Why don't we profile Muslims?

For some reason, I found myself today reading a column by a Washington Times columnist who was furious that former CIA Director James Woolsey had suggested that profiling Muslims might not be the answer to airline security. Granted, I am not an expert on security or counterterrorism, although in light of the fact that our experts do things like posting their security procedures manual on the Internet, perhaps anyone is qualified to bring a little common sense to the issue. For the sake of argument, let's leave aside the quaint notion that Muslims are fellow human beings who deserve the same dignity and respect as anyone else, and focus purely pragmatic reasons why a policy of profiling might not be a good idea:

  1. Bigotry does not equal security. Stereotyping all Muslims because a tiny fraction have been involved in acts of terror against the United States is both a lazy and ignorant way to cope with the problem of terrorism. Lazy because it relieves one of the necessity for analyzing the problem. Ignorant because it makes an assumption that in the vast majority of cases is untrue and unwarranted. We've been here before: we made the same mistake with the Nisei in World War II.

  2. Humiliating people does not make us safer. Treating Muslims like cattle, particularly in countries like Iraq that we are trying to "help," has been proven to undermine our counter-terrorism efforts. There is nothing like an Abu Ghraib to recruit people to Al Qaeda. So why should we adopt a policy that humiliates and discriminates against Muslims generally?

  3. Profiling all Muslims is radically overinclusive. When approximately one in six people on earth is a Muslim, and a de minimis number of them pose a threat, then it is highly inefficient to try to screen all Muslims in order to uncover the few who may be terrorists.

  4. Profiling all Muslims is radically underinclusive. Two words: Oklahoma City. Profiling Muslims does nothing to catch the Timothy McVeigh's of the world. There are lots of people who hate us who are not Muslims.

  5. It's impractical and inefficient. Much as we like to think we have infinite resources in the United States, in point of fact there is no way we are going to be able to keep track of a billion people.

  6. It misjudges the threat. If Flight 93 had reached its destination, I might well have died in my office a couple of blocks from the White House on September 11, 2001. As it was, I left the office shortly after Flight 77 smashed into the Pentagon across the river. My brother in law watched the twin towers fall in New York. Despite the unprecedented carnage and the shocking effect of an assault on American soil, however, there was never an existential threat to the United States. Unlike Japan or Germany in the Second World War, Al Qaeda had no ability to follow up. Before we turned the tide in the Pacific, Japan had not only bombed our main naval base but asserted control over a good part of the Pacific and invaded China. Germany, meanwhile, reigned supreme over the rubble of Europe, where England was a beleaguered holdout. While I agree we should treat the threat from Al Qaeda seriously and pursue it relentlessly, lest it develop the capability to do us greater harm, I do not think that our values, our liberty, and our privacy should all be mindlessly sacrificed in pursuit of the terrorist menace. Frankly, at present the average American is far more likely to die in an automobile accident than to be a victim of airline terrorism. And yet our cynical and cowardly public officials harp on our irrational fears and prejudices to the benefit of their own power and position.

  7. It's not the most effective use of our resources. Where is Osama bin Laden and why is he at large? A more effective pursuit of Al Qaeda (rather than the sideshows in Iraq and Afghanistan, and now Yemen?) and a reexamination of the brutal Realpolitik that drives American foreign policy would, in my opinion, do more to reduce the terrorists threat than profiling every last Muslim could ever accomplish.

My Pick for the 2010 Weblog Awards

In every endeavor, there are certain people who achieve a level of excellence that clearly separates them from the ordinary participant. Such people need not be a world champion -- a Lance Armstrong, Mohammed Ali, or Michael Phelps -- but nevertheless they demonstrate a grace and proficiency that sets them apart.

For me, a handful of blogs that I read integrate words, pictures and presentation in such a skilful manner that they are truly set apart -- and, of those, one is written by an acclaimed Moroccan-American novelist. Among the rest, My Marrakesh stands out for elegant design, exquisite taste, gorgeous photography, and crisp, whimsical prose.

Part of what makes My Marrakesh so attractive is its thematic unity. The author, an expatriate American building an elegant guesthouse in cosmopolitan Marrakesh, couples a deep love of Moroccan artistry with an engaging sense of humor over the incessant minor obstacles that repeatedly arise to frustrate her would-be avocation as a hotelier. Occasionally, as in her recent photo montage of Afghan men, she permits a glimpse of the grittier life she leads professionally as an international consultant.

Mostly, however, My Marrakesh is a celebration of simple pleasure and daily beauty -- snapshots of family life, interviews with both Marrakeshis and visitors, accounts of shopping trips in Marrakesh's rich and varied markets. It presents a picture of a life varied and fulfilled, in which one can escape, though not forget, the world's troubles through an appreciation of beauty as seen by the eye of a connoisseur.

For all these reasons, it is easy to see why My Marrakesh again has my vote for Best African Blog in the 2010 Weblog Awards, and I urge anyone who visits the 2010 "Bloggies" to cast a vote for My Marrakesh.

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Wine Dead in Taxi Accident

The death of Rabbi Sherwin Wine, a prominent fixture of the Detroit area for many years, in a taxi in Morocco is a grim reminder that there are too many deaths on the roads in Morocco — and in the United States.

Mofongo in Paradise

One of the things I have always liked best about Robert B. Parker's mystery stories is that urban(e) tough guy Spenser is regularly cooking some delicious gourmet dish when he is not out roughing up the bad guys. Parker is quite detailed about the mouth-watering meals that Spenser cooks up and then usually washes down with good beer, so much so that one could almost imagine doing the cooking oneself.

So it is that I try new food as much as I can; life should be a culinary adventure. Finding myself in Puerto Rico a little more than a week ago for a conference, I escaped from the lavish Rio Mar resort long enough to sample "Mofongo," a mashed plantain dish, with octopus and conch at a local restaurant. Much to my surprise, I was the only person in the restaurant, a fact compensated for by a magnificent view of the island.

The beauty of the island was in stark contrast to the rather grim reading I brought along. After much searching, I had obtained a copy of Mohammed Choukri's For Bread Alone, and I read it in the evenings after seminars. Choukri recounts his brutal upbringing in a novel that is also very much about food, because there is never enough of it. In one vignette, Choukri jumps off the pier in the harbor to retrieve a crust of bread discarded by a fisherman, only to discover that he is swimming in a sea of shit. (Milan Kundera would no doubt find the novel vulgar but not kitschy.) Choukri's novel counterpoints between desire and disgust, the torments of appetite in a world where there is never enough of anything and a cruel and ignominious death hovers constantly in the background.

First Time

Sometimes it is hard to remember one's first time in Morocco — or any foreign country with which one has become somewhat familiar, for that matter. Becky Ryan describes her first visit to Tangier with an enthusiasm undimmed even by the mob of faux guides that greeted her and her two friends upon their arrival. Her description is a reminder of how enchanting and how offputting Morocco can be for a first-time visitor, and how striking the difference between reality and one's preconceptions can be.

Chunneling Through Gibraltar

Morocco and Spain are engaged in serious discussions of the possibility of digging a channel tunnel or "chunnel" under the Straits of Gibraltar in order to connect Morocco and Spain by 2025, according to the Washington Post. After reading of the desperation with which immigrants try to cross the Straits clandestinely by boat now, one wonders what the implications for immigration would be, but certainly it would help to draw Europe and North Africa closer.  Of course, any improvement in the Moroccan economy as a result of more developed infrastructure can only have a positive effect on the number of desperate sea crossings.

Bad Press for Morocco

MESSAGE CENTER - washingtonpost.com

Two American women report that as tourists, they were treated much better in Tunisia than in Morocco:

Most of all, women travelers are well-treated there. As two women traveling together, we were courteously treated wherever we went: in villages as well as Tunis, in outdoor eateries, in the markets, on the streets. This was in stark contrast to our unpleasant experience in Morocco a year before, where we felt uncomfortable at outdoor cafes and men in the streets made snake noises at us.

I am curious as to whether this experience is typical, and, if so, why it might be. Unfortunately I do not know enough about Tunisia to do more than speculate, although I wonder if there is a difference in the degree of government control over the population. I get the impression that Tunisia offers an antiseptic welcome to foreign tourists because the government would crack down on anyone who gave foreigners a hard time. I do not know, however, and I would welcome any more informed commentary.

Discretion, Yes; Discrimination, No

Plane Prayers - washingtonpost.com

The Washington Post is critical of U.S. Airways for its decision to force six imams from boarding an aircraft last week after they unrolled prayer rugs and said their prayers before boarding the aircraft. The Post concludes, correctly, that "America can't become a country so locked by fear that those who unfurl a prayer rug automatically become suspects."

The Post also notes that there are reports of other suspicious behavior by the imams that may have justified expelling them from the aircraft. In cases such as this, I believe the pilot ought to have near absolute discretion to decide who boards his airplane. However, if the imams were denied passage not because of suspicious behavior but because they prayed, or were Arabs, or were Muslims, then they should sue the airline blind. Discretion, yes; discrimination, no.

Thanks to Crossroads Arabia. See also BlackProf.com.

Second Highest Mountain in Africa

One of the first things I did on my first arrival in Morocco was to climb Mount Toubkal, the second highest mountain in Africa. In some ways, this feat is less impressive than it sounds, since the ascent is for the most part little more than a strenuous walk. It is quite high, however. According to the New York Times, the people of Imlil, at the foot of the mountain, are now offering a few more amenities, proceeds from which go to finance improvements in the town. From the Times' description, it sounds like a nice balance between preserving the character of the countryside and generating tourist revenue for the people.

On the Beach

Carnival band leader Gloria Cummins would rather be in Agadir, the Guardian reports. Personally, I have never seen the attraction, but then I have never been to the Paradiso Valley, either.