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.
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?