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article imageOp-Ed: Sam Harris called 'racist' for blog about profiling Muslims

By Sean Fraser     May 1, 2012 in World
Neuroscientist, author, and atheist Sam Harris caught serious heat from his fans and the general press for expressing his views on profiling Muslims at the airports.
Harris, who has written many books on the subject of religious intolerance and morality, posted a blog expressing his views about how the TSA wastes valuable time, energy, and resources searching people, like children and the elderly, who are clearly not going to smuggle explosives on a plane. He writes:
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. One glance at these innocents reveals that they are no more likely to be terrorists than walruses in disguise.
He recalls an incident at JFK International Airport involving an elderly couple who were subjected to rather unnecessary security measures. The woman was in a wheelchair, and her husband slowly prepared their bags to be checked. Once their bags were finally ready to be scanned, the couple approached the full body scanner, but were stopped because they forgot to take their shoes off.
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.
Harris then goes on to detail an incident where a TSA scanner dragged away a three year old child from its parents to check its sandals while his bag, which he accidentally forgot to remove two pounds of live 9mm ammunition, went unnoticed. Harris explained that the scanners were being distracted by much lesser threats while something that was dangerous was getting through. He said, "Every moment spent frisking the Mormon Tabernacle Choir subtracts from the scrutiny paid to more likely threats. Who could fail to understand this?"
Harris makes his point very clear. While terrorism is not exclusive to one race or religion, the current race and religion that partakes in the majority of terrorist activities are Middle Eastern Muslims. Because of this, they should be the ones screened most often. "Imagine how fatuous it would be to fight a war against the IRA and yet refuse to profile the Irish? And yet this is how we seem to be fighting our war against Islamic terrorism."
In closing, Harris comments:
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?
Harris's blog has been met with criticism and praise, but mostly criticism. Michael Mungai of the Huffington post wrote a letter-style article to Harris saying he was disappointed in Harris. Mungai went on to write:
I am not sure how you'd recommend that the TSA go about identifying Muslims. Unless all Muslims are forced to don a star and crescent on their clothing, I am assuming that you are advocating for the profiling of people who appear to be from the Middle East and other Muslim countries, i.e. identifying them by their race.
Mungai also pointed out that racial profiling does not help bring down the crime rate. He also brought up the issue of race determining religion, and cited the case of the Underwear Bomber, who was a black man from Nigeria, stating that the Underwear Bomber "would also slip through security while the TSA frisks a Pakistani family heading to Disney World for holiday."
Greg Laden, who writes for the Freethought Blogs, is adamantly supportive of Harris. Laden states in his article that using a certain criteria when judging whether a person is a terrorist is fine, stating, "If your concept of what makes a person more likely a terrorist is correct, then you will have a better chance of catching a terrorist, and it will take fewer resources to do so. But it must be done correctly."
Laden suggests also using things like a passenger's itinerary to determine whether or not someone might be a terrorist. "Had the American security people been on the ball with itineraries, they may have prevented 9/11, where several guys who had a loose association independently bought plane tickets...".
Whether you are for or against racial and religious profiling, one thing is certain: the TSA conducts a lot of invasive searches on people who do not need to be subjected to such behavior. There is absolutely no reason for children or the elderly to be screened so harshly. The heavy list of unnecessary "precautions" needs to be wittled down to three: metal detectors, explosives detectors, and X-ray machines. And everyone must go through all three, regardless of age, gender, race, religion, or status.
By streamlining the security process, the easier it will be to get people to their planes on time. The travelers who have been scared away by the procedures will come back to fly and airline profits will rise. This will in turn lead to more flights, more jobs, and happier travelers.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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