Saturday, September 02, 2006

ethnic profiling

From the comment below:

Anonymous said...

What did Kirk think about ethnic profiling?

9:25 AM

Good question. Kirk was a pragmatist. He also knew his stuff very, very well. So here's the pragmatic approach:

The majority of people who are acting in this particular terror war are of certain ethnic groups. Not only one group, mind. To ignore this fact would be stupid. To think that only people from a sub-set of ethnic groups would be involved is equally stupid. So ethnic profiling is a short-cut, but one of only limited use.

Kirk knew that really good intelligence work is much more important. You have to know your enemy to know who they are likely to use, who they will surround themselves with, and who will be most drawn to their cause.

These are people who use other people's children to kill and maim. They thrive on death, on power, on destruction. They have a particular background and a specific code of their own. Without understanding that you don't understand them.

He felt very strongly that using ethnic profiling for anything other than the very limited application it was suited for was not only wrong, it was dangerous. There is a tendency to think that doing something - anything - is useful, and worse that doing something means something else doesn't need to be done. It gives a false sense of security; it does both passive and active harm.

It is, however, a starting point. When the FBI wants to catch a particularly dangerous criminal they might use a profiler - someone who can narrow down the most likely characteristics of the perpetrator. These characteristics often include ethnicity, but are certainly not limited to it. The intel world does the same thing - they look at ethnicity and religious affiliation because they'd be stupid not to. But to stop there would be useless.

In fact, the intel community doesn't use ethnic profiling in the way it's perceived commonly. They do not look blindly at only one demographic. They are looking at far more complex things than just ethnicity.

The public however, the great mass of humanity, can and does do so. And that's where the real problem lies.

When 9-11 happened many of our friends called Kirk. They wanted reassurance, they wanted to know if the Bay Bridge would be safe that day, if their children should go to school, if they should go to work. They wanted to know, over and over again, what they should do.

Go to a mosque, Kirk said. If you want to know what to do, go to a mosque. Talk to the people there. Talk to them as Americans, as people, as humans with a common grief and a common concern. Reach out and make friends and find their humanity because that is how you defeat this terrorism. Look beyond their racial background. Help them look beyond yours.

ADDED: I'm speaking for me now, not Kirk.

I was talking to someone about the security issues with flying now, the new restrictions the added searches and banned items because of the latest terrorist arrests. This person said that the terrorists had 'won' because our actions had changed as a result of their behaviour.

I disagree. First, there is nothing in the way we board planes that is sacred. We do not use our security screenings as part of our religious ritual. Our ability to take sports drinks on a flight does not change our moral code or alter our ethical belief system. Being more careful, being more stringent is not a sign of victory for the terrorists because they've forced a reaction. Actually, it's made their lives a little harder because one more possibility has been recognized and limited. This is a failure for them

We change our habits constantly - change is part of life. It's called adaptation, and if we can't do it we can't survive. So showing up a bit earlier for a flight, planning ahead as far as hydration goes? We'll get used to it; life will go on.

However, bringing things to a screeching halt because someone is 'behaving strangely' if that strange behavior is mostly having a long beard or carrying a Koran or something is a victory for terrorism.

I do think, though, that it is an extreme reaction from initial fear. Things will calm down again, we will become used to the new world just as we have done before, and once more we will, most of us anyway, be able to look at eachother as individuals of great variety rather than large masses of stereotyped genres. Maybe in stress it's easier to lump people into broad and general categories, to do a quick and harsh sort into 'safe' and 'not safe.' But it's not a practical thing, or a realistic thing.

Hopefully we all know that humans in general have a great capacity for violence, and a great capacity for empathy and acceptance, regardless of race or creed, arbitrary geographic boundary, religion, tribe, or division real or imagined. The destroyers are loud and horrible and impossible to ignore - but they are a tiny minority; a tiny minority in every culture.

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