Axver (axver) wrote,

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Regarding profiling to identify terrorists.

I've been involved in a few discussions lately about security measures against terrorism, specifically with regards to profiling and identifying security threats at airports, and I thought I'd note down my thoughts here.

Some of the comments I have heard lately have amazed me, and not in a good way. It seems as if racism and discrimination against Arabs, Middle Easterners, and Muslims is the permissible discrimination of today. If anyone dared to suggest that airports should have separate lines for Aborigines, African-Americans, or Jews, they would be slammed ten ways from Sunday, but a suggestion of a "Muslim/Arab only" line doesn't inspire the same across-the-board condemnation. For sure, some such as myself have condemned it as a completely disgusting and discriminatory idea based upon dangerous and misguided logic, but it seems to also have its supporters. Especially from the xenophobic lunatics on the right wing.

Now, there is a wide spectrum of suggestions, from merely taking adherence to Islam into greater consideration when profiling passengers all the way through to lines for Arabs and/or Muslims (it seems some clueless people think Arab=Muslim). Let's dismantle these suggestions and reveal their illogic once and for all, shall we?

I would like to focus specifically on the idea of increased profiling of Muslims. The discrimination against Arabs and Middle Easterners is especially ridiculous given how blurry racial boundaries can be and that some people don't have the stereotypical appearance of their race; furthermore, there are considerable non-Muslim Arabic and Middle Eastern communities (I mainly know of Christian groups myself). And most importantly, some people recently arrested as or under suspicion of being terrorists have been Westerners, so any profiling of Arabs and Middle Easterners would have been thoroughly useless. Nonetheless, some maintain, as these Westerners were converts to Islam, profiling of Muslims would be effective and acceptable. Rubbish, and let me explain why.

Firstly, consider the ratio of Muslims who are terrorists to the ratio of Muslims who are not. So few Muslims are terrorists that they are a considerably statistically insignificant minority of all Muslims. Thousands upon thousands of Muslims fly between places all around the world every single day. Did any planes fall out of the sky yesterday as a result of a Muslim terrorist attack? How about last week? Last month? You get my point. Muslims are not bombing planes en masse; a terrorist attack by a Muslim is an incredibly rare event and you are more likely to die from falling down the stairs, and far, far more likely to die in a car crash, and I'm sure that right now, most of you are thinking something akin to "of course I won't die walking down the stairs or driving to work next week". So why fear dying at the hands of Islamic terrorists? They are not particularly commonplace, and profiling of Muslims to any extent will just inconvenience and discriminate against the thousands of peaceful Muslims travelling on aeroplanes daily without the faintest clue of how to construct a bomb.

Secondly, terrorism isn't confined to Muslims. I have often encountered a text, generally sent as an e-mail forward, that lists a number of terrorist attacks and observes that in all cases, the perpetrators were male Muslims aged 17-40. It seems to have gone down quite well in some right wing, conservative Christian circles that have anti-Muslim sentiments. However, it suffers from one huge flaw; it is based on a selective view of history that does not accurately reflect the reality. If you live in Ireland, you have a whole lot more to fear from Christians. The sole terrorist attack to ever take place on New Zealand soil was undertaken by the French government of François Mitterrand (unless you consider trying to chop down One Tree Hill's tree to be symbolic terrorism!). And need I even mention Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombing? So placing scrutiny specifically and sternly on Muslims is based on fears arising from a selective understanding of history.

Thirdly, any system of profiling Muslims is inherently flawed as your typical Muslim terrorist launching an attack in the West isn't going to advertise himself by waving around a Koran and conforming to any kind of stereotypical swarthy, unshaven, turban-wearing appearance. If Muslims are increasingly analysed, suspected, and profiled, any Islamic terrorist worth their salt will profess any religion other than Islam, most likely Christianity. Any Muslim crazy enough to believe they have religious justification to slaughter innocent civilians would also believe Allah has no problem with them taking on disguise in order to accomplish this "divine mission". I'm sure they would see drinking some pinot noir and exclaiming "praise Jesus, hallelujah!" as a small price to pay for blowing a few hundred "infidels" to Allah in ten minutes' time. In other words, any Muslim honest enough to affirm Islam is almost certainly not going to bomb you. By the logic of the "let's profile Muslims" people, it would probably be more beneficial to profile Christians to see who's fraudulently affirming the faith!

And finally, if all of the above isn't sufficient justification for you, profiling Muslims fails to truly confront and prevent terrorism itself. It merely targets a perceived symptom rather than effectively removing the cause. It may make a few xenophobes feel a bit safer about hopping aboard a plane, but it doesn't remove the social "breeding grounds" of terrorism, it doesn't stop terrorists recruiting more people to their cause, and it doesn't stop whatever perverse desire motivates one to commit acts of violence in the first place. It unproductively and ineffectively combats a "symptom" that isn't even really a symptom.

(As a totally unrelated footnote, I am naturally delighted that New Zealand defeated Australia 34-27 in the rugby today, thus sealing our much-deserved Tri-Nations victory. Hooray for the mighty All Blacks!!)
Tags: illogic, islam, rugby, terrorism, xenophobia

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