July 6, 2007

Profiling a Terrorist

Take a close look at this picture, courtesy Daily Telegraph, UK — please click on it:

See the two icons of Suspect No.6 and No.7 at the top right? Both are aged 28, identified as junior doctors of Middle Eastern descent, and arrested at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in connection with the ongoing investigation of the failed terror attacks in the UK. I'd like you to pick a name and a religion for each of the two suspects, that you think most informed and reasonable people will agree with:

Suspect No. 6Suspect No. 7Religion
Shiv KumarShakthi KumarHinduism
Joe SmithJane SmithChristianity
Fu ChangMei ChangCommunism
Akbar AliFarah AliIslam
Izzaac GoldmanRuth GoldmanJudaism

Suppose, further, that you suspect that there is at least one more terrorist involved in the plot, who is yet to be apprehended. You are equipped with the detailed profiles of terrorists from around the world, including those arrested in connection with the failed UK plot. A comprehensive database with millions of personal records, organized under the keys — race, religion, national origin, profession, gender, marital status, and income — is made available to you from, say, the Office of National Statistics. You may selectively interview anyone from the database, and obtain a warrant from a competent court to search the person's residence, run a thorough background check, and obtain pertinent records from any organization, that are otherwise protected under the organization's privacy policy, for example, data on the person's visits to websites during the last 30 days. Both the constraints on resources and propriety require you to limit your investigation to the smallest group possible, yet maximize your chances of apprehending the culprit. Which key(s) will you use to select the records from the database?

Prime Minister Gordon Brown's problem is similar to the one defined above, except that his task is to prevent the future occurrence of such terrorist acts in the nation that he has vowed to protect. A solution proposed by him is to tigthen the security checks on foreign workers outside the EU, before granting them work visas. Instead of focusing on a relatively smaller group of potential Muslim immigrants from a handful of countries, Mr. Brown would rather subject millions of men, women, and children to unnecessarily lengthy and intrusive scrutiny. Is this an extension of the liberals' idea of social justice? Rob Mohamed's guilt to blame Mary? As CNN puts it, this is pussyfooting around terrorism, and worse. I quote from the CNN:

As the London Daily Express reports, Brown has instructed his ministers, including new Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, to avoid using the word "Muslims" in connection with the current crisis. And indeed, in a BBC-TV interview last Sunday Brown did not refer to Muslims or Islam once -- not even to say, as is often said here in the U.S., that a great religion of peace had been hijacked once again.

Why is it fairer to identify these terrorists as doctors, but not as Muslims? Of course, all Muslims are not terrorists, but it is even more far-fetched that all doctors or all South Asians are terrorists, is it not? The reason for focusing on the Muslims is not cultural, political or social, but technical. It is disingenuous to suggest, as the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India does, that the Muslim community will feel alienated because the terrorists are identified as Muslims, when they indeed are. By not calling a spade a spade, we will only become accomplices by helping the terrorists hide among a vastly extended sea of humanity. As CNN concludes in its report,

If Islam is a religion of peace and Muslims are as likely as anyone else to be victims, then they need to decide whether it's worse to be offended or dead, and oppose -- as well as expose -- those among them who support murder and terror. We should be free to look for them, even in a mosque.

Let me put it as plainly as I can. I don't recognize rights for any collective — Buddhists, doctors, tennis players, poor, women, labor, or investors. Rights exist for individuals and so are responsibilities. Muslims are not collectively responsible for the acts of terrorism committed by a few among them. Osama Bin Laden, Mohamed Atta, Velupillai Prabhakaran, Nathuram Godse, Adolf Hitler, and Josef Stalin are individually responsible for the countless lives that they had sacrificed in their respective altars of dead men and narrow minds. I am a fool, but not as much of a fool to blame my neighbor, Khaleel Ahmed, for the brutal killing of Daniel Pearl. I refuse to accept that I am bigoted, though, because I started to look for the mastermind behind this heinous murder, in a Muslim neighborhood in Old Delhi, and not in a Jewish ghetto in Los Angeles.

  1. why add a nathuram godse to a bunch of terrorists ?
    ok everyone knows that he shot gandhi, surrendered and did not flee after for which he was ready and fully prepared to goto the gallows.
    terrorism is defined as
    violence or other harmful acts committed (or threatened) against civilians by groups or persons for political or other ideological goals

    1. Gandhi was no civilian
    2. he was one sided about islam ...
    3. he was an enigma and a hypocrite
    4. worse the govt covered up under secrecy the whole proceedings of the godse trials and his censored his statements and consciously tried to beatify Gandhi.
    5. Gandhi can also be called a peaceful terrorist, because he used threat of starvation until death to get his demands met, even if it meant giving 55 crores to pakistan ...the seed money for the indo pak wars...that took and is still taking lives!

  2. i'm probably a little late on this - but i think this post ignores a couple of things.

    first, advocating a national policy doesn't necessarily or totally overlap with conducting an investigation.

    second, historically, societies that began to use - or worse, advocated using - race as a proxy for for eliminating a specific problem, were not able to find the rational extent to which they could use that proxy.

    i guess what i'm saying is that, although the author of this post would not search for a london bomber in a jewish l.a. neighborhood, it wasn't people like him that sequestered all japanese-american citizens in neighborhoods across california after the bombing of pearl harbor.

    most people don't exercise the virtues of rationality that this author seems to think they're capable of exercising

  3. anonymous:
    If Dhanu, who killed Rajiv Gandhi with explosives tied to her stomach, was a terrorist, so is Nathuram Godse. And, in my view Dhanu was a terrorist.

    You are right — "power corrupts", and sequestering all Japanese-Americans six decades ago was an abomination that resulted from such corruption. Wouldn't you agree, though, that "absolute power corrupts absolutely"? To thwart an absolute power {Islamic theocracy in this case], isn't corruption a small price to pay? The better the checks and balances in a pluralistic democracy such as the U.K. or the U.S.A., the smaller the price we would pay.

  4. Why are some people calling this racial profiling? Last time I checked, Muslims are not considered a race.

    Calling a spade a spade does not mean being immoral or unjust - it's common sense. If there is a very strong correlation and visible pattern between certain activities and a group of people characterized by religion, then why not focus on that group? That does not mean all people of that group indulge in that activity.


  5. well there's a difference between what you say and what you do.

    what a government says and what a government does both have different purposes and real impact.

    i agree that institutional checks and balances have a strong effect on what is done. especially when an agency conducts an investigation. there is oversight and hopefully limitation.

    but i don't think you can condemn the prime minister for what he says is the national policy (and here the national policy, apparently, is literally what you can say). what you say has a very real impact on what the citizens believe, and consequently the way people behave.

    while i think that what we do must be practical, i also think that what we say should be aspirational. what the prime minister and government convey to the public can often be the greatest check on what the government does.

  6. what are ur views on gandhi then?

  7. i disagree with in toto
    1. Godse was an assasin not a terrorist he didnt blow himself up and 25 others when he easily could kill at least a dozen others and flee from the spot, his purpose was to prevent gandhi from further damage to the hindu populus that to after incidents like the Direct Action day massacres and Gandhis all forgiving stance for islamic or muslim league terror tactics which have conveniently been forgotten

    2. Dhanu was a brainwashed drone of likes of Shivdasan and prabhakaran, whose sole purpose was revenge for the killing of her family and remotely the operation in lanka .

  8. anon 1:
    >>what are ur views on gandhi then?
    From what little that I have read on Gandhi, I believe he was a civilian who never bore any arms, never held an office of bribe, yet a consummate politician who was capable of mobilizing the masses to achieve liberation from the colonial rule. As far as bias towards Islam, I suspect he did have one (from what he is quoted as having said on the Moplah Massacre), but I cannot be sure.

    anon 2:
    >>i disagree with in toto ...
    I agree that we disagree :)

  9. im the anon- one entity many questions
    first i dont think he was ever a civilian he was the father of the nation - no less than a President.
    ok he was not of the laloo sadhu or sonia kind who care for posts perks and freebees...
    It aint easy to define gandhi
    i repeat he is an enigma...
    at a personal level gandhi was a mahatma or a real great person, with the guts he had,with his experiments with truth and all things mortal and all instincts basic, bt when it came to preaching to hindus as the british called most us, im wt godse (who was also noble in his own right and no less patriotic)that too after thorough reading of why he did the deed cause, hey it is ok to be a Mahavir, but it was wrong of Gandhi to push the Indian Hindu populous to follow him in a sort of collective suicide just so that M League and to a lesser extent Nehru was appeased(maybe all that fasting made him senile or maybe he never correctly researched Islam). His death threats (via fast unto death) may have terrorised most followers and leaders like Patel (who died untimely)(and Godse for sure -yes he did follow Gandhi) much more than Godses act ever did!
    we have still been following his policys with pakistan and even a puny bangladesh and look at the state of affairs now. They torture and kill our soldiers without feer - harbour terrorists and our Pms keep on talking
    im sad that u disagree :(
    but hey this is a democracy :-)
    everyone is entitled to their views

  10. Very accurate article. You have hit the nail on its proverbial head.


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