Sam Harris Responds to Critics of His ‘Muslim Profiling’ Piece May 1, 2012

Sam Harris Responds to Critics of His ‘Muslim Profiling’ Piece

Sam Harris has responded to some of the criticisms directed his way for his piece on profiling Muslims in the airport:

1. When I speak of profiling “Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim,” I am not narrowly focused on people with dark skin. In fact, I included myself in the description of the type of person I think should be profiled (twice). To say that ethnicity, gender, age, nationality, dress, traveling companions, behavior in the terminal, and other outward appearances offer no indication of a person’s beliefs or terrorist potential is either quite crazy or totally dishonest. It is the charm of political correctness that it blends these sins against reasonableness so seamlessly. We are paying a very high price for this obscurantism — and the price could grow much higher in an instant. We have limited resources, and every moment spent searching a woman like the one pictured above, or the children seen in the linked videos, is a moment in which someone or something else goes unobserved.

2. There is no conflict between what I have written here and “behavioral profiling” or other forms of threat detection. And if we can catch terrorists before they reach the airport, I am all for it. But the methods we use to do this tend to be even more focused and invasive (and, therefore, offensive) than profiling done by the TSA. Many readers who were horrified by my article seem to believe that there is nothing wrong with “gathering intelligence.” One wonders just how they think that is done.

There may be interesting arguments against profiling (or anti-profiling of the sort I recommend here), but I haven’t noticed any amid the torrents of criticism I’ve received thus far. If there is an expert on airline security who wants to set me straight, I am happy to offer this page as a forum.

TL; DR: He’s not retracting his piece, and he’s still interested in hearing good reasons why he’s wrong.

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  • dangeroustalk

    While I disagree with Harris on this issue, it really annoys me that many people in our greater community of reason are so quick to label him a racist for his opinion on this issue.
    America’s Profiling Problem – 

  • Ellie

    Main issue I have with that idea is just that it’s really not all that hard to get agents that… don’t look Muslim.  Much easier would be to just do an extremely thorough search on an *actually* random 10% of everyone going.  They’re not stupid; a 10% chance of failure  is not an acceptable one to these organizations.

  • Onamission5

    I’d still like him to explain in intricate detail what “muslim” looks like.

  • Gus Snarp

    B.S. That’s simply not what he said in the piece. He mentioned himself, but it was pretty clear that he thought that was unlikely. He said anyone who looks like a Muslim. He may have mentioned other factors, but this was not made to be about behavior, it was made to be about people who LOOK like Muslims. According to whom, I’m not sure. This is pretending he didn’t say what he said, or at least didn’t mean it the way everyone thinks he meant it, and it’s surely all our fault for not understanding him.

  • Denis Robert

    He’s wrong because:
    1. He’s a bigot, pure and simple, with an evidence-free hatred of anything remotely related to Islam. It’s is not simply a distrust or disgust of religion as a whole, but an ideological, nearly fanatical hatred of one specific religion. I’m tired of people excusing obvious bigotry because they otherwise agree with a person. If a person is a bigot, he’s a bigot, and it matters not one bit whether I agree with that person on other issues, I’ll still call him out for it.

    2. There is no evidence that muslims are more likely to commit terrorist acts than non-muslims. In the UK, most terrorist acts in the last 40 years have been committed by Irish people. In the US, by WASPS (the latest foiled plot involved very white lefty “anarchists”). So why concentrate so much hate on Islam? And certainly, if you profiled “muslim looking” people (whatever that might mean), muslim terrorists would make sure to use people who do not fit the profile (the name “Richard Reid” would certainly never have raised much alarm).

    Just one fact to ponder: there are far more Christian extremists with access to WMD than muslim ones. And many of them hold high office within the US military.

    Anyone with an iota of sense can tell that this is just one more example of Sam’s mile-wide blind spot regarding Arabs and muslims. It’s emotional, not rational; and it’s as evidence-free as all heck.

  • Ggsillars

    Remnants of the IRA are up to no good again in Ireland:

    Shall we now start searching everyone of Irish Catholic background to see whether they’re carrying bomb making materials?  Would that make sense?

  • dangeroustalk

     No, but it might be your fault if you labeled him a racist without inquiring further.

  • Gus Snarp

    I don’t think the “racist” label is a particularly useful one for people and I’ve never used it for Harris. I think most people don’t think of themselves as racist and don’t want to be racist, yet almost everyone of us occasionally thinks racist thoughts, and some of us actually go so far as to espouse fairly racist ideas and say racist things. What Harris said was racist, full stop. 

  • Steve Bowen

    Really? Are you sure about that?

  • Bing

    He’s being really stubborn about this or no one who responded here sent him their opinions. He didn’t respond to any of the points that a lot of people made on this site (almost none of which mentioned him being a racist). So, it makes me think that he’s picking and choosing what he responds to. Rather, he should respond to: if you focus on a non-random pattern, it would be easy for the terrorists to not fit that pattern (somebody in the comments yesterday put it into security terms); what does “looks Muslim” mean given the diversity (Eastern European, Southeast Asian, Arab, and it’s the fastest growing in converts from things like Catholocism); wouldn’t alienating Muslims in this way feed into the victimization propaganda of that the Muslim terrorists use to recruit people; isn’t the fact that most people’s initial reaction to this kind of profiling negative say something about it? why just call that reaction “PC” and move on?

    Nope, let’s ignore all of that. Instead, let’s focus on the much weaker argument some might have made that you’re racist. Again, I’m glad I’ve never been a fan of his.

  • martymankins

    I admit to being taken back at this direct reference to profiling Muslims.  I don’t call him a racist nor a bigot, but I also get what he was trying to say, which was the general idea of Middle Eastern unrest with the rest of the world.  It’s a fine line to walk to say that and I am not painting an entire race of people as being violent against others.  Which I think was not Sam’s intent, either.  His way of wording his statement wasn’t the best, IMO.

    I would have rather his point would have been to say that we should profile anyone and everyone, like other airports and security concerns do in other parts of the world.  Everyone gets the eye and concern with no bias or race baiting, without the embarrassing pat-downs and invading of an 80-year-old’s crotch or skin layer and uneducated TSA reactionary steps they attempt to keep us safe.

    It’s takes lots of training and intellect to profile everyone and pin point the bad guys.  It doesn’t take much to follow steps on a sheet of instructions and blindly follow them when you think something might be amiss.

  • Bumble Bee Tuna

    Political correctness > Common sense. Got it. 

  • Roxane

    If no profiling whatsoever is going on–based on physical characteristics or behavior or psychology or whatever–then the TSA is a huge waste of money, which I am prepared to believe.  Making a show of frisking little old ladies serves no purpose except to allow the TSA to claim that they aren’t really profiling.  It must be hard to look for threats when you have to avoid looking at the demographic where the threats have historically come from.

    When asked why the TSA required people to turn on their laptops but not any other mobile devices, an off-duty TSA agent allegedly said, “We make people turn on their computers just to look like we’re doing something.”  

    They may not be doing anything, but hey, at least they’re not profiling.

  • I_Claudia

    If Harris does not want to limit his profiling to those with dark skin, but he still thinks we should be looking for Muslims, I want to hear what his method would be for identifying Muslims.

    It’s already been established that the manner of dress isn’t very helpful, especially when you consider that western garb is overwhelmingly the atire of choice for terrorists in the west. This would suggest that singling out people in visibly Muslim garb would actually make you less, not more, likely to apprehend a terrorist.

    Harris has not actually said that racial profiling should not occur, just that profiling shouldn’t be just “narrowly focused” on that. So given that manner of dress is relatively worthless, I’m curious to know what criteria Harris would use that are not already being used.

    Let’s hear it, how does Harris identify a Muslim, without the aid of their clothing?

  • Sam Harris is a jackass. ’nuff said.

  • Fuzz

    Sam is attempting to backpedal in his addendum, where he starts talking about behavior. But his original post implicitly talked about what people look like and towards the end, he explicitly states: ”
    We should profile Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim, and we should be honest about it.” As others have pointed out, it would be useful to know how we can determine “who looks like…[a] Muslim”.

    Also, in his addendum, he states that we would be crazy to think that ethnicity, nationality, dress, and other physical factors don’t predict beliefs or potential terrorist activities. But he offers no evidence or data to back up this claim of correlation (and which aspects of ethnicity, nationality, dress we should profile). It seems to be the same claim that theists make about the power of prayer (pick the positive hits and ignore the negative hits to claim correlation). Interestingly enough, today’s headline news is about 5 white American guys trying to blow up bridges in Ohio.

    Just like knee-jerk reactions of “racist” or “bigot” without explanations don’t really get a discussion going, neither does blind “faith” in Sam’s infallibility as displayed by many of his fans. I am a fan of Sam, but I can still disagree with him on issues and explain why.

  • I_Claudia

    I would actually not be at all surprised if 10% chance of failure was actually quite good. No, they won’t risk that if they have a nuke, but if they just have a guy with a vest who is ready to die anyway? Why not? Worst case he dies in the security area, taking dozens along with him. This would lead to an even more hysterical beefing up of security, making travel that much more gruelling and expensive, which would make the operation a succces for the terrorists.

  • Tim

    “Shall we now start searching everyone of Irish Catholic background to see whether they’re carrying bomb making materials? Would that make sense?”

    In the UK, yes it would make sense except that there is no reasonable way to indentify if someone is an Irish Catholic.  That one little flaw makes an otherwise good idea stupid.

    He still need to answer:

    1, how do you identify a muslim?
    2, how do you single out targets for extra screening in a way that the terrorists will not suss out?  So the fact that most terrorists are male suggests that male travellers receive more attention, but as soon as the fact that men get more screening is figured out, the terrorists will get their wives to carry their weapons.  If you target dark skinned people the terrorists will simply get white muslims to carry their bombs.  So a good level of screening for everyone is what is needed. 

  • There may be interesting arguments against profiling (or anti-profiling of the sort I recommend here), but I haven’t noticed any amid the torrents of criticism I’ve received thus far.

    They’ve been made, and have nothing to do with racism.  I hope it’s just that he’s too overwhelmed with the ‘racism’ charge noise to notice the ‘bad security’  signal.

  • For people accusing him of racism:

    1) It’s a little hard to accuse him of racism when Islam is a religion and not a race.

    2) This brings up the question of “what does a Muslim look like?” and, naturally, there’s no answer. However, Sam Harris offers himself as an example of who should be profiled. As a young man with semitic features, he apparently is comfortable being profiled and added to the “caution” list.

    Generally speaking, racists don’t tend to include themselves in the group they want to call particular attention to and don’t tend to want to be treated the same as that group. He does. So while you may disagree with his stance, you can’t actually call it racist in the normal sense. It’s entirely debatable whether it’s prejudicial on other levels, but I wouldn’t say that Sam is a racist. I’d say that, as usual, he’s trying to call attention to some deficiencies in our system and is trying to discuss them rationally.

    I’ve written in the earlier post that I don’t think that you can profile solely on religion. I gave the example (twice) of Israelis catching white, non-Muslim, European women who were carrying bombs (and didn’t even know it, so they weren’t even nervous and didn’t give anything away by showing those sorts of “Tells”). Sometimes, religion comes into play but not all the time. Obviously, if the Israelis had profiled young male Muslims, they wouldn’t ever have caught those young, non-Muslim, European women. 

    But I think Sam is right to start this conversation. I think that he’s right that when it comes to Islam, we atheists (who tend to be liberals – at least I think we usually are and I count myself in that circle) treat Islam as if it were some sort of delicate object. I can go weeks on my G+ stream criticizing Christianity and I won’t get a bloody peep about it. But the moment I start criticizing Islam on the same level, I will be inundated by responses from followers, telling me that I’m being unfair, that not all Muslims are alike, that most Muslims are peaceful, and that I’m being racist or an Islamophobe. I think that he’s right to point out that we really do have some sort of liberal bias when it comes to Islam. Christopher Hitchens also believed this and spoke out very strongly against it. Well, please count me in the same camp.

    I might point out another person who thinks the same: Pat Condell. Now, before you accuse me of being a fangirl of his, please understand that I actually am not. I almost never link to Pat’s videos anymore since a few years because of his political stances supporting idiotic platform parties, simply because they are anti-immigrant and anti-Islam. I don’t think that Pat is a bad person, but I think that he has compromised with some shady parties because of his particularly “European” or “English” viewpoint. Having lived in England and France for a few years (and worked there), I can understand where he’s coming from. I don’t agree with it, but I understand why.

    But I remember when Pat mostly talked about Christianity and he didn’t get a peep of protest from the atheists when he did. He’d rip the Pope and the Church a new one every few weeks, and he would get nothing but praise. But the moment he started becoming critical of Islam, all hell broke loose. Suddenly, he was a racist.

    So too with Thunderf00t. For years, his anti-creationist videos were all the rage. He called Christians stupid, idiotic, moronic, evil, and a whole host of other things for something like twenty three videos which were so hugely popular that he became a central figure in atheist circles.

    And then he started to criticize Islam in the same way, and again: all hell broke loose. Suddenly, people were accusing Thunderf00t of being a racist and supremacist. He went for years without much ever addressing Islam, and nobody minded (apart from creationists). And then suddenly, he’s a racist because he starts tearing Islam apart in the same way that he did to Christianity.

    Now, I’m al for nuance, and I don’t always agree with Pat Condell, or even Sam Harris. I think that on profiling, he’s got a point but he’s not entirely right (as I’ve said). However, I do think that he has a point about Islam in general as viewed by atheist/liberal circles. I’m proud to be a liberal atheist, but I’m not very proud about our knee-jerk reaction on Islam at all. It’s fairly clear to me that we have these pre-suppositions about what Islam is, or how it’s “misunderstood” on such a fundamental level that it’s best to not overtly criticize it. Because of historical reasons, we have decided that it’s not our place to treat it the same way that we treat Christianity. I understand the reasons given and even lend them a sympathetic ear. However, it’s not a position based on reason and rationality – a method upon which we usually try to base all our other arguments. It’s a reactionary position and I think that it is bad.

    Sam is right to also point out that because of this, we liberals and atheists have given up the entire conversation on Islam to the right wing extremists – people that apparently he, and I as well, want to have nothing to do with. But they’re the ones holding this conversation now and we refuse to take part in it and wrest it away from them. And as such, we have given up our influence over it.

    I personally hope to see more conversations about the stupidities of Islam and even the threat of it, in the exact same way that I see criticisms of Christianity, Mormonism, and other religions, coming from the left and liberal atheist circles. I would like for it, when it does occur, not to have to endure the inevitable “Islam is bad…BUT…” and then receive a litany of how bad Christian extremists are as well. I don’t see too many posts on atheist blogs about how Christianity is bad but Islamic fundamentalism is worse – it just doesn’t occur.

    Again, I understand why this happens, but I think it’s absolutely wrong. Sam Harris is correct for pointing this out again and again. I may disagree with some of his stances in specific cases about possible solutions (and I do disagree at times, as I have said), but I think he is right to bring up the debates. They are needed and we, as liberal atheists, need to have them in the same manner in which we conduct all of our other debates and criticisms.

  • jdm8

    Wait, he’s telling us that women and children aren’t used as mules for bombs?  Which world is he in again?

  • teressa81

     I think the delicate handling of Islam and Muslims has to do with the fact that they are – and have been for over a decade now – a group of people who face daily prejudice, bigotry, and fear. We want to be more careful with how we approach them because, honestly, they’re getting it bad from all sides around them right now.

    They are a marginalized group. And while I agree that it’s not fair we treat Christians differently, there is also something to be said for the fact that coming out as a steadfast Christian does not inspire the same kind of hate-mongering that coming out as a steadfast Muslim does.

    For myself, it really comes down to the “let’s not kick them when they’re down” sort of thing. I will sit here all day and argue the uselessness of their religion, the incendiary gender stereotypes and bigotry it produces. But I’m less likely to fly off the handle about the people *in general* simply because they’ve got it hard enough right now.

    In the end, that says more about me and my prejudices than what others may think. But maybe others feel this way, too.

  • Again: I said that I understand the historical context and reasons given, but I think that they are misplaced. Also, it does nothing but create another debate about who is the more oppressed. After all, you might think that Muslims are more oppressed, but you’d be wrong. Christians, Jews, Hindus, and other religions are exponentially more oppressed in many Muslim countries than Muslims are in the West. I don’t see anyone being delicate about Christians because they are facing horrific persecutions in Muslim areas of the world.

    And I’d rather that conversation not change. Therefore, I think that Muslims should endure the exact same scrutiny on their religion as Christians do.

    To think that Muslims are facing persecution is an extremely westernized viewpoint. Ironic for a viewpoint which claims to try to take into account other cultures. Well, if you do, then Christians are definitely persecuted far more and you should stop criticizing them as well.

    But I don’t see anyone taking that stance, nor do I want to see that.

  • Gus Snarp

    Perhaps you’re not aware of this, but “common sense” is often wrong.

    But I prefer a different formulation of the above statement: The ends do not justify the means.

  • Kaoru Negisa

    There are two things that really stick out to me about this.

    1. Harris seems entirely unaware that his response to criticism sounds very much like the argument made when SB1070 was passed in Arizona that it wouldn’t be race but rather things like “shoes” and “haircut” that would determine whether a person looked like an illegal immigrant or not. Harris seems to be saying that it totally wouldn’t be skin color, but rather some other physical characteristic that is so universal to Muslims that even he, a white atheist, might have it. While I’m not prepared to say he is a racist, that sentiment is entirely racist as it, at best, ignores racial realities in this country and at worst is a blatant lie to cover up that he doesn’t trust dark skinned people in turbans.

    2. What’s with the constantly bringing up the “political correctness” bogeyman? People who use that term derisively are often doing so because they’re upset that they can’t say what they want about whomever they want without consequences. Harris is not acting like some warrior for reasonable security measures hampered by a disinclination to offend a religious minority. He’s acting like a jerk who’s irritated that people he inexplicably thinks are less likely to be terrorists are inconvenienced and lashing out at a broad group as a result.

  • Well, it’s simple. 
    Because a lot of Middle Easterners are Muslims, they look like Middle Easterners.
    Because there are a number of Muslims in the Balkans as well as converts like Cat Stevens, they look like Europeans.
    Because there are a number of Muslims in places like Fiji, they look like Pacific Islanders,
    Because there are a fair number of Africans and African-Americans who are Muslims, they look like Africans and African-Americans.
    Because there are a lot of South Asians who are Muslim, they look like South Asians.
    Because ther are a lot of Indonesians who are Muslims, they look Indonesians.
    Because there are some East Asians who are Muslim, they look East Asian.
    Because some Filipinos are Muslim, they look Filipino.
    Because some people in Suriname and Argentina are Muslim, they look like South Americans.

    So, we should look for Middle Easterners, Europeans, Africans, Pacific Islanders, African-Americans, South Asians, East Asians, Indonesians, Filipenos and South Americans.

    I think Sam is saying that the TSA wastes too much time searching clearly non-Muslim-looking North Koreans and visitors from the Vatican.  And maybe he’s right.  Just the other day I was in the airport and the TSA wasted 14 seconds talking to what I have to assume was a North Korean family when dozens of clearly Muslim-y European, Asian and African people sneaked by.

  • Psycling Steve

    Well done on ignoring this earlier quote from that response Hemant…

    “In any case, it is simply a fact that, in the year 2012, suicidal terrorism is overwhelmingly a Muslim phenomenon.”
    An assertion which while probably true in the Middle East is ludicrous in the context of the US & the TSA. That most US terrorists are homegrown caucasians has been pointed out to him by many critics but he blithely ignores this and repeatedly tells us to blame the muslim, who you can spot by his, umm, err, *handwaving*.

    His lack of any evidence and willful blindness to experts who quote actual studies e.g. Bruce Schneier, only makes this islamaphobia more odious. 

    All religions are risible to me, all bigots are loathsome. We have them in our camp too and showing some when they’re wandering down that path is not an attack, it’s an interventi0n.

  • Atheist From Hell

    People call him a racist because he calls for racial (religious if we want to semantically accurate) profiling. If Pat Buchanan made a similar proposal to profile Muslims everyone will can him a racist. Why should we have different standards for Sam?

  • Atheist From Hell

    I think you are making a tactical mistake here. It seems that you are ok with the idea of profiling Muslims. The only issue seems to be the inability to accurately define what a Muslim looks like.

  • The Captain

    “To say that ethnicity, gender, age, nationality, dress, traveling companions, behavior in the terminal, and other outward appearances offer no indication of a person’s beliefs or terrorist potential is either quite crazy or totally dishonest.” Actually they don’t! As has been pointed out repeatedly, the 9111 hijackers exhibited none of these stereotype behaviors or looks. He is arguing for a straw man that hasn’t been shown to exist.

    Leaving aside maybe mentally ill granny had a grandson who put a bomb on her! He is also partaking in a racial bias in his defense. Why does he think the old lady in his photo is not a threat? Because she’s old? White? He doesn’t know her any better than the brown teenager next to him. So why does he think she gets a pass? He’s using a stereotype, to justify a different stereotype. I have meet a lot of old people who where just plain evil mean shits. Old people can be just as evil/mean/insane as the young. Hell Albert Fish was like 60 when he ate Grace Bud!

  • Ikkyu

    Sam Harris Is in favor of religious profiling, torture  and nuclear first strike. (If used against Muslims).   Something that is easy to find in his published works.  If you don’t believe me Google is your friend.

    I would not want him as a spokesperson for any viewpoint I hold. 

    People who are defending him have to explain the question that he will not answer.
    What does LOOKING like a Muslim mean?

    I haven’t seen anybody explain that and until they  do, nothing people say defending Sam Harris will be enough.

    They reason he or people who defend him haven’t explained this is because they can’t.
    I wish I could get my money back for “The End of Faith”.    Having read it I am not surprised by his latest outburst. I am more surprised that there are still people who defend him or want to be associated with his points of view.


  • I_Claudia

    I’m sorry if I give that impression. That is certainly not my intent.  I had thought of inserting a “Let’s just assume it makes any kind of sense to profile Muslims as a group, which I don’t accept” somewhere, but there didn’t seem to be any space for it.

    I certainly don’t want to argue that profiling Muslims is a good but inpractical idea. My point was rather that Harris seems to strongly object to the suspicion that he was referring to racial profiling when talking about “people who look Muslim” but he somehow decided it was unneccesary to actually spell out what a Muslim looks like. My feeling is that he knows clothes can be changed and beards can be shaved, and with this he seems to be left without a physical description of a Muslim that doesn’t rely essentially on ethnicity.

  • The Captain

    Also I need to point out that Harris just fell off the list of people I in any way respect for their intelligence. Not for the profiling crap. but for the use of the term ” political correctness”.

    ” political correctness” is a bullshit propaganda term that in just about every single use means “an opinion I do not like so it is invalid”. Everything on examination is a “political correctness” if the majority of people agree on it. Everything! It is “political correctness” to not steal from your neighbors. It is “political correctness” to not cut people off in traffic. “political correctness” just means the majority of people think so. 

    Harris though uses the term ” political correctness” the same way ignorant partisan people in the US do which is to mean “the majority thinks I am wrong, so that makes my opinion more noble”. It doesn’t. It just makes you look even stupider when you use it. 

  • Onamission5

    ITA on your comments regarding the term PC. I’ll add my own personal opinion, and that is, PC is the process of figuring out how to treat everyone the way you’d like to be treated. So, the golden rule, if you will.

  • Onamission5

    Add onto that list (which covers just about everyone) that there’s a small but significant number of caucasian american muslims, too. So basically, we should profile *everybody* except Japanese people, because outside of garb, it’s impossible to tell what someone’s beliefs are just by looking at them.

  • Atheist From Hell

    I understand what you mean. That is also my position. I think racial (religious) profiling is a bad idea. I also believe it is impractical. But I would cut Sam some slack on the impractical issue. His job is to convince us that it is a good idea. How to make it practical is the job of TSA.

  • PC has always been a derogatory term, referring more to motivation than anything.  The ‘correct’ (or not) doesn’t matter.  The sting of the phrase is that something is only being done to win political popularity.

  • I can appreciate that you put a lot of thought into your post, but quite frankly, Sam Harris is a bigot. His initial post spelled that out loud and clear. No amount of backpedaling will change that.

    Also, Harris will never be pulled out of line because he looks “Muslim”. I’d be willing to bet you fall in that category, too.Usually the people who are least likely to be profiled, racial, religious or otherwise, are invariably the ones most comfortable with it/agitate the loudest for it.

    Also, in the future, just write “I think there’s a double standard applied to Islam as opposed to other religions.” It’s both quicker to write and read than what you wrote

  • That’s nonsense. Many failure modes are completely harmless  – try to smuggle a liquid onto a plane and get caught? Your liquid goes in the bin and you carry on with your life to try again. Same goes for knives, even guns in the US don’t cause too much upset because so many non terrorists accidentally try to get on a plane while still carrying theirs.

    Most airport ‘security’ is a PR exercise.

  • @dangeroustalk:disqus  Please read Atheist from Hell’s response. I think you’re having the same problem that Hemant was having: Harris is one of the Big Time Leading Atheists and you guys are having trouble admitting that he holds some really nasty views.

  • Onamission5

    I should have been more clear! I am referring to the sentiments behind what is often criticized as political correctness, not the term itself, which is used derrogatively.

  • “People who use that term derisively are often doing so because they’re upset that they can’t say what they want about whomever they want without consequences. ”

    THANK YOU!!!!!

  • As an aside, if you have a piece of luggage that you don’t want to get lost, pack (and declare of course) a starter’s pistol in it.  Airline will bend over backwards to make sure that piece of luggage is not lost.

  • Charon

    Here’s one reason: Bayes’ theorem. A classic basic example of Bayes’ theorem is that even a very good test, with a low false positive rate and a low false negative rate, will give a boatload of false positives compared to real positives when the base rate of the condition is very small.

    In non math speak: terrorists are extremely, extremely rare, either in the population as a whole or in the Muslim population. Hence you’ll get a huge number of people who have their lives totally screwed up relative to a very few people caught.

    TSA is substantially just security theater, and there are a lot of things we should focus on improving before starting profiling that will just give Muslims a legitimate reason to dislike the US.

  • Quite. Here’s Bruce on profiling:

    Short version is: Behavioural profiling is good security, racial/religious etc. profiling is bad security.

    If Sam Harris isn’t “hearing good reasons why he’s wrong” then it’s because he’s refusing to listen.

  • Wintermute

     I think Harris is wrong as well, but you do yourself no favors with statements like ‘he’s wrong because he’s a bigot…with an evidence free hatred of anything remotely related to Islam.’

    Maybe he is, but your argument doesn’t show that. Which makes it kind of evidence free.

  • Wintermute

     Came here to say just this. You’re dead on–any profiling system that’s less than perfect (even 99.9% specificity) is going to produce a huge number of false positives because terrorists are rare. You can throw in a second line of screening to compensate, but that adds time and cost awfully fast.

  • Wintermute

     ‘Profiling anyone and everyone’ isn’t profiling at all. At that point you’re searching every damn person who walks in. Which is cool, if you don’t mind the huge cost, inconvenience, and bad feelings it produces.

  • martymankins

    Compared to the “huge cost, inconvenience, and bad feelings it produces” we have now, I would take it in a heartbeat.

  • Jeff Samuelson

    Sam offers an opinion here which, while based on a valid frustration many of us feel with the TSA, is so far off-base my first impression caused me to categorize the article as “attention seeking behavior” on his part. Clearly, Sam hasn’t done his homework, and thinks his ideas are unique. To help him out, I sent him some links to relevant experts.

    Profiling is controversial, but not just because of its potential for abuse. In Israel, it might work because of the smaller population and greater homogeneity in the population, both racially and culturally. However, in Europe and America there’s much more cultural diversity and the security experts here by and large agree that the kind of profiling Sam advocates – and as long as we’re not mincing words, let’s call it what it is: racial profiling – doesn’t work. And yes, there is a lot of research and math to back that up. Google it sometime, if you’re interested.

    What Sam advocates is racial profiling because there is simply no way to profile “anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim” without appealing to racial and/or cultural stereotypes with regard to appearance. Inevitably this involves a lot of people with brown skin of various shades, most of them innocent and many of them belonging to ethnic groups originating outside the Middle East. While Sam grudgingly concedes that he could be a legitimate target of profiling, he knows he will not because he doesn’t “look Muslim.” After all, he’s a privileged white male having European ancestry.

    Most egregiously, he has the audacity to suggest that this vast majority of innocents should want a system in which they are targeted almost exclusively on the basis of how they look, largely so that people having pale skin and Western habits of dress and behavior can feel safer when they travel.

    The bottom line is that while Sam has a point with regard to the TSA’s bumbling, all he’s really done is recommend supplementing TSA ineptitude with bigotry. Somehow I don’t think that will make us safer.

  • Jeff Samuelson

    As to your first point, that’s splitting hairs. I suspect you know very well that profiling Muslims requires paying attention to people’s ethnic ancestry. To my knowledge, the TSA has yet to require travelers to state their religious preference. Until they do, it’s dishonest to talk about how this is targeting a religion and not an ethic group.

    You may be right about the double-standard, but given the history of race relations in the West, I wonder. Or, to take a different approach, consider that the targeting of innocents by the fearful indicates that the terrorists have actually succeeded.

  • dangeroustalk

     My problem is that I have been on the receiving end of these types of witch hunts. I know all to well that this is how they begin. You don’t agree with his opinion, so he must be a racist, right? Do you seriously think that he supports profiling Muslims because he hates black people? While I disagree with his position on profiling for reasons outlined in my blog, I don’t think his view is motivated at all by race. But when you assert that he is a racist, you are demonizing him instead of debating the actual issue. This is often done so that people can feel superior to others. It feels great to “take down” someone, but that doesn’t make it right. Harris is wrong about profiling, but you are also wrong to label him a racist. Personally, I am more offended by your wrong than his.

  • dangeroustalk

     Pat Buchanan has a history of hatred toward black people. Sam Harris has a history of being critical of Islam and of the things Muslims do in the name of Islam. If you don’t see the difference there, then you are lost.

  • He didn’t explain why the main criticism is faulty. It’s just logical that terrorists would take the path of least resistance and least suspected when going through airports. If the TSA makes a public decision not to search the most innocent seeming people, why wouldn’t terrorists take advantage of that? How is it crazy to come to that conclusion? Someone explain to me why that’s faulty logic. I don’t think Sam Harris is racist, just an idiot.

  • Atheist From Hell

    Here is tangent.

    TSA being a security theater is true, and I believe there is value in it. I know several people who refused fly after Sept 11. They need reassurance of safety before flying. The security theater provides that reassurance to these paranoid people.

  • monyNH

     Toure has an excellent article in Time this week about how learned bias plants itself deep in the developing brain and manifests throughout one’s life as unconscious bias. (I’m doing a horrible job summarizing it; you might want to read the actual article, and it’s short and very interesting.) When you say “almost everyone of us…thinks racist thoughts” you are absolutely right, according to scientific evidence (and if you don’t approach the word “racist” with semantic purity). Instead of bristling at the criticism, Harris would do better to take a moment to explore the roots of this subtle bias he has towards Muslims–and perhaps seek a better reaction to it.,9171,2113166-1,00.html

  • Erp

    I can think of only one characteristic that would practically guarantee that a male is not a Muslim which is not being circumcised.    However  (a) non-circumcised males can still be terrorists (just extremely unlikely to be Muslim) or unintentional mules and (b) most American males are circumcised no matter what their religion or lack thereof.    I also suspect that checking for non-circumcision would not add to the TSA’s popularity.

  • I might be channelling my inner slowpoke here, but I just wrote a blog about this.

  • Atheist From Hell

    Being critical of Islam might mean that you are just a critical thinker and not necessarily a racist. But when you call for profiling of Muslims you are a plain racist. But I do agree with you; there is a difference between Pat Buchanan and Sam. I did enjoy reading most of Sam’s books and would not enjoy reading any of Pat Buchanan’s books. Sam is not as big a racist as Pat Buchanan but he still expresses views that has to be categorized as racist.

  • dangeroustalk

     Muslim isn’t a race! Do you really think that Sam Harris is in favor of profiling Muslims because he hates black people? I’m sorry, but while I disagree with Harris on profiling his view doesn’t HAVE to be categorized as racism. I don’t think they should be categorized as racist at all! It really bothers me that people are so quick to label others with terms like “racist” so quickly without having a reasonable discussion or inquiring further. Can’t you argue against Harris in a reasonable way? I sure can.

  • M. Stratton

    So, security checks “harm race relations” more than flying planes into buildings? Nothing says, “Let’s put aside our differences” like killing 3,000 innocent people. By all means, let’s not offend anyone.
     Your use of the word “targeting” implies that there is conspiracy afoot. I’m blonde, blue eye’d, and my facial features are fully exposed. I’ve been pulled aside (as has my equally fair 12-year-old son), our bags have been opened, and the contents rummaged through.

    It’s an inconvenience, I don’t enjoy it, but I don’t cry racism or injustice. It’s the times we live in. 

  • Atheist From Hell

    No one said Sam is calling for profiling of Muslims because he hates black people. Sam is called a racist because he is calling for profiling of Muslims. If you want to split hairs and say that being a Muslim is not being a part of race then I might agree with you. But now I would call Sam a xenophobic bigot 🙂

  • M. Stratton

    Muslims are being kicked while they’re down? They have it hard right now? When Muslims stand up and with loud voices and rise against the violence, bigotry, and sexism perpetuated by their religion, perhaps other Americans will be able to look at “the people in general.” Right now, “the  people in general” don’t seem to be saying much of anything. White Americans are upset because Muslim looking people are being searched at the airport? Please: Tell that to the African Americans and Latino Americans that aren’t profiled either!
    I’ll remember this conversation the next time my blonde haired, blue-eye’d-self gets pulled out of line and searched thoroughly.

  • dangeroustalk

    Time out. Just what do you think “racist” means if you don’t think it means that you hate people because of their race? *facepalm*

  • M. Stratton

    Wasn’t it Pat Buchanan who said that tsunamis happen in countries where the people deserve it?

  • Atheist From Hell

    Ok buddy, I stand corrected. Now I call him a xenophobic bigot.

    BTW, here is a tangential question, can you please define race for me in a scientifically consistent manner. Also tell me what would you call pastor Terry Jones? Is he a racist?

  • Pretty sure you’re thinking Pat Robertson.

  • M. Stratton

    I don’t think you understand the definition of political correctness: (adjectivally, politically correct) is a term which denotes language, policies, ideas, and behavior seen  as seeking to minimize social and institutional offence in occupational, gender, racial, cultural, sexual orientation, certain other religions, beliefs, or ideologies, disability and age related contexts, and, as purported by the term, doing so to an excessive extent. In current usage, ther term is  primarily pejorative (derogative, belittling).

    It means that most of the people here are pretending to be holier than thou, and the way you are using it sounds silly. You probably don’t realize it, but you are actually being stereotypically “politically correct.”

  • dangeroustalk

     I don’t think Harris is xenophobia either and if you don’t see a difference in reasoning between Terry Jones and Sam Harris, then you are again lost. Take a deep breath.

  • Again I will write my response as an intelligence analyst with over 20 years experience in the fields of both intelligence gathering and analysis.

    Sam is fundementally wrong in his viewpoint. He does not have a clue about the machinery of intelligence gathering, analysis and application.

    That is forgivable as intelligence professionals are by their nature and training, (as well as legislative/legal restraints), close mouthed about the processes involved. This unwillingness is compounded by public misconceptions around intelligence and its applications, as exhibited by Sam; the the fact that the trade has become highly politicised in the climate post 9/11 and 7/7; the phony WMD scam pulled by the Bush administration; the phony September report touted by the Blair administration; the Iraq and Afghanistan debacles, and many other compromises.

    Broad brush fishing programs of the sort Sam proposes do not and can not work. Intelligence must be focussed, targetted and fully micro-managed otherwise it is completely ineffective, at best a scattergun hit and miss affair where mostly you miss, a significant resource drain, and a valueless excersise that will in all likelyhood cause more harm than good.

    If, as Sam poposes, we should profile ALL Muslims on the basis that a tiny number are potential terrorists and threats to transport security, then by logical extension of the same reasoning we should profile ALL Christians based on the actions of anti-abortionist bombers and shooters; we should profile ALL Irish people on the basis that some may be PIRA/RIRA terrorists; we should profile ALL Spaniards on the basis that some may or may not be Basque ETA activists; ALL white males with a skinhead and all bald people as they may be white supremacists, particularly Brits as they may be Combat 18 or White Wolves activists; and the list goes on and on.

    Sam seems to think that potential threats are incapable of adaptive behaviour that would see his proposal made useless and a potential flash point societally, where Muslims would quite rightly cry foul and predjudice. Need I point out to hm the blatant folly of his line of reasoning: The muslim fanatics who carried out the 9/11 attacks had short hair, dressed in western clothing, and spent a considerable time building up activty profiles that would discredit profiling such as drinkng and hanging out in strip clubs. Active fanatics dont dress up as Gaza Strip belt bombers Sam….they make sure, and spend a long time doing it, that they look, act and sound just like me and you.

    Finally on to the worst of the response Sam posted: “Many readers who were horrified by my article seem to believe that there
    is nothing wrong with “gathering intelligence.” One wonders just how
    they think that is done.”

    Perhaps Sam that paranoia is a symptom of the fact you live and work in the USA. I can assure you that in Europe, and particularly France, Germany, The UK and the Scandinavian countries of N Europe governmental “security” intelligence gathering is highly regulated by law, and abuses are investigated and the abusers prosecuted both on a departmental and personal basis. For example, in the UK the RIPA law means that any and all unjustified or collateral “intrusion” into privacy by an investigatory agency is a criminal offence. Whilst there is a due dilligence defence for such intrusion, continued activity would negate such a defence. However, in the USA intellgence gatherng is less well regulated and restricted, so your misconception that thier methods are univeral is understandable as explained at the outset. You are wrong Sam, very very wrong.

    If you wish to write about intelligence gatherng and its applications Sam why not stick to sound ground. Write about how it seems that the once fine and delecate art, the grand chess game of nuance, has been turned by shabby politicians like Bush and Cheney and military bullet necks like the idiotic Pentagon goons into a one size fits all sledgehammer they use to crack walnuts, a fantasy buzz phrase flag they hide their stupidity and incompetance behind. Write about its potential and the need to resource it properly and regulate it carefully with honest broker overseers who are always viglant for abuses like the broad brush fishing expeditions you propose or the one recently that came to light concerning the keystone kops spook wannabees of the NYPD and their clownshoes partners in anti-Constitutional crime the CIA.

    Next tme you choose to write on the topic try talking to an analyist or two….and may I recommend you talk to a professional one that isnt involved in the current headless chicken cackfest going on in the USA, where around only 6% of terrorist attacks since 2000 are attributable to muslims (according to FBI stats released last year).

    But probably the best idea Sam is you stick to writing on what you know best and avoid matters of intelligence policy all together….cos when you do blunder into that minefield you seem to end up legless.

  • The good news is Sam has tweeted that he’s invited Bruce Schneier to straighten him out.

  • the 9/11 hijackers used box cutters to hold up the plane. Now at an airport you cant even take nail clippers on board. They still give you plastic cuttlery to eat with though.

    Go down to 7/11 and buy a set. When you get home take one knife and see how long it takes you to sharpen its edge on a handy steel edge…like the arm of a plane seat has. Even simpler, just snap off the blade end or fork/spoon end of one and see how nasty and sharp a shiv you just made which is perfect for holding against the neck of a hostess….just like the 9/11 blokes did. A sharp box cutter or a sharp shiv….both just as deadly.

    So….how pointless does the no nail clippers rule look now then eh? See….when a policy s ill thought out it just ends up in stupidity and ineffectiveness.

    As to Bruce…well hes a good start. He is a cryptologist really tho.

  • Actually, no. It isn’t splitting hairs. Islam is a religion, not a race. There are many white Muslims from the Balkans, for example. There are black Muslims from many parts of Africa. There are a huge number of Indonesian Muslims and “Asiatic” Muslims as well. You can’t profile Muslims by ethnic ancestry. It’s like trying to profile Christians by ethnic ancestry. It simply can’t be done. So the proposal, while silly, has nothing to do with how a person looks. On that basis alone, it’s not racist. If Sam had said “Let’s target Arabs”, or “Let’s target Indonesians” or “Let’s target sub-Saharans”, then that would be a much more racist statement. But he didn’t say that.

    On the double-standard and history of race relations in the West – I said that I understood the reasons, but that they are misplaced. I pointed out in a reply below that Muslims persecute Christians, Jews, Hindus, and many other religions in the extreme in many Muslim nations. Compared to the real persecution and lynchings accorded to those of different (or even no) faith in Muslim nations, Muslims in the West don’t even rate on the scale of “persecution” or “discrimination”. Are we to stop criticizing other religions and pointing out their stupidities simply because they suffer so much under Muslim rule? I think not. And yet they do have a better claim at being the oppressed than Muslims have in general. So I don’t think that it is a very rational argument to bring up.

  • I’d have liked to have written simply that, but I’ve done so before and been blown off or insulted and told that there is no double standard. So, henceforth, I’ve decided to ram it down people’s throats as best as I can until they fess up. =)

  • keddaw

    Fear of terrorism is not a rational fear.

    Imagine a worst case scenario where there was a 9/11 event every year – the odds of being killed would still be in the order of 1,300-1, similar to being killed crossing the street, driving in a car or being murdered (by a non-terrorist).  We don’t spend billions of dollars and give up our essential liberties to (unsuccessfully) try to stop these other things so why is terrorism special?

    If you can’t rationally assess relative dangers then you have no place in the conversation (Sam!)

  • Jeff Samuelson

    We agree, it seems. Sam’s idea of profiling Muslims based on appearance would not work.

    I do know that Islam is a religion, not a race. But I also know what Sam suggested, and there is no getting around the fact that his idea of profiling based on looks plays to racial and cultural stereotypes.

    If you don’t agree, please explain how the TSA will be able to decide which travelers are Muslims and which aren’t?

  • Jeff Samuelson

    My clumsy reference to race relations notwithstanding, I think you misunderstand.

    First, the vast majority of people – including Muslims – are innocent and have no plans to crash planes into buildings. And you rightly say that at this time, no one is “targeting” anyone. Yet Sam would like people who “look Muslim” to be targeted so that people who look like he does can avoid the inconvenience of having to put up with security scans.

    In other words, Sam wants security to focus on those who seem to be the greatest threat. A logical desire, to be sure, but one that is fraught with problems, and not because it “might give offense” (which is a tidy little strawman, by the way).

    The bottom line really is that those who “look Muslim” are, to a majority of white Westerners, those who look like they come from the Middle East, i.e., those having olive or brownish skin and with non-Western habits of dress.

    It’s logic like this that led to Japanese internment camps during WW2.  Now, to be absolutely clear, I’m not suggesting that profiling and internment are the same thing. All I’m saying is that the logic is the same and it is flawed.

  • dylan

    “Yet Sam would like people who “look Muslim” to be targeted so that people who look like he does can avoid the inconvenience of having to put up with security scans”

    You might want to re-read what Sam wrote.  I believe he includes himself in the group that he thinks should be profiled.

     “I am not narrowly focused on people with dark skin. In fact, I included myself in the description of the type of person I think should be profiled (twice).”  Sam’s words

  • Like I said: I don’t think that the TSA could do that. Also, as I said, even if there was a way to do that…it wouldn’t eliminate all threats (as per my example of the Israelis catching women who were Catholic, young, westerners and carrying bombs they didn’t even know that they were carrying).

    I said that Israel doesn’t profile based on just religion but on many, many, other factors. If they profiled just based on religion or looks, they would never have caught those women who were being used by terrorists as mules.

    Also, as stupid and idiotic as most TSA agents appear to be (and highly uneducated as well), I can’t imagine any of them making a rational and sane choice about which people to profile.

    I just happen to think that Sam is wrong on this one, but I also think that he’s right to bring up the issue and try to have a conversation about it. And I also think that it’s wrong to label him a racist for doing so. As I stated in my other long comment on the other thread about this: It’s no more racist than saying that the FBI should investigate in the Italian American community when fighting the Mafia, or the Russian American community when fighting the Russian mob, or the Jewish community for links to the Jewish mob, or even the Religious Jewish community for links in diamond dealing fraud, or the Catholic church when it comes to pedophilia, or the Latino community when trying to fight Latino gang warfare in certain parts of the country. But when it comes to profiling people at airports, I’d rather they profile the way that Israel profiles people: not by race, or religion, but by “Tells” and other methods when answering questions.

    My quibble is with the atheist community when it comes to the broader question of Islam in general. Again: I think Sam was wrong on this one, but I also think that he has another point to make and I don’t fault him for trying to start the conversation. It doesn’t make him racist – even if his suggestion was that all Middle Eastern “looking” young men should be profiled at airports, especially as he included himself in that mix (as he quite definitely has semitic features).

    So on the profiling question: I agree with you and almost everyone here: It wouldn’t work, and he’s wrong overall on this point. But I’m glad that he brought up the question as it is part of a larger conversation that he has been trying to have on the dangers of Islam in general. And with the reactions that I’ve seen to his proposal, I know that he’s on track with his criticisms of the atheist community in general because you’d think that he just suggested we round up all Muslims and gas them a la Auschwitz.

  • Even if there’s an atheist double standard applied to Islam, it doesn’t excuse Harris’ ignorant bigotry in his original story.  And quite frankly, your initial post is a long winded excuse for him.

  • Yup. Harris has said his fair share of reprehensible stuff over the
    years and people have largely ignored the fact.  Instead, he’s received a
    broad base of support from people who label themselves as
    “rationalists” and “free thinkers.” I’m surprised that so many people
    are now criticizing him for the prejudice and small minded perceptions
    of his recent blog. Really? You just noticed that Harris isn’t the most
    enlightened thinker? What took you so damned long?

  • I’ve addressed the issue of bigotry in another reply.

    I’m terribly sorry if you don’t like to read lengthy pieces. Perhaps, in the future, I’ll allow myself only 140 characters in which to say what I want to say.

  • If we call Harris’ views bigoted, will that make you feel better?

    Look, he is is calling for people to be singled out at airports who “look Muslim”. Odds are that’s not going to be someone with blue eyes and blond hair. Sam Harris will never be pulled aside for suspicion of Breathing While Muslim, and I’m willing to bet you won’t either.

    So who does that leave us with? Seriously, if  you want to split hair semantically, knock yourself out. But what Harris proposes only affects people with darker-colored skin.As for Harris’ motives, unintentional bigotry and racism is just as inexcusable as the intentional kind. 

  • teressa81

     So you openly and blatantly deny that after 9/11, Muslims have suffered no rise in intolerance or racial strife specifically because they shared a religion with the terrorists?

    Wait, of course you would, because it’s only fun to point out the racism that other people are inflicting.

    And “the people in general” happen to my friends. They’re you’re friends, too. Not that I know your friends, to me they ARE “people in general”, because I don’t know them, but I know, for you, they exist.

    Even moreso, the “people in general” also happen to the human race. Which I know some people try so desperately hard to rise above, but the truth of the matter is that I bleed, you bleed, Muslims bleed, Pat Robertson bleeds – why, it’s almost as if EVER human in general bleeds.

    Wow. How completely shocking. I think *I* will remember this conversation, too. Isn’t it great that our memories are working?

  • brianmacker

    What if we are at war with Indonesian. Can we profile them then or does this PC stupidity continue?

  • Did you actually read what I wrote?

  • thebigJ_A

    In regards to torture, he argued that aerial bombing is more unethical than certain types of torture. That’s not “in favor of torture”. He was similarly not in favor of a nuclear first strike, at all. He was pointing out the danger of an Islamist state with nuclear weapons, and the problems that would cause (i.e. that when dealing with a martyr mentality, Mutually Assured Destruction probably wouldn’t be much of a deterrent.)

    Why don’t you read his words on it?

    For the record, i think he’s 100% totally wrong on this profiling issue. He has, however, shown himself prepared to be corrected.

  • brianmacker

    The vast majority of whites are innocent but that doesn’t stop certain people from accusing them of racism at the drop of a hat. There is a very big difference between skin color and belief in a religion. One can certainly be innocent of knowledge of the evil in ones religion, one can also label oneself as belonging to the religion and contradictorily reject some or all of that evil, while being ignorant of some other aspects. If you are ignorant yet claim truth or infallibility for your religion then you are guilty of at least negligence. You might espouse membership to avoid persecution, which is fine just so long as you don’t betray other pretenders, or persecute non-members to boost your credibility.

    All living Muslims are certainly innocent of being suicide bombers by definition, and the vast majority are innocent of wanting to be terrorists. Yet there is also a vast range of things they can be guilty of that doesn’t require one to frisk them at airports yet would make one rationally not desire them on your school board, voting in elections, or immigrants to your country. It has fuck all nothing to do with racism.

  • brianmacker

    Really. Support your reasoning. What definition of bigot are you using? Do each step like in a detailed math problem. Leave no step out, because I’d like to see your proof.

  • dangeroustalk

     This is exactly my point. This is a witch hunt. You took a two words of Harris’s blog post and turned it into your entire hunt. You ignored much of what he said plus you ignored his clarification. Don’t get me wrong, his clarification doesn’t make his case, but it does refute your insinuation that he hates black people. Calling him a bigot is just as bad and it is this type of labeling which I take issue with. Instead of trying to understand his POV, you just label him a racist or a bigot and now you feel so much more superior to him and you don’t have to have the conversation. I would rather have the conversation and point out why profiling in airports just isn’t the answer. Harris, like most people in our community,  is not known for being dogmatic and if presented with a good argument, he will probably change his opinion… and there are great arguments out there against profiling. But you would rather just call him a racist or a bigot and call it a day. I find that inexcusable.

  • brianmacker

    Especially since Muslims are not oppressed in say Britain, were they can move in and go on the dole with their four wives.

  • brianmacker

    You sound like those Christians who argue that the only reason I’m an atheist is so that I can do as I please. The reason why PC is loathed is that it is an irrational mechanism to enforce group adherence to dogma. Many leftist ideologies are as bad as the worst religions in this regard. Same goes for certain libertarian circles. Same goes for Objectivists.

    I’d continue and eat your lunch right now, but I need to do other things. Just remember, you know squat about what I think and how I arrived at it until I tell you.

  • brianmacker

    The point is to be evidence free. This is about PC taboo not reason.

  • brianmacker

    But racial profiling in and of itself is not “racist”. For example, if I’m selling sun block on the beach in Canada I can profile just the white sunbathers. Racism requires additional criteria. Oh, and how can you call profiling based on religion, racism?

  • brianmacker

    Name them.

  • brianmacker

    Which requires a different kind of profiling. It’s not like you have to be an idiot and only use one profile. You can profile for IRA members, Iranian Islamists, Saudi Islamists, and so forth, using the various different methods available which can include a database of names, dress, country of origin, etc. You are using the straw man argument of assuming a stupid characterization of your opponents position to defeat it. Doesn’t work, and makes you look dishonest or just plain stupid. So don’t do it.

  • brianmacker

    There are polls on support for terrorism by country. Harris has provided this evidence in his books. Get educated.

  • jdm8

    I don’t think it’s dishonest when Harris himself, in the quotes in the above article, uses women and children as demographics that should be given less attention on the part of the screeners.

  • brianmacker

    Maybe paranoid people shouldn’t fly.

  • brianmacker

    Guilty on the issue of torture. I read his book. Not guilty on the charge of only with regards to Muslims. He’d do it to any terrorist of any ideology. Not many Jain and Amish terrorists is all.

    The problem with people like you is that you can’t disagree with others on particular issues, and instead must demonize them beyond those single issues.

  • Good reasons why he is wrong? You have to assume he has already considered and disregarded the moral reasons, but here is a utilitarian reason: it would reduce safety. Consider this, the government puts out a policy saying that they search for traits X, Y and Z. Quite quickly this would be common knowledge (even if not leaked directly, since people know they are being searched it will rapidly become apparent what X, Y and Z are). A terrorist organisation then recruits someone who doesn’t fit X, Y and Z – they then will not be searched, and the attack is successful. The safest search pattern is random search, since that cannot be countered by planning.

  • Yeah, and you would be wrong to do so: 

  • The protest is a practical one: what physical traits are you going to use for profiling? And would they have picked up Colleen la Rose, the 46 year-old Texan woman with white skin and blue eyes?

  • Seriously; you want me to define “bigot” using math? If you’re having that much trouble seeing that calling for profiling based on people who “look” like they belong to a specific religion is bigotry, you need to re-examine your own views.

  • I did read your piece. You’re trying to justify Harris’ bigoted views and idiotic plea for profiling with a long winded editorial that Islam is treated with kid gloves.

    However, maybe you should consider a medium like Twitter that focuses on brevity. It’ll help you get to your point a lot faster.

  • MercuryChaos

    ” I gave the example (twice) of Israelis catching white, non-Muslim,
    European women who were carrying bombs (and didn’t even know it, so they
    weren’t even nervous and didn’t give anything away by showing those
    sorts of “Tells”).”

    When did this happen? Do you have a link to a news article about it or something  like that?

  • Thegoodman

    “anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim”

    All of humanity? I think we need to narrow our scope a little bit if we want to create a plausible form of security.

    Who is excluded from this list? The only people I can think of are individuals in a vegetative state and infants.

  • Ikkyu

     I read his words in the End of Faith.  Page 199
    “Given what many of us believe about the exigencies of our war on terrorism, the practice of torture, in certain circumstances, would seem not only permissible but necessary”  How is that not an endorsement of  torture?
    You can claim is not only for Muslims but his approval of torture is in the context of the so called “War on terror” a term that was created to justify such things by the Bush administration and its backers.
    In a bit of Irony for this  debate  in page 193 he says:
    “In the real world, we will not be able to tell the guilty from the innocent just by looking”

    About Nuclear first strike.  I read his attempt to claim that he did not say what he said but in Page 129:
    “What will we do if an Islamist regime, which grows dewy eyed at the mere mention of paradise, ever acquires long-range nuclear weaponry?
    ……..”In such a situation, the only thing likely to ensure our survival may be a nuclear first strike of our own”
    He goes on to say that this would be an unthinkable crime.  But a crime that would be caused by Islam itself. Islam is so dangerous because if they ever acquire long range nuclear weapons we have to kill them.
    Why bring this up now? Because previous statements by the same person put his new statement in context.

  • Shouldbeworkin’

    “To say that ethnicity, gender, age, nationality, dress, traveling companions, behavior in the terminal, and other outward appearances offer no indication of a person’s beliefs or terrorist potential is either quite crazy or totally dishonest.”

    Except that it’s not. None of these are indicative of an individual’s personal beliefs or terrorist potential. If he wants us to take him seriously, he has to show proof that this claim is true.

    “Many readers who were horrified by my article seem to believe that there is nothing wrong with “gathering intelligence.” One wonders just how they think that is done.”

    I would think it is done by monitoring the communications and actions of specific individuals and looking for connections and patterns that are indicative of plans to do harm. I don’t think ‘gathering intelligence’ means recording the names and addresses of all individuals who happen to look a certain way.

  • The Captain

    You seem caught up on a very, very narrow definition of racism. “racism” is the judging of a person by their race. Now as you have said “muslim” is not a “race” BUT Harris is urging people to use race to guess who is a muslim (and terrorist) and then treat them as such by their race. 

     Now something else, “racism” does not have to stem from “hatred”. A person can hold racist views toward people based on many other things besides “hatred”. Ignorance is one, I’ve seen people with racist views who had them because of fear, and in Harris’s case I think it’s a combination of fear, and laziness. The laziness of course is that rather than take the time and effort to mentally decide wether or not a person is a terrorist, Harris is just using the race of the individual to make that judgement. That’s just lazy!

  • The Captain

    Swing and a miss!

    It is just as “politically correct” to have to wear a flag pin during a debate. It is just as “politically correct” to have to pledge allegiance to the flag.In many circles It is just as “politically correct” to be a christian. Just as it was “politically correct” for politicians to support the Iraq war in 2003.

    “political correctness” is just as I said, it means doing what the majority option says you should do so as to avoid the consequences for not doing so. This is why people who try to use the term only to mean “liberal ideas” or “my opinion should hold no consequences” show their stupidity! They also have things you must, or must not do to to not draw their scorn too. 

  • Atheist From Hell

    Well, I think Sam is a xenophobe and a bigot. Here is the reasoning.

    He calls for a group of people to be profiled in airports. Being profiled can be a humiliating experiance. Infact I don’t want to be profiled. I have enough empathy to put myself in someone else’s shoes and figure out that others don’t want to be profiled either. Sam does not have that empathy. That is what makes him a xenophobic bigot.

    Now, you are yet to give me an answer to the following question. What is the definition of race? Please make the answer as scientific as possible.

    And I am not comparing Sam to Terry jones. Just want to know if you consider him a racist based on his Koran burning.

  • Atheist From Hell

    ” how can you call profiling based on religion, racism?” …interesting question.

    Do you consider anti-semitism a form of racism?

  • Atheist From Hell

    Being an islamophobe.

    Being an apologist for torture.

  • dangeroustalk

     I think you are trying to derail the conversation to avoid addressing my point. My point is that Sam Harris is not a racist and I think it is wrong to label him as such. It is also wrong to label him a xenophobic bigot because he is critical of Islam. I don’t really understand you point there. Now, I’ll throw you a bone. You asked, “What is the definition of race? Please make the answer as scientific as possible.” You got me. I am too lazy to research the scientific definition of “race” and cite multiple journal articles. I don’t see that as particularly relevant to my point. So I’m going to ask you to enlighten me. You tell me what is the definition of race? Please make the answer as scientific as possible. Thanks.

  • The main reason for anti-terrorism measures is not to protect the citizen directly, but to protect the security of the nation itself.  As horrible as the thousands of deaths were on 9/11, the bigger statement made was that even a hyperpower can have its very existence feel vulnerable if struck at the right time and place.

  • Atheist From Hell

    You were the one who had problem with me calling Sam a racist because Muslims are not a “race”. That is why asked what your definition of race is. If you atleast answer the following question I can see what your understanding of racism is. Is anti-semitism a form of racism?

    And I just gave you reason for why I consider Sam a xenophobic bigot. I repeat it for your benefit. I call hum a bigot for his call for profiling of Muslims. Being profiled is an unpleasant experience and no one wants to suffer that humiliation. Sam does not care about the humiliation that he wants to inflict on Muslims.

    I have given you the reason. Now do you understand why I call him a bigot. Do you atleast acknowledge that it is not for being critical of Islam?

    Be honest address both the points I raise in this post. If nor it is you who are detailing the conversation.

  • Jenae Reese

     You know profiling Sam Harris on the basis of his “Semitic features” is racial profiling? Which is racist? You know that, right?

      Also, can we please not pull the ridiculous canard about how “Muslim isn’t a race” when in this instance ITS BEING TREATED AS A RACE? 

  • dangeroustalk

     1. Xenophobia is a fear of all foreigners or strangers. A fear of one particular group of people doesn’t not make one xenophobic necessarily and it certainly doesn’t make one bigoted. So again, I think you have a hyperbole problem.
    2. As I stated before, I’ll give you the win on the definition of race because I don’t think you can answer your own question. So I am willing to learn. Enlighten me; “What is the definition of race? Please make the answer as scientific as possible.”
    3. I don’t think you understand how loaded the terms you are using are. They are serious accusation and I think you should be careful with them. I agree with Harris on the problem of political correctness in our community. I also think that he has responded to the accusations of racism pretty well. I still disagree with him on profiling, but that is another conversation.
    4. Does it make you feel superior to label other people “racist” or “bigoted?” Do you feel good about yourself because you “took down” someone who is famous? I do find it hard to believe that you think Sam Harris hates black people or that he hates all foreigners. I think you should try to understand his point of view and give him the benefit of the doubt. If after learning more about his position, you come to the conclusion that he really does hate black people or hate all foreigners, I would be pretty surprised. I think our community needs more empathy and less hyperbole accusations.

  • Atheist From Hell

    Where the fk did I say Sam hates black people?

  • Jenae Reese

     Yes, because this was totally all about you…

  • Jenae Reese

     How is not judging people on the basis of race unreasonable? How does it represent some kind of social taboo, rather than a fairly reasonable view that the color of a person’s skin has no bearing on their internal landscape? I am honestly curious about how you connect these things in your mind.

  • Jenae Reese

     Strangely, when someone advocates judging people as more potentially criminal because of their physical appearance than yeah, I’m gonna go ahead and call that person a racist. Weird how that works.
      Also, lol at all the people in this thread complaining like being called a racist is the worst thing that can happen to a person. Know what’s worse than being called a racist? FUCKING RACISM.

  • Jenae Reese

     If the racial profiling is 1. buying into negative stereotypes about an already oppressed minority and will 2. result in a significant loss of rights/time/money/peace of mind for said group, then YES, it is racist. I really don’t know how this is so hard to understand. Are you really just so privileged that you can’t imagine the harm that targeting people as potential criminals based on the color of their skin does?

  • Pseudonym

    Let me try to explain what I think is actually behind this.

    WARNING: This comment is going to be full of gross and partly unfair over-generalisations. I hope everyone will forgive this, but I think you’ll see why when you get to the end.

    Conservatives tend to see the world in terms of “good guys” and “bad guys”. Liberals tend to see the world in terms of “oppressed” and “oppressor”.

    Liberals are aware of the conservative splitting up of the world into
    “good guys” and “bad guys” and are shocked and dismayed by it. To a
    liberal, nobody is born bad, but they are forced that way by
    circumstance, particularly oppression (since this is a huge part of the
    lens through which the liberal sees the world).

    In many places in the world, Muslims fall into the “oppressed” category, and have been since colonial times. Palestine is the most obvious such place today, but Muslims also get a raw deal in supposedly enlightened countries like France and the USA. But thanks to Sayyid Qutb and his intellectual offspring and severe over-reaction by people in charge of the US who really should know better, they have also been caught in a drift net meant to catch “bad guys”.

    (Of course, in other places in the world, Muslims are the “oppressors”. Think East Timor before independence, or the Saudi royal family. We’ll ignore that complication for the moment, because we’re talking specifically about Muslims living in the West.)

    Christians do not get this in the developed world, because they are typically in the “oppressor” category. And, of course, the Bush-era US government was the biggest “oppressor” on the block, and government agencies are still at it.

    Even though Sam Harris is not a “conservative” in the sense I’m using it here, he does use the language of “bad guys”. So it’s hard for a liberal to look at what Sam Harris is saying and not interpret it as him saying that Muslims should be assumed to be in the “bad guys” category by default.

    Remember, people have been subject to rendition and torture at the US government’s behest just for having the wrong name. The context in which Harris is suggesting profiling Muslims is one where security is already ineffective, irrational and crazy. According to anyone who has even a small amount of expertise about actual security, Harris’ plan is even more ineffective, more irrational and crazier.

    In the context of everything that’s happened over the last 10 years, can you blame liberals for thinking he’s just a little bit racist?

    FWIW, I personally don’t think he’s racist. I think he’s just a profoundly ignorant individual who is a victim of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

  • Jenae Reese

     Well, I think when people advocate a system that would target people with a certain “look” as potentially criminal, I can safely call that person a racist. Guess I’m just weird like that.
      Also, FYI, being called a racist isn’t the worst thing ever. Know what Harris COULD do? Admit that, like a lot of white people, he’s a little bit racist, and then knock that shit off.



  • thebigJ_A

    Funny how you leave out the very next sentence after the torture line: “Still, it does not seem any more acceptable, in ethical terms, than it did before”. I believe that’s called “quote-mining”. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you just missed his point. 

    Or further up in the same paragraph, where he says “Paradoxically, this equivalence has not made the practice of torture seem any more acceptable to me…”.

    See, you’re taking one sentence out of a very long argument, and taking it out of its context. His entire argument is about why we think the way we do. Why is aerial bombing considered more moral than torture, when it has the potential to do more harm? When, he argues, torture may gain us benefits in a struggle as good or greater than those of dropping a particular bomb. He’s talking about moral equivalence.

     Hell, when I finished reading that chapter, all of it, I found myself agreeing with him nearly completely. No, I don’t believe torture is ethical, it’s just that now I have strong feelings against bombing where there were none (in a general sense) before.

    You do the exact same thing with the nuclear strike passage. He’s not at all saying, “kill all the muslims before they kill us.” That’s not even what the sentence you quote on its own says. He’s saying that, were we in a scenario analogous to that between the U.S. and the Soviets with an Islamist regime (like, say, that of Iran), the ideas of jihad and martyrdom would make an extended cold war, where neither side shoots because of logic, unlikely. And that, were we in such a situation, it MAY be that there would be no other solution than a first strike.

    Now, that hypothetical situation is arguable. But disagree with his actual argument, not the “he wants to nuke the Muslims!” strawman.

  • thebigJ_A

    Or maybe he doesn’t read every site that ever talks about him? Hey, I like this site, too, but that doesn’t mean Sam Harris (or any other perticular person) has heard of it and combs the comments.

  • thebigJ_A

    He said “suicidal terrorism”. 

    While there are plenty of terrorists of all stripes, I’d think it a fairly reasonable statement to say that, of all the terrorist acts lately in which the terrorist killed himself as well as his victims, the largest proportion of those suicidal terrorists is Muslim.

  • I’m sure that will be very comforting to the families of those slain by non-suicidal terrorists. “Well, at least the terrorists aren’t dead along with them and we caught all the suicidal ones by magically glancing at them and thereby divining that they were Muslims.”

  • He did tweet that he and Bruce Schneier are talking.  If Bruce can’t straighten him out, nobody can.  And I say that more about Bruce’s ability as a communicator than as a security expert.

  • Pseudonym

     Josh Rosenau has an interesting take on it, too. He argues that the political correctness aspect is wrong, and even if it weren’t wrong, it would be missing the point.

  • While I agree with much of Harris’ critique of the TSA and many of the ludicrously ineffective measures taken at the airport, I would argue that the burden of proof rests on Harris to show that profiling Muslims and those who look remotely Muslim would do a significantly better job of preventing terrorist acts. 

  • Atheist From Hell

    He is way too educated to be ignorant. There something else wrong with him.

  •  If Muslim isn’t a race, why should we suspect someone who looks like a Bollywood villain? Clearly Sam Harris needs to be reminded that Muslim isn’t a race too…..

  • Pseudonym

    “Educated” is not an all-or-nothing thing. I know a huge amount about some things and next to nothing about other things.

    The paradox of the Dunning-Kruger effect is that people who are highly educated in one area but only know a little in some other area tend to grossly underestimate their ignorance of that other area.

  • Ikkyu

     Sorry It took me this long to respond.  In that same book same chapter he goes on to say: “We cannot let our qualms over collateral damage paralyze us because the enemy know no such qualms”

    You are correct that he was making the case that torture is not worse than collateral damage due to bombing.
    But he goes on to argue that we should do BOTH.

    In the context his book was written many people were arguing against the invasion of Iraq. An act of aggression against a country that did not attack us first.  And he basically joins forces with those arguing in favor of this war.

    You are also correct that the point he is making about nuclear war is that a cold war against an Islamist “Soviet Union” might have gone differently.  But this is a big hypothetical.  In the real world Iran has not attacked or invaded anyone.  It was invaded by Iraq a secular country.  Another example is the Wahabi dictatorship in Saudi Arabia.  They have also not invaded anyone.

    So what purpose does this hypothetical serve?
    To Justify the “war on terror’, creating a straw-man Islamic  aggressive superpower. That does not exist.  And to promote preventive war to stop its creation. When there is no evidence it is likely to happen.

    My point to bring up the quotes is to show a consistent pattern of what can only be called islamophobia.

    I am against all the obvious problems with Islam and with other religions. The position of women, the abandonment of reason in favor of superstition etc. 
    But what Harris was doing in that book was to give support to the creation of a new foreign Boogeyman
    like the “red-scares” of old.     To give the Military-Industrial complex a new source of revenue,  a new reason to keep the “defense” budget as high as possible.

  •  Not taking sides, just pointing out that anti-semitism IS racist but not necessarily only anti-jewish. Arabs are semitic people too! Semitic IS a race.

  • In defence of Harris, he doesn’t have to be in any way racist to suggest this. He could simply be making this statement in a purely Utilitarian sense. Unfortunately, it could be exploited by racists. I find it hard to believe Sam Harris is racist.

  • Itareski

    Oh, no, not the completely bogus “Arabs are semitic people too” argument.  

    `Antisemitism’ is a problematic term, first invented in the 1870s by the German journalist Wilhelm Marr to describe the `non-confessional’ hatred of Jews and Judaism which he and others like him advocated…`Antisemitism’ — a term which came into general use as part of this politically motivated anti-Jewish campaign of the 1880s — was never directed against `Semites’ as such….
    …As a result, for the last hundred years, the illogical term `antisemitism’, which never really meant hatred of `Semites’ (for example, Arabs) at all, but rather hatred of Jews, has come to be accepted in general usage as denoting all forms of hostility towards Jews and Judaism throughout history.Antisemitism: The Longest Hatred , Thames Mandarin, 1992.

  • dangeroustalk

     Um, that’s not it at all. I said this a million times before. While I disagree with Harris on profiling, he is NOT at racist. He doesn’t support profiling because he hates black people, he supports profiling because he thinks believers of Islam are dangerous. Many of them are dangerous, but Harris fails to realize that profiling doesn’t work, Christianity is far more dangerous than Islam, there are terrorists who aren’t Muslim, and that profiling decreases the well-being of us all. You and Atheist From Hell fail are too quick to accuse people of racism. When Harris said, “Look like Muslims” he wasn’t just talking about physical looks (i.e. black or Arab). He expanded on that in his addendum but he should have been more clear. I think he expected atheists to be intelligent and to understand what he was saying. While he is still wrong, you are more wrong for not trying to understand where he is coming from, but just demonizing him in a knee-jerk reaction. 

  • mattand

    I went back and looked over my comments, as well as yours and your exchanges with Atheist from Hell.

    I personally didn’t call a Harris a racist, partly due to all of the semantic games his supporters (for lack of a better term) were playing. He’s being a bigot, pure and simple. In retrospect, the dictionary definition of xenophobia fits much better.

    He’s calling for wide profiling of people who follow a specific religion, based on an ill-defined summary of how they’re supposed to look and act. He has a history of calling for this specific religion to be on the end of some fairly horrific “remedies” (i.e., torture and nuclear strike.)

    It’s upsetting to see this behavior from someone as educated as Harris. If you can’t or won’t see this, I don’t know what to say.

  • dangeroustalk

     Maybe you can say that you would rather call him names that actually try to see the nuance in his opinions. While I disagree with his opinion on this subject, it is clear that you are not really arguing his opinion, but rather a strawman of his opinion. The claim that he supports torture and nuclear strikes is something Harris has addressed a long time ago and even devoted a section of his website to misrepresentations of his views. Even though Harris has stated directly that he does not support torture or first strikes, you continue to ascribe those opinions to him.

    Let me repeat my view to you here. I disagree with Harris on the issue of profiling, but I take greater issue with people who would call him a racist, bigot, xenophobe, etc. instead of addressing the meat of his argument in an intelligent manner. Clearly Harris is not a racist, bigot, or xenophobe and that is pretty evident from his life, work, and writings.

  • mattand

    If you can’t see bigoted behavior when it kicks you in the shins, that’s your problem, not mine.

    This thread has been dead for a month. Move on already.

  • dangeroustalk

     1. If you see bigoted behavior when it is not there, that is your problem. Try to understand people before you call them names and there won’t be a problem.
    2. I thought this thread was dead too, until I got a message that you just left a comment. So I guess you were the one who couldn’t move on.

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