There are many reasons why I feel the need to distance myself from the “new atheist movement”, and Sam Harris has recently made me want to keep well away from it for good. His latest post: In Defense of Profiling does, well, just that. He argues that we should profile Muslims in our fight against terrorism, stopping people who ‘look like Muslims’ at airports in the interests of national security.
The first and most obvious problem with this notion is this; how the hell do you determine someone’s religion just from looking at them? Any educated person (apart from Mr. Harris apparently) can tell you that Islam is not a race, it’s a religion. He appears to be advocating for the profiling of bearded men in robes with turbans on alongside women dressed in hijabs, as though all Muslims conform to this caricature. It doesn’t appear to cross Sam’s mind that as soon as they started to profile for people who look Muslim (whatever the hell that means) those who want to sneak through this system incognito need only make a minimal effort not to look like a caricature of a Muslim (a quick shave and a trip to the local clothes shop and you’re done). I would hope Harris is not advocating the racist view that all Arab-looking individuals should be profiled, but I don’t see that there is any other logical conclusion to be drawn from his nonsensical position.
In his addendum responding to the rightful criticism he received he states that: “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, travelling companions, behaviour 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.” He doesn’t appear to grasp that behaviour, clothing, and other outward appearances can easily be changed. Any intelligent terrorist in Harris’ profiling scenario would simply make themselves appear as distant from the kind of thing they are looking for as possible. It won’t work. The only conceivable scenario in which we might catch an Islamic threat (with the insight not to make it obvious in their outward behaviour and appearance) via profiling is if we stopped any Arab-looking person and that is fucking racist.
I do not wish to downplay the threat of radical Islam, I merely wish to point out that Harris’ proposed means of countering it are unutterably stupid. For someone who is qualified in neuroscience you would have thought Sam Harris would have two brain cells to rub together…