Muslim Internment

Recently I read an essay written by one of my favorite thinkers, Sam Harris (author of bestsellers The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, And the Future of Reason and Letter to a Christian Nation, among others). The essay is titled, “In Defense of Profiling,” and its basic argument is that at our nation’s airports,

We should profile Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim, and we should be honest about it.

Harris claims that all the unnecessary screening procedures at airports amount to a “tyranny of fairness” because they are wasted on “people who do not stand a chance of being jihadists.”  While I recommend reading Harris’s post, I also recommend reading a thoughtful rebuttal of it written by security expert Bruce Schneier, who argues that Harris’ profiling idea is a bad one because,

It doesn’t make us any safer—and it actually puts us all at risk.

Schneier offers several good arguments against profiling Muslims at airports and the one I find most convincing is this one:

Beyond the societal harms of deliberately harassing a minority group, singling out Muslims alienates the very people who are in the best position to discover and alert authorities about Muslim plots before the terrorists even get to the airport. This alone is reason enough not to profile.

This deliberate harassment and resulting alienation is not something to ignore just because “we” are not the ones being harassed or alienated. As with most important policy issues, it comes down to this: What kind of country do we all want to live in?

I bring up all this because of the shameful nonsense in the news about right-wing legislators, including Michele Bachmann, and their conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton’s aide, Huma Abedin, being nefariously connected to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Even John McCain found what these legislators did—and continue to do— shameful and he, along with a handful of Republicans, denounced it. But other prominent conservatives, including Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh, have defended Bachmann and her colleagues, claiming she was only asking questions and not making allegations.

Gingrich suggested that the Muslim Brotherhood may have influence over the Obama administration and he asked Bachmann’s critics,

What is it they are afraid of learning?

Gingrich’s and Limbaugh’s and Bachmann’s curiosity would be admirable if, say, it was applied to Mitt Romney’s tax returns, but it is disgusting in this case because there is no evidence—exactly no evidence—that the Muslim Brotherhood or any other Muslim group has “infiltrated” our government. The only “evidence” is that there are folks working in the government who happen to be Muslims.

And that is why people like Sam Harris are wrong to endorse profiling at airports. Once such profiling is widely accepted, the public can easily slither into dangerous reasoning like the following, from the founder of an Arizona Tea Party group:

Have you ever read the Quran? I suggest you do so, because anyone that is a Muslim is a threat to this country, and that’s a fact. There is no such thing as a moderate Muslim. If they are Muslim they have to follow the Quran. That’s their religion and that’s their doctrine.

As the AzCapitolTimes reported, the Tea Party honcho is planning on recalling John McCain for criticizing Michele Bachmann’s smearing of a government official and he also endorsed an email from an extremist website (which used to be hosted by WordPress, by the way) that accused McCain of defending “Islamic enemies of America.”

You see? If you are a Muslim you are ipso facto a threat to the country and if you dare to oppose such specious and culturally-damaging reasoning you are defending our “Islamic enemies.” Such hysteria characterizes reactionary politics these days, and Sam Harris, a man whose mind I admire greatly, contributes to it with his advocacy of profiling Muslims at airports.

I share with Harris a deep aversion to fundamentalist Islam, which is similar to my deep aversion to all fundamentalist religions. But I ask again: What kind of country do we want to live in? Isn’t taking your shoes off at an airport and undergoing a brief screening better than pushing a whole group of people into metaphorical internment camps?

7 Comments

  1. Jane Reaction

     /  July 25, 2012

    Well, are we not famous for trashing minorities?

    And this: “There is no such thing as a moderate Muslim. If they are Muslim they have to follow the Quran.” Are there moderate Christians? Are they bound to follow the New Testament? Of course not.

    The reality is that unless they are keeping it a secret, no :terrorist” has been stupid enough to get caught at the airport! It is merely another police power.

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    • Jane,

      You have touched upon part of the problem with the comments you cited. I too thought about the implications for Christians. As a former Christian and a student of Christian theology, I am very aware of the many interpretations of Scripture, many of which have divided Christian believers since the very beginnings of that faith. You can see those divisions in the New Testament. Heck, you can even find Jesus disputing the meaning of Old Testament scripture with the Guardians of Truth in his day.

      All of this goes to show that none of us have standing to express such certitude about things we can’t see or can’t possibly know. We are at the mercy of our ignorance in matters concerning metaphysical reality, if there is such a thing. It is overwhelmingly sad that despite such ignorance, the world is full of deadly disputes over the meaning of religious texts or over the truth of man-made theologies.

      Duane

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  2. ‘hysteria characterizes reactionary politics these days’, is an understatement and “reactionary politics”is a euphemism for the Republican Party. Sadly its concern doesn’t begin to approach reality and the conclusions it draws are just as erroneous if not more so than they have ever been in the past.

    I submit the GOP has done more to marginalize itself and damage the American way of life by threatening the two party system than any gun toting, suicide bombing figment their imagination could every conjure.

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  3. ansonburlingame

     /  July 26, 2012

    To all,

    Whether it is profiling certain people at security screenings in airports or profiling those legally authorized to purchase and carry hand guns, or a host of other similar issues, it boils down to the ability of any government to protect, physically or financially, other Americans.

    9/11 brought the issue of physical security to a head and we have been arguing about just how far to go (or not to go) to increase protection for Americans, physically.

    The Great Recession did the same thing to find ways to afford more financial security to Americans and we have been arguing similar points since at least 2008..

    What most sensible Americans from both sides of politics want is for government to identify “bad” guys before they blow up the next airplane, cause another financial collapse, load up with guns and create another CO theater-like event, etc. BEFORE such events happen.

    Yet one side, politically is opposed to the Patriot Act and the other side, politically is opposed to Dodd-Frank banking regulations. In a broader sense perhaps, one side focuses on “fairness” to search for “bad” guys and the other side seeks to use scarce government resources to focus on the most likely people or organizations that might “blow up the next thing” physically or financially.

    ALL airlines passengers are not terrorist, only a very small percentage might be such. Equally, ALL banks are not hell bent to blow up our financial systems, but there are some small percentage of “bad apple” institutions that might try to do so for their own benefit.

    To me it seems to be an ends versus means debate, broadly speaking. We ALL want the same “ends” physical and financial security for all Americans. But politically we have a very difficult time agreeing upon the “means” to achieve a common “end”.

    Anson

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  4. Anson

    “What most sensible Americans from both sides of politics want is for government to identify “bad” guys before they blow up the next airplane, cause another financial collapse, load up with guns and create another CO theater-like event, etc. BEFORE such events happen.”

    The problem is our fears might cause us to buy into what we don’t want.

    “Chicken Little likes to walk in the woods. She likes to look at the trees. She likes to smell the flowers. She likes to listen to the birds singing.

    One day while she is walking an acorn falls from a tree, and hits the top of her little head.

    – My, oh, my, the sky is falling. I must run and tell the lion about it, – says Chicken Little and begins to run.

    She runs and runs. By and by she meets the hen.

    – Where are you going? – asks the hen.

    – Oh, Henny Penny, the sky is falling and I am going to the lion to tell him about it.

    – How do you know it? – asks Henny Penny.

    – It hit me on the head, so I know it must be so, – says Chicken Little.

    – Let me go with you! – says Henny Penny. – Run, run.

    So the two run and run until they meet Ducky Lucky.

    – The sky is falling, – says Henny Penny. – We are going to the lion to tell him about it.

    – How do you know that? – asks Ducky Lucky.

    – It hit Chicken Little on the head, – says Henny Penny.

    – May I come with you? – asks Ducky Lucky.

    – Come, – says Henny Penny.

    So all three of them run on and on until they meet Foxey Loxey.

    – Where are you going? – asks Foxey Loxey.

    – The sky is falling and we are going to the lion to tell him about it, – says Ducky Lucky.

    – Do you know where he lives? – asks the fox.

    – I don’t, – says Chicken Little.

    – I don’t, – says Henny Penny.

    – I don’t, – says Ducky Lucky.

    – I do, – says Foxey Loxey. – Come with me and I can show you the way.

    He walks on and on until he comes to his den.

    – Come right in, – says Foxey Loxey.

    They all go in, but they never, never come out again. “

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  5. ansonburlingame

     /  July 27, 2012

    OK, HLG,

    In terms of increasing airline security and other things conservatives are accused of being “chicken little” in supporting the Patriot Act.

    In terms of preventing a banking collapse progressives are accused of being “chicken little” (using your analogy) for supporting Dodd – Frank

    Then take it even to gun control debates. One side (“gunners”) says the “sky is not falling if only the government(s) would enforce the laws we have”. The other side says the sky IS falling and we need new laws, laws the MIGHT even be unconstitutional.

    One side says the sky IS falling because income distribution is out of whack. The other side says work harder to earn more money or other “individual” initiatives as opposed to government controls.

    I say the sky IS falling because debt and deficits are overwhelming us. The response I get herein is “spend more money” to “fix” that problem.

    Pick just about any major political issue today and “somebody” will be accused of being “chicken little” which of course does nothing to solve the problem.

    Any wonder we are in prolonged and unresolvable stalemate now?

    Anson

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  6. Anson

    Once again you’ve assembled disparate bits of information as thought its some how connected. Airline security is a bit overblown but Homeland security has severely harmed our constitutional rights.

    Gun control shouldn’t even be a debate among sensible civilized people. What possible purpose can an assault rifle with a 100 round clip serve. Unless of course republicans have declared all out war on American game animals. Then again we do have Sarah Palin hanging out of helicopters not only declaring war on them but also building an air-force to eradicate the vermin.

    “I say the sky IS falling because debt and deficits are overwhelming us. The response I get herein is “spend more money” to “fix” that problem.”

    I say the sky was there long before we had money, debts, and deficits, and if there is a problem that man has caused then man should fix it.

    “Pick just about any major political issue today and “somebody” will be accused of being “chicken little” which of course does nothing to solve the problem.”

    Yes, even those who would lie to make it appear so such as those you’re prepared to vote for.

    “What most sensible Americans from both sides of politics want is for government to identify “bad” guys before they blow up the next airplane, cause another financial collapse, load up with guns and create another CO theater-like event, etc. BEFORE such events happen.”

    Maybe they should be concerned about the things that are far more likely to cause them harm such as the loss of their freedoms under the Patriot Act. Or perhaps the inequality in educational opportunities for our children, health care for our families that won’t financially ruin them, and an equal say in our voting process that eliminates money as an advantage.

    If you want to live in a Plutocratic police state then however foolish and misguided it is still your choice, but time won’t find it the choice of the majority. Consider that all plutocracies and oligarchies are doomed to fail and if that’s what we become, then we will fail.

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