Profiling Muslim men is unjust, unworkable

Published: December 3, 2010

"Profile my family. Profile my father because the threat is inside the Muslim community."

It is commonly understood that mainstream media creates, processes and disseminates information which determine our beliefs and attitudes and, ultimately, our behaviour.  Consistently displayed messages create a false sense of reality and produce a consciousness that cannot comprehend or even worst, willfully rejects the actual conditions of everyday life.

Many have argued that these manipulative messages become the ‘instrument of conquest’, by which the ruling elite tries to make the masses conform to their objectives. By using ‘talking heads’ that explain, justify, and sometimes even glamorise the prevailing conditions of existence, mainstream media secures popular support for a social order that is not in the majority’s long-term interest. In the cacophony, which is often masked as intelligent debate, what remain unconsidered are the alternative social arrangements.

Last week a debate aired on Bloomberg’s Intelligence Squared program achieved exactly what the proverbial media managers would have wanted. The petition “US airports should use racial and religious profiling” which was debated in the world’s leading cosmopolitan, defiantly the most diverse city, New York, resulted in a majority favouring profiling. What surprised me more than the result was the panel.

Among others, Asra Nomani, a Muslim American woman for whom I have tremendous respect (read my article My Daughter’s Azan) was for the motion while Michael Chertoff, a Bush administration neo-con who will be remembered for his failure in New Orleans, was against the motion.

The motion sought profiling of Muslim men between the ages of 15 to 30 “from a handful of countries and ethnicities.” The premise was that all Muslims are not terrorists but all terrorists seem to be Muslim.

Asra Nomani told the audience of the show who later favoured profiling:

“I stand before you and I say, profile me. Profile my family. Profile my father because inside of our Muslim community, I fundamentally believe that we have failed to police ourselves. We have failed our country here in America. We have failed our world.”

Her statement reminded me of a famous Gore Vidal quote:

“Persuading people to vote against their own best interests has been the awesome genius of the American political elite.”

I agree with Nomani that an extremist interpretation of Islam seems to be gaining currency around the world and we ought to be more vigilant ( read my article on Shahzad Faisal’s crazy attempt), but she does not speak for me when she invites profiling of my sons and nephews – and millions of Muslim American.

Her position is flawed at many different levels.

How do you determine who is Muslim?

I am assuming by name. Let me give you six names (Rashid, Khalid, Ibrahim, Shams, Faisal and Ahmar). Please tell me which one of this person is a Muslim, an atheist, a Christian, an agnostic and a Buddhist? Will you be surprised if I told you that all of these five ideological strains are represented in these six names? What if I said four out of these six are siblings?

This is absolutely real. How else will you determine our religion? Look at our genitals? All six of us are circumcised – not much of a differentiator there. And, how do you know that someone by the name Jose Padila is a Muslim? How about a blue-eyed, blonde hair Caucasian man name Joseph McNary. Do you know he is a Muslim?

Here’s another personal anecdote – I was married to an Indian-American woman for 18 years; she was not a religious person but she was born in a Hindu household. We have raised four kids with an understanding that we will not choose or impose any ideological inclinations on our kids.

Not long ago a Pakistan-American journalist invited us to a Thanksgiving dinner in Long Island. Our kids were playing around and my son had an accident. We had to rush him to a nearby hospital. At the emergency room triage we provided our insurance details and one question on the form asked for my son’s religion – I wrote “TBD.” The administrator at the triage was confused and asked what religion TBD is. I told him I don’t know what my son’s religion will be or if he will actually have one and therefore I have written, “to be determined.”

But if we are to follow Nomani’s recommendation, my son should be profiled because I gave him a name that is predominantly a Muslim name.

And, you can’t just asks Muslims to carry an identity card without asking Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and everyone else to carry a card identifying their religion. What would that do to America’s constitution? Would we continue to be a secular state or become more like Pakistan where you have to state your religion on government issued identification? That would really suck for me because I had traded in a much better quality of life in Pakistan for civil liberties and intellectual freedom in the US. It seems intolerance has followed me here.

If my son who is stuck with a Muslim name were profiled at the airport, why would he not be profiled when he goes to a job interview? How do I know he is not profiled at the college campus? I know many young Muslim men will feel more and more alienated – will rapidly lose self-esteem and may even take a dive for the worst. How do we know that we will not push many towards extremism by profiling?

Profiling is unjust, illegal, counter-productive and has never worked.

Analysts like Asra Nomani, who have done good work to promote Islamic feminism, demonstrate a deep, instinctive aversion to engaging in any fundamental critique of social and cultural experiences. Talking heads like her do not even attempt to engage in an analysis of the underlying political reality and cultural structures – a conceptual blindness epitomised by superficial empiricism. They have confined themselves to the appearance of “threat”, never attempting to analyse the relationships latent in the “threat” of “profiling.”

Ibrahim Sajid Malick

Ibrahim Sajid Malick

A Pakistani-American writer, technologist, and social entrepreneur. Malick graduated from New School for Social Research with a masters degree in anthropology. He holds several technology and management certifications.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Henna Khan

    Well its true then that amusement do sometimes come in worst possible form and shape, just like Asra Nomani’s opinion. Isn’t Asra Nomani the same who has fought for gender equality and even went to lengths to offer prayer which was led by a woman named Amina Wadud? Seems to me she just know one form of equality, I just wish someone would help me understand the sense of that………..Recommend

  • G. Din

    So is profiling people for bad credit! But it is still done. And it is quite successful, too! If you don’t like to be profiled in one of the thousands of profiles , walk as straight and as gingerly as possible. Recommend

  • Muhammad

    What i am about to say will offend a lot of females i know for which i apologise in advance. Many feminists and female rights, some very respectible women who i have also had the pleasure of meeting. I am sorry to say this but they aggressively demand equal treatment and rights as us men, but they want it all without some of the short comings that men face on a day to day basis as well with those extra previlliges. For example at work places they demand equal pay yet most are reluctant to work overtime and those extra hours, another example women can mistreat and men are powerless to even raise theie voice without being labeled as cowards who are bad to women.Recommend

  • Fatimah

    Excellent article Mr. Malick but it is lost on silly readers of Tribune blog. I don’t think they understand that this is not about men vs. women. I wish you had this published in Dawn instead.Recommend

  • Amer

    Asra Nomani..beyond comprehension!!Recommend

  • Fatimah

    @Amer:
    what is beyond comprehension is thinking of American scholars. They are fear mongering..Recommend

  • Malik Rashid

    Aren’t they already profiling travelers from 14 countries? Now, this elite and commoner, ruler and ruled distinction holds in matters of wealth distribution or corruption. But it was the British rulers who brought education for commoners to India. Therefore contorting this distinction to fit all occasions might be laziness if not vile. We know for sure that communism did not turn out in majority’s interest. Capitalism is the evil we still live with. I think we have to appreciate the necessity of state and build one to our satisfaction. Rejection of security measures might be popular but unsafe.Recommend

  • Shams Hamid

    Racial profiling fails because when you are focusing on “Hamid”, then the only miscreant you will find will be “Hamid”, which will further strengthen the belief in usefulness of racial profiling. In the process you will wrongly focus on many “Hamid” who will not be the miscreant but the discrimination against them will turn them against the discriminators.

    Instead of racial profiling universal surveillance at sensitive places and engaging the vulnerable community has proven far more fruitful. Recommend

  • Ali Hassan

    Great piece.
    Religious profiling at the airports, would have more unwanted consequences, then the perceived benefits.Recommend

  • parvez

    When you have a Muslim imam, head of a known mosque in Pakistan openly advertise a reward of Rs.500,000. for the murder of Aasia Bibi a Christian woman accused of blasphemy with many people supporting this madness, why do you blame the west if they wish to selectively profile Muslims in order to safeguard themselves.
    The more intollerant we get and the further we stray from the essence of Islam we will encounter resistance. Recommend

  • MilesToGo

    If profiled men are at risk of becoming extremist just because they are profiled at the airport, then those men indeed should be profiled and kept under check. It’s like saying I am a peaceful monster as long as you don’t annoy me – the moment you annoy me or humiliate me by making me wait longer at the airport – I will transform into not-so-peaceful monster.Recommend

  • Siddiqui

    @Malik Rashid: I agree. This article reflects immature thoughts. Recommend

  • http://www.ibrahimsajidmalick.com Ibrahim Sajid Malick

    @Malik Rashid: You write, “I think we have to appreciate the necessity of state and build one to our satisfaction. Rejection of security measures might be popular but unsafe.”

    I couldn’t agree more!

    I don’t think we should minimize security measures at the airport. We should NOT limit it to one religion either. My argument above is that by focusing on religious identity, the “state” is risking the safety because a Jose Padilla or the infamous ‘shoe bomber’ can slip through the security and wreak havoc. There is no way perfect way to determine who is a ‘muslim,’ let alone who is a ‘dangerous muslim.’

    Many African-American Muslims have Christian names. Look at the last four cases of alleged terrorist attempts in the US- all four were by people who have non-Muslim names.

    If you don’t go by name – how else would you determine? Ask people to carry IDs that has a column for religion?

    Current security measures at the US airports seem to be working. Maybe they need to pay more attention to ‘behavior’… that way a Muslim fundamentalist with a non-Muslim name cannot fool the system.

    Thank you so very much for interacting.

    Cheers,
    Ibrahim Recommend

  • Shams Hamid

    Black Americans are suspected more for drug trafficking but stats show that more White Americans are involved in drug trafficking.

    @MilesToGo
    Discriminatory treatment leads to anger. Testing anger threshold does not enhance security. Your recommendation is not practical. Your comment is emotional and defensive. If you do not identify yourself with the oppressor then you won’t feel apologetic. I am a Pakistani but it is upto me to identify myself with terrorists or pacifists and my identification will influence my interpretation. Peace! Recommend

  • Nisar Baloch

    @MilesToGo:
    Very interesting – are we both reading the same article? I don’t get the sense that Ibrahim is defending extremist elements. He is pointing out that profiling will not work because you cannot identify based on religion.Recommend

  • Talat

    what information exactly a muslim individual will have to provide for profiling?? Until this is known, I can not take a position.Recommend

  • http://www.alhamdulilah.info Abdullah

    @Henna Khan:

    I reviewed Asra’s book here – I think you may find it interesting

    http://loga-abdullah.blogspot.com/2010/03/asra-nomani-standing-alone-in-mecca.html

    Feel free to contact me if you have any comments or suggestions about this book review.Recommend

  • Dawood

    Very good article. I like Asra Nomani but on this point I disagree. Recommend

  • Milestogo

    @shams

    anger for what? Longer wait at the airport?Recommend

  • Milestogo

    @nisar

    here is the line from article that I am arguing against

    How do we know that we will not push many towards extremism by profiling?

    I agree that religious profiling might not work and to some degree is humiliatng but I fail to understand why say that if you profile us we run a risk of becoming extremist – That sounds like a threat – if well educated Pakistani Americans are at a risk of turning to extremism just because you have to wait longer at the airport – then there is something seriously wrong…Recommend

  • Milestogo

    I think Pakistani should limit their arument to religious profiling as being ineffective and humiliating. Don’t threaten that if we are humiliated we become angry and then we become extremist. Such threats don’t present a good image of pakistanis and Muslims.Recommend

  • http://www.ibrahimsajidmalick.com Ibrahim Sajid Malick

    @Nisar Baloch:
    You are right Sir! I feel “profiling will not work because you cannot identify based on religion.” Only profiling Muslims will make America less safe.

    @parvez:
    You are absolutely right about growing intolerance in Pakistan and other Muslim countries. West has a good reason to suspect Muslims from a handful of countries to be ‘dangerous.’ My argument has been that profiling based only on religion will not work. There are several Muslims with Christian names. Look at my response to @MalikRashid above. Recommend

  • nisar

    @Milestogo:

    You should read the full paragraph. “If my son who is stuck with a Muslim name were profiled at the airport, why would he not be profiled when he goes to a job interview? How do I know he is not profiled at the college campus? I know many young Muslim men will feel more and more alienated – will rapidly lose self-esteem and may even take a dive for the worst. How do we know that we will not push many towards extremism by profiling?”

    He is not making a threat but asking a question. That is why there is a question mark the end :-)

    He doesn’t sound like an extremist muslim and he has a guniune point. If Muslims are singled out as potential threat than someone making a hiring decision can also consider that.

    Do you get it? Recommend

  • MilesToGo

    @Nisar

    I think its the other way. I as an hiring manager I will feel more comfortable hiring a Pakistani/Muslim who does not mind waiting longer at the airport for the safety of all. I will do the same for others if needed.

    On the other hand, I will be hesitant and scared to hire someone like the author who thinks that there is a risk of him becoming an extremist if he is religiously profiled at the airport.

    Trust can not be demanded, it has to be earned.Recommend

  • Siddiqui

    @MilesToGo:
    You sound like my wife when you say trust can’t be demanded :-)
    I don’t exactly agree with the author but I don’t think he is demanding trust. Recommend

  • parvez

    @Ibrahim Sajid Malick: Your response appreciated.
    As religion plays the major role here, it would be hard and inpractical to try sideline it.
    Keep in mind the Pakistani passport has a seperate column for religion.Recommend

  • http://www.ibrahimsajidmalick.com Ibrahim Sajid Malick

    @parvez: This article is about the US and not Pakistan. I know that Pakistani passport has a separate column for religion – I don’t America to become Pakistan. Please read below:

    “Would we (America) continue to be a secular state or become more like Pakistan where you have to state your religion on government issued identification? That would really suck for me because I had traded in a much better quality of life in Pakistan for civil liberties and intellectual freedom in the US. It seems intolerance has followed me here.”Recommend

  • parvez

    @Ibrahim Sajid Malick: Your point was understood, thanks anyway.
    I doubt very much that America will become like Pakistan. But the world is shrinking very fast and its repercussions will be felt all over.
    Best of luck, your write ups are always thought provoking and worth reading.Recommend

  • Umair

    Let the profiling go ahead in US like it is in Pakistan. What is good for the goose is good for the gander. If religious profiling were bad certainly Muslims wouldn’t be doing it but since they do it, it must be alright. Consider it a step towards making US an Islamic Republic.Recommend

  • Umair

    Discriminatory treatment leads to
    anger. Testing anger threshold does
    not enhance security.

    @Shams Hamid:

    Prove it. How many have blown bombs in Pakistan due to being religiously profiled? In fact those who are blowing bombs ie religious extremists are the ones who enacted profiling for others in the first place. Let the profiling go ahead in Us. If anyone blows a bomb that’s because he’s a nut case not because of profiling.Recommend

  • http://www.ibrahimsajidmalick.com Ibrahim Sajid Malick

    @parvez: Thank you, Sir! Here is another example that profiling based on religion doesn’t work. His name is Antonio Martinez – no one at the airport would have thought that he is a Muslim:-)

    http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-bomb-plot-arrest-20101209,0,2395055.storyRecommend

  • Siddiqui

    @Umair:
    How is anyone going to prove that?Recommend

  • Milestogo

    Religious profiling is not a replacement but addition to the current profiling.Recommend