Tuesday, April 02, 2013

@samharris: how does someone "look Muslim"?

Glen Greenwald and Sam Haris are having a a spat over an Al Jazeera article that Glen tweeted about.  The article calls Sam out for being racist and Islamophobic.  Sam, of course, is aghast.  How can it possibly be "racist" to state the simple truth that Muslims engage in terrorism and other unsavory behaviors more than non-Muslims?

Here's how:
We should profile Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim...
How exactly do you propose we do that, Sam? What exactly does it mean to "look like" someone who "could conceivably be Muslim?" More to the point, what does it mean for someone to not look like they could "conceivably be Muslim"?  Isn't Islam a belief system?  Exactly what outwardly visible physical traits make it inconceivable that a person might harbor that belief system?
Every moment spent frisking the Mormon Tabernacle Choir subtracts from the scrutiny paid to more likely threats. Who could fail to understand this?
That is not at all the same thing.  Being a member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and looking like you are a member are two completely different things.  If you judge someone to be a member of the Choir because they present you with, say, a document that shows they are a member, that is one thing.  But judging them to be a member of the choir because of how they look, (and let's not kid ourselves, because they are white), that is racist, even if being white actually does make a good predictor of Mormonism!  Who could fail to understand this?

The only thing that frustrates me more than conservative bigots is liberal bigots because they really ought to know better.  Alas, even liberals have blind spots.


Don Geddis said...

When you say, "judging them ... because of how they look ... is racist", it seems to me that you're cheating a bit by using the word "racist". It's as though you are "proving" he's racist by a technical definition of the term, but then relying on the obvious connotation that readers will interpret this as "bad/evil/wrong".

In other words, an example of the Noncentral Fallacy, like saying "Martin Luther King was a criminal".

I think you do a reasonable job, before that, of directly addressing whether Harris's suggestions are good or bad, feasible or dangerous. But the summary of "what he wrote is racist" doesn't seem as relevant as the question for whether these are good ideas or not. It just seems like at attempt to get people to dismiss the ideas without thinking about them.

Ron said...

I intended the bad/evil/wrong connotation. Harris argues that people's beliefs drive them to irrational action (which is true) but then advocates discriminating against people based not on their beliefs but their physical appearance. He doesn't advocate discriminating against people who are Muslim, he advocates discriminating against people who look like they might be Muslims. That's a crucial difference. It is his advocating discrimination based on appearance that makes him a racist and a bigot. If he were to advocate discrimination based on belief then I'd be right behind him, at least in principle. But then, of course, the burden would still fall on him to answer a different question: how do you determine someone's beliefs?

Will said...

What does a "Muslim" look like? Like my 6 foot blond cousin the dervish? Or does he get a pass, because, even though Moslem, he doesn't "look like" it? And if he does, how can that not be racist?