to respond to the actual events taking place.  They weren’t sure what was real and what was part of the simulation.  The world trade center was built with steel/metal columns in the middle of the building, so if planes were to fly into the towers those columns or beams would have still been standing.  Watch closely at those planes flying into the buildings and notice that the windows explode floor by floor demolition style suggesting that this was an inside job.  It would have taken weeks to plant all the dynamite and explosives.  And no fire is going to take down a building demolition style, especially building 7 in which no plane flew into.  Oh, and did you also know that BBC reported building 7 collapsing before it even collapsed? 9/11 was a way to impose on ALL OF US, not just muslims.  It was also a way to start a war and gain oil.  Look at all the wars in the past….there was always a tragic event that took place in order to justify going to war.  Pearl Harbor is just one example.  What else did we get out of 9/11 – the Patriot Act.  That is a way to be invasive and intrude on ALL OF OUR rights and privacy.  So, I don’t believe Sam Harris is a racist, in fact, I’ve read some of his books including “End of Faith” which by my understanding is his way of pointing out that it is the people who fall in the middle that are the problem.  The non-extremists, the “spiritual” but not religious people, the agnostics, the moderates that are the problem because they are the ones who allow extremist, zealous religious people to continue to go on the way they do, because the former of the two groups are claiming to be open-minded and accepting of everyone no matter what their beliefs.  That is bullshit.  Anyone taking any religious literature verbatim and literal probably has been brainwashed to the point of lashing out on behalf of their beliefs and are also probably a bit mentally ill.  We have science now, people, we don’t need to ascribe everything to a God or Gods anymore.  That is for the ancients who believed in miracles because they truly could not explain a lot about nature.  There are no such thing as “miracles” – just things we can’t explain. YET.  Science is still a baby in comparison to how long humans have been around, so maybe instead of using religion as a way of explaining things, one should read a book, research, or investigate what one doesn’t understand.  It’s kind of lazy to just say it’s all in God’s plan…..but wait, we have free will…..oh the bible, so confusing and contradictory.

  • The Captain

    Lots to think about in this piece. 

    I think one of the problems here in regards to Harris’s crying over the “racist” accusation is that there really isn’t a word (that I know of) in english that accurately describes what his position is  and for many people “racist” is the closest thing.  As you say Hemment he probably has no problem with people like you sitting next to him on a plane. Th problem for many is he wants people like you to go through more hurdles, more hassle ect. to get on that plane in the first place. As it’s been repeatedly pointed out, unless we all wear tags stating our religion, the only way TSA (or any security) is going to make a decision on your religion is by your race. So where he may not be saying that muslims and brown people have to sit on the back of the bus, he is saying that they should be treated differently getting on the bus in the first place. That’s not full blown racism, but it’s also not equality either. What the word to describe that? Whats’ the word for the position that everyone should have the same rights, but some people should have to go through more hurdles to practice them then others because of their race? Like I said, for many “racist” is the closets thing. 

    As far as PZ, your right, he’s not responsible for the individual comments but he sets the tone. And that tone is one of a vile cult of personality. It’s a tone that encourages the figurative destruction of your opponent, and anyone who disagrees with PZ is an opponent. It’s a tone that is cliquey and petty.  It’s really as if individual thought outside of what PZ says is almost a “blasphemy” so no opinions that conflicts with his are really  respected by the hoard. Sounds familiar no? But PZ’s not a cult figure, no he never tells them that, but he doesn’t really discourage it though and acts all coy when called out about it. If you know that hundreds of people are going to harass someone on the internet when you make them a target don’t you have some responsibility to maybe set a tone that that is wrong? 

    All in all though as two of my least favorite atheist I have to admite it’s fun to see them fight. 

    • The Captain

      Ha, I posted to the wrong thread in my browser!

  • theni

    FYI, before 9/11, anyone from Saudi Arabia was very easily given a visa to come to the US. While most people in other countries have to show up personally to get a visa, Saudies were exempt and could mail in their passport to get a visa. Of course all that changed after 9/11.
    It is impossible to single out a certain group for closer scrutiny and in practise it does not work well. During the 90s Customs used to check people coming into the US for drugs, using a profile. In the 2000s this was changed to random searches. Guess what, more people were caught under the random search method than with profiling.


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