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Response to Lee Watkinson's blog on racial profiling

Bond18 I recently read Lee Watkinson's latest blog entry. I don't know the guy particularly well, but from what I can tell he seems like a nice guy and I've got no personal beef with him, I simply believe his entry to be very misinformed. Additionally, I rarely give much of a shit about politics (which is what happens when you live in Australia long enough) but in this case I'll make an exception.

Watkinson essentially argues that if you belong to the race or fit the description that most terrorists do, then you should just accept racial profiling. To quote him:

"Look. if you come from suspect areas, have certain backgrounds, even have certain names, ages, male vs female, should all factor into the likely hood of extra attention when boarding a plane.

As far as body scans being an invasion of privacy, get over it if you want to fly. If violates your religion then you are a religious fanatic, that’s the one group I don’t want on a flight with me. Only one person sees the image, its immediately erased, and I doubt they even know who they are looking at."

You can read the whole thing here, it's quite brief:

To refute him I yet again I find myself falling back on the writings of Malcolm Gladwell. In an article he published on February 6th, 2006 Gladwell investigated the effectiveness and efficiency of racial profiling:

"...Figuring out what an Islamic terrorist looks like isn't any easier. Muslims are not like the Amish: they don't come dressed in identifiable costumes. And they don't look like basketball players; they don't come in predictable shapes and sizes. Islam is a relgion that spans the globe."

He goes on to quote New York City police commissioner Raymond Kelly:

"We have a policy against racial profiling...I put it in here in March of the first year I was here. If you look at the London bombings, you have three British cizens of Pakistani descent. You have Germaine Lindsay, who is Jamaican. You have the next crew, on July 21, who are East African. You have a Chechen woman in Moscow in early 2004 who blows herself up in the subway station. So whom do you profile? Look at New York City. Forty percent of New Yorkers are born outside the country. Look at the diversity there. Who am I supposed to profile?...You think that terrorists aren't aware of how easy it is to be characterized by ethnicity? Look at the 9/11 hijackers. They came here. They shaved. They went to topless bars. They wanted to blend in. They wanted to look like they were part of the American dream. These are not dumb people. Could a terrorist dress up as a Hasidic Jew and walk into the subway, and not be profiled? Yes. I think profiling is just nuts."

Poker translation: terrorists are smart enough to balance their ranges. We're talking about guys who are able to coordinate acts of enormous complexity and logistical difficulty; they can figure out people are suspicious of the highly Muslim looking. It's a dangerous thing to underestimate your opponent.

On top of everything, encouraging racial profiling results in greater acceptance of being suspicious and judgmental of people based on appearance. I'm not down with that shit, and besides, you never know when the polite gentleman in a suit in tie is actually a sex crazed, pot head, professional gambler.


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