Profiling and Sam Harris

I didn’t write about the attacks in Oslo last year because…what is there to say. The bombing and shootings are tragic, the Norwegian people have shown an admirable resilience in the face of terrorism, and wingnuts who initially tried to pin the attack on Muslims have egg on their faces.

I was especially struck recently by the charming protest directed at the confessed author of that tragedy, Anders Breivik. In testimony during his trial for murdering 77 fellow Norwegians last summer, Breivik singled out for criticism the song “Children of the Rainbow,” a translation of Pete Seeger’s “My Rainbow Race.” In reply, tens of thousands turned out in a square near the courthouse to sing the song for Breivik. The crowd included cultural ministers from Sweden, Denmark, the Faroe Islands, and Iceland, joining together to call for a “world where every sister and every brother shall live together like small children of the rainbow.”

It is through such unity and such diversity that we defeat hate like that which inspired Breivik and the 9/11 hijackers to kill. Breivik targeted members of a party from Norway’s left in part because he read too much of the work of the American Right, citing them extensively in the lengthy anti-Muslim screed he drafted before the attacks. He cited a version of the Overton Window to justify his actions, saying he hoped that his attacks would move the perceived extreme limit of anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant sentiment sufficiently far out as to legitimize his heroes. Those heroes include the usual cast of wingnuts from the US, the folks who ginned up a controversy over an Islamic center several blocks from the World Trade Center (the “World Trade Center mosque” that isn’t a mosque and isn’t at the World Trade Center), and who have done all they could to prevent a mosque being built in Murfreesboro, TN. Also Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

It shouldn’t surprise us that Breivik would be inspired by the rhetoric of those folks because civil libertarians have worried for some time about the toxic rhetoric coming from anti-Muslim corners.

Anyway, Sam Harris regards some folks in those circles as friends, and responded to the Breivik murders quickly, predictably trying to distance himself from Breivik without condemning Breivik’s ideas. He writes: “Breivik’s explicit goal was to punish European liberals for their timidity in the face of Islam.” Yes, where have we heard that before… Harris writes:

I have written a fair amount about the threat that Islam poses to open societies, but I am happy to say that Breivik appears never to have heard of me. He has, however, digested the opinions of many writers who share my general concerns—Theodore Dalrymple, Robert D. Kaplan, Lee Harris, Ibn Warraq, Bernard Lewis, Andrew Bostom, Robert Spencer, Walid Shoebat, Daniel Pipes, Bat Ye’or, Mark Steyn, Samuel Huntington, et al. He even singles out my friend and colleague Ayaan Hirsi Ali for special praise, repeatedly quoting a blogger who thinks she deserves a Nobel Peace Prize. With a friend like Breivik, one will never want for enemies.

Indeed. I like how Harris just slips the name Walid Shoebat into the middle there. But Shoebat is also a noted fabulist, whose claim to fame as a former Islamic terrorist who became an anti-Islamic Christian was somewhat undermined when it turned out the terrorist attacks he claimed to have committed never actually happened. Whether Breivik’s choice of reading discredits those authors can be debated, but it ought to at least worry those folks that their arguments could be taken to this extreme.

What’s interesting is that Harris pivots quickly to try to salvage Breivik’s ideas from Breivik. And to do it badly, even hamfistedly:

One can only hope that the horror and outrage provoked by Breivik’s behavior will temper the growing enthusiasm for right-wing, racist nationalism in Europe. However, one now fears the swing of another pendulum: We are bound to hear a lot of deluded talk about the dangers of “Islamophobia” and about the need to address the threat of “terrorism” in purely generic terms.

…Islam remains the most retrograde and ill-behaved religion on earth. And the final irony of Breivik’s despicable life is that he has made that truth even more difficult to speak about.

Shorter Sam Harris:

The shootings and bombings in Oslo are a tragedy in no small part because they remind people that terrorism is bigger than Islam, and that the anti-Islam movement consists racist loons.

I’m inspired to dredge up this history because Harris just blogged a defense of racial and religious profiling, a piece which joins his defense of torture and his defense of pre-emptive nuclear war as reasons no one should ever take Harris seriously on policy matters (his philosophical failings are another matter altogether).

Harris’s defense of profiling doesn’t really advance anything new. There’s a lot of criticism of TSA screenings out there, and the apparent absurdity of watching grandmothers with walkers be groped by agents while folks in djellabas and turbans wander past is a standard part of such complaints. There are plenty of valid criticisms to be made of TSA screenings (and I’ve made some of them here), but the randomness of screenings isn’t one of them.

Harris wrongly sees it all through a lens of political correctness:

The spirit of political correctness hangs over the whole enterprise like the Angel of Death—indeed, more closely than death, or than the actual fear of terrorism. And political correctness requires that TSA employees direct the spotlight of their attention at random—or appear to do so—while making rote use of irrational procedures and dubious technology.

Although I don’t think I look like a jihadi, or like a man pretending not to be one, I do not mean to suggest that a person like me should be exempt from scrutiny. But other travelers fit the profile far less than I do. … an elderly couple … mid-eighties and infirm… a wheelchair …

It seems that they had neglected to take off their shoes. A pair of TSA screeners stepped forward to prevent this dangerous breach of security—removing what appeared to be orthopedic footwear from both the woman in the wheelchair and the man now staggering at her side. This imposed obvious stress on two harmless and bewildered people and caused considerable delay for everyone in my line. I turned to see if anyone else was amazed by such a perversion of vigilance. The man behind me, who could have played the villain in a Bollywood film, looked unconcerned.

…one TSA screener had the presence of mind to escort a terrified three-year-old away from her parents so that he could remove her sandals (sandals!). …Needless to say, a glance at the girl’s family was all one needed to know that they hadn’t rigged her to explode.

Except not! Sam Harris’s finely-honed sense of ethnic stereotypes notwithstanding, I gather that the swarthy villain behind him on line didn’t actually hijack the plane, while terrorist groups are known to plant explosives on children and in medical equipment, and there are elderly terrorists, too. And what exactly does someone pretending not to be a jihadi look like, that TSA should be able to so trivially screen them out?

More importantly, terrorists aren’t stupid. If you create a system that predictably makes certain people less susceptible to screening, terrorists will see that and find ways to exploit that opening. If you screen folks from certain countries more thoroughly, terrorists recruit people from other countries to make your attack. If folks with Arabic names are being given extra screening, terrorists recruit guys with names like Jose Padilla. Or they use fake identities to get around the name screening. Terrorists know how to use makeup and surgery, they don’t wear obviously ethnic garb during attacks, they know to recruit folks who won’t trigger people’s prejudices, and they know how to test the system to figure out how best to slip through.

As that last link shows, a system based on profiling will demonstrably work less well than random screening. As Bruce Schneier (among others) argues:

The problem with automatic profiling is that it doesn’t work.

Terrorists don’t fit a profile and cannot be plucked out of crowds by computers. They’re European, Asian, African, Hispanic, and Middle Eastern, male and female, young and old. Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab was Nigerian. Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, was British with a Jamaican father. Germaine Lindsay, one of the 7/7 London bombers, was Afro-Caribbean. Dirty bomb suspect Jose Padilla was Hispanic-American. The 2002 Bali terrorists were Indonesian. Timothy McVeigh was a white American. So was the Unabomber. The Chechen terrorists who blew up two Russian planes in 2004 were female. Palestinian terrorists routinely recruit “clean” suicide bombers, and have used unsuspecting Westerners as bomb carriers. …

As counterintuitive as it may seem, we’re all more secure when we randomly select people for secondary screening — even if it means occasionally screening wheelchair-bound grandmothers and innocent looking children. And, as an added bonus, it doesn’t needlessly anger the ethnic groups we need on our side if we’re going to be more secure against terrorism.

This last bit gets to the second, and I’d argue more important, failing of racial/religious profiling: not only doesn’t it work, it’s also immoral. It’s immoral for the same reasons that apartheid, Jim Crow laws, and the internment of Japanese-Americans were immoral. Using those broad markers as a basis for how we treat individuals means that we ignore the person, reducing that person to whatever stereotype we choose to impose. It’s bad public policy, and it’s bad police work.

I would argue, in fact, that the practical ineffectiveness of such policies is an inevitable result of their moral failings.

In any event, Sam Harris is so bent on inspiring a war on Islam that he can’t see the practical or moral problems with profiling, and paints it all as “this tyranny of fairness,” as if fairness were a problem to be overcome rather than a goal to be promoted. At most, it seems to be just something worth giving lip service: “Some semblance of fairness makes sense,” he allows.

Still, even in his muddled thoughts, an inkling of the problem bubbles through:

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

We should profile Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim, and we should be honest about it. And, again, I wouldn’t put someone who looks like me entirely outside the bull’s-eye… But there are people who do not stand a chance of being jihadists, and TSA screeners can know this at a glance. [They can? On what evidence? -JR]

Needless to say, a devout Muslim should be free to show up at the airport dressed like Osama bin Laden, and his wives should be free to wear burqas. But if their goal is simply to travel safely and efficiently, wouldn’t they, too, want a system that notices people like themselves? At a minimum, wouldn’t they want a system that anti-profiles—applying the minimum of attention to people who obviously pose no threat?

That he hasn’t had to face profiling, and thus can’t really speak to its effects, is only part of the issue here. The most striking thing in this closing passage is how blithely he moves from “people who look like a specific wanted person” to “people who look Muslim,” as if Muslims are inherently suspect, and must prove their innocence. Also, Harris’s assumption that it’s easy to single out “anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim.”

If you’ve never spent time browsing through the Muslims Wearing Things tumblr, you really ought to do so now. The author of the site explains why it was necessary:

Former NPR analyst Juan Williams, among other ignorant people, has an irrational fear of Muslims, and thinks you can identify them based on what they look like. Here I will post pictures of Muslims wearing all sorts of things in an attempt to refute that there is such a thing as “Muslim garb” or a Muslim look.

There are soldiers in uniform, and guys on the basketball court, and girls in sun dresses. There are fashionistas and folksingers and beauty queens. Guitarists and goalies and scullers. DJs and dervishes. Punks and cowboys. Some wear hijab and some wear gay pride flags. Also this lady and her snake, and this one with her graduated cylinder. Not to mention Dave Chappelle.

There is no such thing as “Muslim garb,” no dress code followed by every “devout Muslim,” and no way to successfully profile Muslims based only on on how they look standing in line. Harris ought to know this if he’s spent any time at all outside the bubble of white suburbia. Most importantly, he should know that Osama bin Laden was never the archetypical Muslim, and that we didn’t catch and kill bin Laden by pulling aside Muslim-looking guys. People who wear traditional clothing of their nation or ethnic group are not “dressed like Osama bin Laden.”

But, again, even if you could create a narrow rule to screen Muslims and only Muslims, it’d be dumb. You’d miss Timothy McVeigh and the Unabomber and the folks who bomb abortion clinics. And you’d look right past Anders Breivik, though it seems Sam Harris would prefer you did just that.

Comments

  1. #1 Antiquated Tory
    April 30, 2012

    I have a friend who used to work for El Al and who told me that their security has an intensive training programme to spot potential terrorists. It is not based on racial profiling (given the racial profiles of Israeli Jews it would be a bit difficult). It is based on behavioral tics and other things, none of which he was at liberty to divulge. He did say however that only El Al and the Israelis take this stuff seriously; everyone else is only putting on security theater.
    His least favorite task btw was hand searching a coffin and the corpse within, of a man who wanted to be buried in Israel.

  2. #2 Nick Barrowman
    April 30, 2012

    I agree with most of what you have witten here, but I wonder about this:

    “I would argue, in fact, that the practical ineffectiveness of such policies is an inevitable result of their moral failings.”

    I see the question of practical effectiveness as quite independent of moral considerations. Could you share your thoughts on this?

  3. #3 Formerly Muslim
    April 30, 2012

    I’m a former Muslim who deserted Islam for godless shores, but Sam Harris thinks people from my part of the world ought to be to be harassed and intimidated by the creeping police state which already makes life troublesome for Arabs. I reside in Britain and the last time I visited the States I was taken aside into a room by airport security for no discernible reason and given the anti-foreigner treatment that Harris urges on the rest of us.

    Not surprising given that he also backed the National Defence Authorisation Act which allows the prez to detain and kill Muslim Americans without trial as in the case of Anwar al-Awlaki and his sixteen year old American nephew in his interview with Joe Rogan.

    Sam Harris confessed that he was driven to write The End of Faith by the shock of 9-11. It plainly scrambled his faculties because the man has never recovered from the hysteria. And he’s been on the flag-waving nationalist bandwagon that followed ever since.

    Among the latest string of nationalist policies that he advocates in the Joe Rogan interview on top of the ones he espoused before are: Opposing Wikileaks, supporting Israel, endorsing torture, extraordinary rendition, racial profiling, bombing Iran, occupying Afghanistan and backing the National Defence Authorisation Act.

    Nothing to marvel at really because he was always an extreme foreign policy hawk if the rightwing sources in his first book like Alan Dershowitz and Bernard Lewis are any sign.

  4. #4 Formerly Muslim
    April 30, 2012

    Some have noted that Sam Harris does not ever speak about the pro-democracy movements triggered by the Arab Spring which debunks the notion that Muslims are all hot for Shariah. The reason Harris ignores the Arab Spring is one that is not too well known even among his vocal detractors, but is openly stated in The End of Faith. The reason is that he thinks America should impose secular tyrants who will light the way to Islamic reformation.

    Consider this passage:

    “It appears that one of the most urgent tasks we now face in the developed world is to find some way of facilitating the emergence of civil societies everywhere else. Whether such societies have to be democratic is not at all clear.(Fareed) Zakaria has persuasively argued that the transition from tyranny to liberalism is unlikely to be accomplished by plebiscite. It seems all but certain that some form of benign dictatorship will generally be necessary to bridge the gap.

    “But benignity is the key and if it cannot emerge from within a state, it must be imposed from without. The means of such imposition are necessarily crude: they amount to economic isolation, military intervention (whether open or covert), or some combination of both. While this may seem an exceedingly arrogant doctrine to espouse, it appears we have no alternatives. We cannot wait for weapons of mass destruction to dribble out of the former Soviet Union-to pick only one horrible possibility-and into the hands of fanatics.”

    Source:

    http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Sam_Harris/Shadow_God_TEOF.html

    So Arabs are inherently savage and need to have a strongman foisted on them by Saintly Americans like George Bush and Dick Cheney whose war on terror he supported. As opposed to the more accurate political understanding that America is the one which imposed business-friendly tyrants that impede democracy whether it’s the secular Hosni Mubarak or the Islamist House of Saud against whom they are striving. To say nothing of America’s subversion of Iran’s parliamentary democracy in 1953 and the economic strangulation of Palestinians after their democratic elections in 2006 turned up results that America does not like.

    Sam is a disgrace to the atheist tradition of Bertrand Russell and Carl Sagan which strived to oppose nationalism and war by urging diplomacy. For his part, Harris pushes for the most abject display of knuckle-dragging militarism and jingoism.

    He is a vile authoritarian who quotes the work of hardcore Zionists like Dershowitz to bash Palestinians and justify American foreign policy. He does not speak for atheism. He speaks for his neocon buddies.

  5. #5 Josh Rosenau
    April 30, 2012

    Nick: I agree that the moral and practical issues are orthogonal in many senses. My point is that profiling is immoral because it strips away the individuality of the threat and of the person being profiled, and it’s ineffective because it strips away the individuality of the threat and of the person being profiled. It isn’t that immoral things are inherently ineffective, but that the same analysis that tells us these are immoral also tells us that they’re ineffective.

  6. #6 Al
    May 1, 2012

    This is vintage Harris really. Hopefully, this may be the final straw for a lot of people who support him. P.Z. Myers has laid into him big time! Yet despite the criticm, it is unlikely he will change his views as he never does.

    Has all this ‘atheism’ really just been a cover for Harris to communicate his far-right views towards Muslims? It is starting to seem that way.

  7. #7 Al
    May 1, 2012

    **criticism**

  8. #8 TB
    May 1, 2012

    Saw “Kinyarwanda” last night, a film about Rwandan Muslims standing up against the genocide and taking anyone in who needed shelter, including Christians. I can’t speak to the authenticity of it as it is a work of fiction based on true events, but it doesn’t seem to fit into Sam Harris’ narrative.

  9. #9 Anton Saenz
    May 1, 2012

    Another sound argument that weighs against profiling is that it would further inflame the sense of victimhood (however self-manufactured much of it is at times) many Muslims have in the West. Such feelings often lead to increased religiosity. The goal for many secularists, like myself, is a general decrease in Islamic religiosity.

    That said, I would favor monitoring radical groups of all sorts, not exempting religious ones. Members of radical salafist mosques could set marked for increased scrutiny and searches at airports.

  10. #10 Anton Saenz
    May 1, 2012

    Sam has put up an addendum to his post:

    “In any case, it is simply a fact that, in the year 2012, suicidal terrorism is overwhelmingly a Muslim phenomenon. If you grant this, it follows that applying equal scrutiny to Mennonites would be a dangerous waste of time.”

    “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”

    “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.”

    Sam is right and Josh is in crazypants land, on matter. Every time you have to throw away a bottle of water or take your shoes off as you go through screening it is because of a past Islamic terror plot. Sure, in a world of billions of non-Muslims it is possible to find cases of non-Muslim terror, but Josh is in fantasy land if doesn’t believe that the vast majority of present (2012) international terrorism in the West is Muslim in origin. The “but Andre Brevik!” argument is but a vain attempt to ignore the daily acts of Muslim terrorists. For example, just grabbing Muslim terrorist attacks from the past two days we have:

    2012.05.01 (Dusamareb, Somalia) – Civilians at a cafe are among the casualties from a Shahid suicide bombing.
    2012.05.01 (Riyom, Nigeria) – Muslims raid a Christian village, setting fire to homes and shooting those who fled.
    2012.04.30 (Ghari Suhbat Khan, Pakistan) – A bomb blast at a girls’ school leaves one dead.
    2012.04.30 (Paktika, Afghanistan) – Two 12-year-old children are sent to Allah by Religion of Peace bombers.
    2012.04.30 (Jalingo, Nigeria) – A Fedayeen suicide bomber detonates along a city street, killing at least eleven others.
    2012.04.30 (Idlib, Syria) – At least eight people are blown to bits by an al-Nusra suicide bomber.

    No other religion currently comes close.

    But… but.. Andre Brevik….

  11. #11 robertm
    May 1, 2012

    Anton notice that those terrorist attacks you listed come from different parts of Africa, the Middle East, and south Asia. In case your unaware there are plenty of non-muslims in all those places. Racial profiling is just that, profiling someone based on their race, which has nothing to do with their religion. The notion of profiling someone who “looks like a muslim” is stupid, and Harris is stupid for saying it.

  12. #12 Formerly Muslim
    May 1, 2012

    Anton,

    I’m glad that you’ve ignored the hundreds of drone attacks on civilians by the United States in several Muslim countries that occur routinely and the serial invasions of the Mideast undertaken with the full support of Sam Neocon Harris. It’s only terrorism when the evil brown people do it. Atta boy!

  13. #13 Laurent Weppe
    May 1, 2012

    It’s only terrorism when the evil brown people do it

    Of course: when the US does it it’s oppression, not terrorism: terrorism is the tool used by those who don’t have the firepower to oppress, hence, the US never does terrorism: why doing terrorism when you have the mean to do good old fashioned oppression?

  14. #14 Emilie
    May 1, 2012

    1. I don’t see how profiling is immoral if the profile is accurate. I don’t even see how it could be. If the police profiles men with upper limb prostheses because witnesses saw a one-armed man leave Richard Kimble’s apartment after his wife was murdered, they are not bigoted against amputees, and they are doing nothing immoral. If the profile is accurate, to claim that profiling is racist or bigoted is a non-sequitur – it just doesn’t follow. So I’d like to see the argument that Sam’s suggestion that people who look like they are or could be Muslim, which would include people who look like him, but would tend to avoid old farmer couples from Iowa and Catholic families of 8, is not accurate given that, as Sam has put it, “in the year 2012, suicidal terrorism is overwhelmingly a Muslim phenomenon”. Indeed, it seems to be a phenomenon of young male Muslims (see below).

    2. Ironically, all of the people Schneider mentions would fit Sam’s definition of “Muslim or look like they could conceivably be Muslim”.

    3. The TSA is concerned with suicide bombers. McVeigh, Kaczynski, and Breivik don’t seem to qualify. All of the others mentioned by Schneider who were suicide bombers were young male Muslims. The only exceptions are the young female Chechen suicide bombers, who were Muslims.

    To ignore these facts seems foolish to me. To recognize them does not in any way seem immoral, racist, or bigoted.

  15. #15 Emilie
    May 1, 2012

    By the way, while I am against arguments that imply that profiling is bigoted when the profile is accurate (because I don’t think that they work, and because they discourage the use of information that could be important in the name of being PC), I am keen to hear more about whether the type of profiling (and anti-profiling) described by Sam is or isn’t effective in practice. I remain completely open to the evidence and argument on efficacy, which seems to be an empirical question to me.

  16. #16 Laurent Weppe
    May 2, 2012

    Sam has put it, “in the year 2012, suicidal terrorism is overwhelmingly a Muslim phenomenon”. Indeed, it seems to be a phenomenon of young male Muslims (see below).

    Notice the “suicidal”: you know why Harris put a “suicidal” in his racist rant? Because he
    1. Knows that Muslims are responsible for a minority of the terrorism being done in the Western World: therefore he can’t use the old “Most terrorist are Muslims” canard anymore because this claim has been debunked: in the year 2012, using this canard is like endorsing global warming denial: you’re pretty much confessing that you are an abhorrent little liar.
    2. Knows that there are no widely circulated extentsive statistical study about the prevalence of suicidal terrorism, which allows him to put a handful of anecdotes in his rant with a relatively low risk of being called out for this.

    ***

    The TSA is concerned with suicide bombers. McVeigh [...] and Breivik don’t seem to qualify

    The 9/11 terrorists were not suicide bombers: yet they were clearly suicidal terrorists. McVeigh was arrested less than two hours after his bombing and quite clearly never planed a way to get away with it, Breivik expected to be killed by cops as soon as they reached Utoya and droped his weapons hoping that by shooting him unarmed they’d create a martyr. These are pretty obvious cases of suicidal terrorists.

  17. #17 Emilie
    May 2, 2012

    Laurent, he’s using the word “suicide” because his blog post was about airport screening where, by definition, the targets are not just terrorists, but suicide terrorists.

    You can quibble about the term “suicide bomber”, but it seems to me that terrorists who use airplanes either bring bombs on board or they use the plane and its fuel as a bomb.

    It’s not at all clear to me that McVeigh intended to die, and I don’t know enough about Breivik, but even if you are right that he intended to die a martyr, you’ve brought up a relevant point: Suicide terrorists are largely Muslims because of the large part that martyrdom plays in their religious beliefs. To point this out is not to be bigoted against Muslims, but merely to point out the relevant logical consequences of common Islamic religious beliefs.

  18. #18 Formerly Muslim
    May 2, 2012

    Emilie, your difficulty is that there is no such thing as a “Muslim look”. There are white Bosnian Muslims, Hispanic Muslims, black Muslims and Asian Muslims. Until Harris defines what a Muslim looks like, the rest of us will interpret his silly rant as profiling dark skinned people which by definition is racist.

    And Timothy McVeigh did have a death wish because he knew that his bombing would send him to deathrow. As did Anders Breivik who confessed that he ran a very high chance of being killed before he completed his shooting.

    All of which obscures that by far the most number of terrorist bombings enjoy the full blessing of Sam Harris who backs the war on terror and Israel’s crimes against Palestine and Lebanon. Your fixation on white victims of terrorism is suspect.

  19. #19 Formerly Muslim
    May 2, 2012

    Laurent,

    I share your contempt for the oppressive character of United States foreign policy especially in bankrolling despots in the Mideast against whom reformist Muslims are striving in the Arab Spring, but I think you will find that the definition of terrorism means attacks on civilians for political ends which is what the Pentagon does routinely in its drone wars.

    It’s a myth that terrorism is the weapon of the weak. There is such a thing as state terrorism, and certainly dropping clusterbombs on urban concentrations comes under that definition. Terrorism does not cease to be so just because we dismiss the civilian victims of our war on terror as “collateral damage”. That’s precisely what Timothy McVeigh said about the innocent people he killed in his mission to bomb US federal agents in revenge for the Waco Siege.

    Needless to say, there is no greater enthusiast for bombing innocent people than Sam Harris. The guy is a moral imbecile.

  20. #20 Geoff Cavendish
    May 2, 2012

    “It is not enough for moderate Muslims to say “not in our name.” They must now police their own communities. They must offer unreserved assistance to western governments in locating the extremists in their midst. They must tolerate, advocate, and even practice ethnic profiling.” (Sam Harris, Bombing Our Illusions, 2005)

    So yes, Harris defends ETHNIC profiling based on skin colour. So he can say “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” all he wants, but it is just back-tracking and damage limitation. Harris is a disgrace.

  21. #21 RichSaif
    May 3, 2012

    As a BoÅ¡njak (Bosnian) with blue eyes and sandy blond hair, I have to just state what an idiot Geoff Cavendish is. All other aspects of this debate aside, he is a dumbass for eliding ‘ethnicity’ and ‘religion’ with dark or brown skin.

  22. #22 Anton
    May 3, 2012

    Today’s headlines of murder of mayhem done by Muslims in the name of their relgion. Can someone please cite a non-Muslim analog?

    2012.05.02 (Kabul, Afghanistan) – Four children on their way to school are among seven innocents torn to shreds by Fedayeen suicide bombers disguised in burqas.
    2012.05.02 (Rafah, Egypt) – Palestinian-based terrorists take out an Egyptian policeman with a rocket.
    2012.05.01 (Quetta, Pakistan) – A 14-year-old student is among two civilians killed by a powerful Tehreek-e-Taliban bomb.
    2012.05.01 (Dusamareb, Somalia) – Civilians at a cafe are among the casualties of a Shahid suicide bomber, who praised Allah as he detonated.
    2012.05.01 (Riyom, Nigeria) – Muslims raid a Christian village, setting fire to homes and shooting those who fled.
    2012.04.30 (Karimabad, Pakistan) – Two Shiites riding a motorcycle are shot to death by Sunni terrorists.

    Also, ‘formerlyMuslim’ confuses drone attacks targeting military targets with say…. throwing a grenade purposefuly into a cafe with only Christians or poisoning a well at a girls school in Afghanistan … because you know, the motive is exactly the same.

    Also, a british non-muslim wife of a UK diplomat was burned in Kuwait for …. wait for it….. daring to eat with Muslim men.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2138368/Wife-British-diplomat-left-burns-boiling-water-thrown-suspected-Islamist-attack.html

    Please someone on the left show me a christian analog to this behavior in terms of sheer volume of attacks. sure you can find a few crazies among the billion plus christians, but you have to be blind not to see that these attacks are mostly muslims.

    I can post this stuff every single day, because there are muslim attacks on women every single day.

    I’m not saying that I support drone operations in the Pakistan or the war in Afghanistan. But rather there is a difference in fighting a military terrorist organization and purposefully killing/harming civilians as terrorist do. To be unable to see a difference is telling about ‘formerlyMuslim’.

  23. #23 TB
    May 3, 2012

    Anton: How about

    “A leading neo-Nazi reportedly blamed by authorities in Arizona for killing two women, an Army veteran and a 16-month-old child in a suspected domestic incident was “cruel and controlling,” according to a former co-worker of one victim.” – news report

    Or

    “SAN ANTONIO (AP) — A member of the white supremacist Aryan Brotherhood of Texas prison gang has been sentenced to life imprisonment after pleading guilty to helping to torture and kill a Pleasanton man.”

    is it ok to point out the anarchists in Ohio who wanted to blow up a bridge? The white supremists In prison?

    http://www.adl.org/special_reports/racist_groups_in_prisons/prisons_intro.asp

    And context matters. What kind of war zone would you like to consider? Philadelphia? Chicago?

    You think we’re stupid? You think we don’t know there are the kinds of problems you describe? You think we haven’t listend to activists both Muslim and atheist who want those to stop?

    Unbelievable.

    And no, you don’t get to dismiss my examples as “a few crazies” without acknowledging that applies just as accurately to the countless Muslims who live in peace and haven’t attacked anyone.

  24. #24 Geoff Cavendish
    May 3, 2012

    “As a BoÅ¡njak (Bosnian) with blue eyes and sandy blond hair, I have to just state what an idiot Geoff Cavendish is. All other aspects of this debate aside, he is a dumbass for eliding ‘ethnicity’ and ‘religion’ with dark or brown skin.”

    Err no, my dear. I have pointed out that Harris is defending ETHNIC PROFILING.

  25. #25 Ani Sharmin
    May 3, 2012

    Thanks for writing this! I had also noticed his response to the attacks in Norway and also that article from 2005 mentioned in a previous comment. I tried to give Harris the benefit of the doubt, but I can’t anymore. He doesn’t seem to take the effects of discrimination into account; he chooses to just ignore any effect his suggested actions have on other innocent people.

    Also, I did not know about the Muslims Wearing Things tumblr. It’s fun.

  26. #26 hoary puccoon
    May 4, 2012

    To give a true example of just how easy and foolproof Muslim profiling really is–

    Konya, Turkey, December 17, 1995

    December 17 is the anniversary of the death of the Muslim philosopher Rumi, called Mevlana in Turkey. In Konya, where Mevlana’s teaching center and tomb are located, December 17 is also miserably cold and raw. So my husband and I, two American tourists, were about to visit Mevlana’s center and tomb. Of course we were bundled to the teeth, and I was wearing a scarf pulled low over my forehead. I mean, it was freezing out there.

    Somehow, the crowd of devout Muslims reached the conclusion that we were Russian Muslims from the recently collapsed Soviet Union. So we were profiled as Muslims– by Muslims!

    It was actually a wonderful experience, visiting Mevlana’s tomb without feeling that we were intruding. But it shows just how easy wrong racial profiling really is. Oh, and in case you’re wondering if our dark skin had anything to do with it– my husband and I are both blue-eyed blonds.

  27. #27 AM
    May 5, 2012

    in the year 2012, suicidal terrorism is overwhelmingly a Muslim phenomenon

    Terrorism every single year is overwhelmingly done by males.

    9-11 and the overwhelming majority of acts of terrorism have been planned and carried out by males who had training in science and technology.

    All terrorism is done by people who don’t believe in an overriding moral prohibition on the murder and maiming of other people.

    Somehow those things that are indisputable have passed right over Sam Harris’ head for the past decade.

  28. #28 nathan
    May 6, 2012

    The absurdity of not profiling is stunning for a group of educated people to be so blind. It really would be funny if not so sad. Back in the days before point of sale terminals at the gas pumps, a gas station owner made it a policy to deny clearing the gas pumps for anyone that was black. This practice got him on the local news and when asked why he was doing this, he said that 95% of those who drive off without paying were blacks(he claimed to have a mix of people filling up). He said that by doing this he was able to nearly eliminate drive offs. The upshot was that he had to deny clearing the pumps before payment to all customers.

    So I know all you lefties have your blood boiling now. You have to ask yourself this question, are you upset because of the injustice of the profiling or are you most upset that some easily identified groups have very clear differences in behaviour and this challenges your worldview.

  29. #29 John Silver
    May 31, 2012

    Thou shalt not kill.

  30. #30 Anthony McCarthy
    June 10, 2012

    What does, “formerly a doctoral candidate” mean? nobs

    In my case it meant noticing how many of the faculty in my masters program were alcoholics and choosing a different career path.

    Sam Harris never seemed to notice that all of the 9-11 terrorists were men. That most of terrorism is committed by men. That would probably be a far better indicator of potential terrorism than religious or ethnic appearance. Maybe men should be kept from flying.

  31. #31 John Haigh
    UK
    August 9, 2012

    Nathan: You are entirely missing the point about the ineffectiveness of profiling. Terrorists go to great lengths to achieve their objectives, as soon as you decide to concentrate on people based on appearance, name, professed religion, etc. you provide a lower risk option for the terrorists – they just make sure they don’t fit the profiles. As Josh points out that is something they already do very effectively.