Thursday, August 16, 2012

NYT and CNN on racial profiling and Islamophobia in the US

by Salman Hameed

Last Sunday, the New York Times had a front page article on racial profiling at the US airports - in particular, the Boston Logan airport. It turns out that it is serving as a testing ground for an "expanded use of behavioral detection methods". The article is overall quite critical of the methodology, but its first paragraph was unintentionally informative: 
More than 30 federal officers in an airport program intended to spot telltale mannerisms of potential terrorists say the operation has become a magnet for racial profiling, targeting not only Middle Easterners but also blacks, Hispanics and other minorities. 
So would the outrage had been less if the racial profiling was limited only to the Middle Easterners?? To be fair, the article clearly states that any profiling based on nationality, religion, or skin color, is wrong, nevertheless, the article did not use any examples of the profiling of Middle Easterners. On the other hand, at least now I know why I have been frequently sent for secondary passport control when I have entered US via Logan airport. And no, it doesn't matter that I have been in the US for 23 years. Ah - but I have family members in Pakistan and I visit them once a year. 

But here is what triggered this particular article:
That is what happened last month at Logan airport to Kenneth Boatner, 68, a psychologist and educational consultant in Boston who was traveling to Atlanta for a business trip. 
In a formal complaint he filed with the agency afterward, he said he was pulled out of line and detained for 29 minutes as agents thumbed through his checkbook and examined his clients’ clinical notes, his cellphone and other belongings. 
The officers gave no explanation, but Dr. Boatner, who is black, said he suspected the reason he was stopped was his race and appearance. He was wearing sweat pants, a white T-shirt and high-top sneakers. 
He said he felt humiliated. “I had never been subjected to anything like that,” he said in an interview. 
Officers in Boston acknowledged that they had no firm data on how frequently minority members were stopped. But based on their own observations, several officers estimated that they accounted for as many as 80 percent of passengers searched during certain shifts.
The officers identified nearly two dozen co-workers who they said consistently focused on stopping minority members in response to pressure from managers to meet certain threshold numbers for referrals to the State Police, federal immigration officials or other agencies. 
The stops were seen as a way of padding the program’s numbers and demonstrating to Washington policy makers that the behavior program was producing results, several officers said. 
Instead, the officers said, profiling undermined the usefulness of the program. Focusing on minority members, said a second officer who was interviewed by The Times, “takes officers away from the real threat, and we could miss a terrorist we are looking for.” 
Yikes! This is all outrageous. But the problem is that the level of tolerance for singling out Muslims in the US is getting quite high. If you want an example, check out this excellent piece on CNN (yes - CNN can still occasionally produce decent stuff) on the struggles of a mosque in Tennessee. This is about a year old, but it was shown again last week as the mosque finally opened this year:  


The fascinating thing about this documentary is that so many Americans, including politicians, are willing to come out as bigots in front of the camera - but that's because they don't think that such Islamophobia is bigotry. Check out the lawyer prosecuting the case against the construction of the mosque (he does have funky suits and bow-ties) - and the way he questioned if Islam can even be considered a religion (see the clip at 27 minutes into the documentary). At the same time, it is good to see many people - including those who granted the permit for the mosque unanimously - came to the defense of the freedom and respect of religion. Nevertheless, the lack of mainstream outrage over this and a host of similar cases in the US is stunning and a shame for the larger society.

And of course then you have Michelle Bachmann and her brand of McCarthyism against Muslims. She has written a letter to the Congress to investigate the infiltration of the US government by...Muslim Brotherhood. What? Yes. And you can read the letter here (pdf). Apart from the general ignorance, the letter claims that the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) "wants to impose shariah worldwide". And who specifically done the infiltration? Well, it is Huma Abedin - the deputy Chief of Staff for Hillary Clinton. Since, it is hard to maintain any sanity regarding Michelle Bachman, I'll let Jon Stewart deal with this:

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