Profiling and political correctness

Neuroscientist and End of Faith author Sam Harris has set off a flurry of criticism over his recent essay, “in defense of profiling.”

In light of recent terrorist threats and attacks, Harris argues that “We should profile Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim, and we should be honest about it.”

Freethought Blogger PZ Myers was appalled by these suggestions, and CFI Transnational advisor and Humanist scholar John Shook posted the following to his Facebook page.

Of course Sam Harris is a bigoted hate-mongerer. You can’t be surprised. Long ago he knew he drew big crowds not for his atheism (he said we should abandon the label) or for his neuroscience (brain scans won’t reveal ethics, sorry) but for his rousing hatred against all Muslims, and all Christians, while he was at it.

I call on all non-believers to reject Harris and this War of Hate. I call on all secular organizations to disown and disavow Harris and refuse to have any relationship with him.

I have only just begun to take Sam Harris down. Stay posted.

This response has prompted Harris to write an addendum. Unfortunately, Harris fails to add much beyond unsubstantiated rhetoric. He states that “it is simply a fact that, in the year 2012, suicidal terrorism is overwhelmingly a Muslim phenomenon.” Of course, it would be easy to follow his argument, were he to provide some evidence of this assertion. Unfortunately, last year’s killing spree by Anders Behring Breivik in Norway showed that many ideologies can lead to terrorism.

Harris attempts to distance himself from the suggestion that he’s advocating racial profiling by suggesting that he may also be subject to profiling. He still seems to base his argument on gut feelings and intuitions that little old ladies or people who look like Mennonites are incapable of committing atrocities.

In fact, just over a year ago, a young Asian man disguised himself as an old white man and successfully boarded a flight. The fact that such disguises can pass the security screens suggests to me that profiling based on looks offers little additional security.

It is disappointing to see one of freethought’s Four Horsemen fall to such irrational arguments while offering up absolutely no evidence for his assertions.

Finally, Harris attempts to defend himself with the tired cliché of decrying rampant political correctness. This argument has long been the defense of bigots, racists, homophobes, and others who are blind to their privilege when they want to make an offensive and ignorant rant.

Overall, I find Harris’ arguments to be quite disappointing. He comes off sounding more like an ignorant xenophobic bigot than a champion of freethought and tolerance. Harris has previously distanced himself from the label atheist and to my knowledge has never referred to himself as a humanist. Perhaps it’s time for our movement to pay less attention to what this man has to say.

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