If you lost two hours of your life listening to the Waking Up podcast between Sam Harris and Maryam Namazie, do not despair. For it revealed in those two hours a debate that needs to be had. Or rather two different debates seemed to be crossing one another, for most listeners. Minds rather than being changed, were left shaken as a result.
It makes no sense to use the word profiling, as Sam does, and then halfway decide what you mean is anti-profiling. At odds when you state wearing a niqab means you should be profiled as a potential jihadist. Nor does it help when you say not all Muslims are jihadists, but because all jihadists are Muslim, we must profile Muslims as potential terrorists. Such profiling by any other name, would have a consequence on anyone of Muslim heritage, regardless of their actual beliefs or ideology.
Maryam pointed out conservative or orthodox Muslims are not the same as jihadists just because of their religious identity. Sam agreed that behaviour was key, but was adamant that if we did not go with all jihadists are Muslims, the authorities would be wasting time checking out the Amish congregation rather than a mosque. Maryam countered the real world does not work that way when assessing threats – the greatest issue is the resources put in place following up suspected targets who follow through with their deadly designs.
I had hoped the dialogue with Maajid Nawaz that became the book “Islam and the Future of Tolerance” might help – that Islamism and political allegiance to its ideals with support for jihadism, would be the behaviour that needed looking out for. Yet it was Maryam that brought that up first. Sam agreed.
When you say the identity of a religious believer or of a neo-Nazi makes profiling fair (as Sam did) the equivocation is not the same. Maryam pointed out you can make the case for similarities between Islamism and nazism, but not for Muslims. Sam once again agreed.
That was the pattern of conversation – Sam I agree, Maryam no we do not. Gone from the argument was Harris saying he should be profiled because of his age (as he did on the Rubin Report). The focus was on those identifying as Muslim. A civil rights discourse to show the problem with that in practise was attempted by Maryam.
Namazie expained the practical problems profiling posed – and how white supremacists would not be used to justify profiling white Christians. She also mentioned her experience of vetting immigrants. That would have been something to explore – the practicalities of policies in action. Instead, Sam wanted to stay on track because he wanted it taken back that his approach to such issues could ever be considered bigoted. That was the validation he seeked from Maryam, and when he did not get it from her, he suggested Maajid Nawaz agreed with him on a family to exclude from security, while they were both at an airport. It reminded me of Nathan Lean’s contemptible remark about Maajid being his “Muslim validator.”
When Sam suggested Tommy Robinson is being “pre stigmatised” but then had to admit he only knew what Robinson said on the Rubin Report, it was a defining moment. As in the past when Sam had suggested the only people talking sense on immigration are the far right, you come across as validating the wrong people in civil society. Some sections of the left did this with Islamists – the regressive left. Some on the right are now doing this with the far right in an attempt to have a new grouping of alliances.
Maybe Sam should know what the prestigmatising is: Tommy Robinson illegally entered the United States, has a string of criminal convictions: fraud, possession of a class A drug, kicking a police officer in the head, and has shown a talent for reinvention based on using anti-Muslim hate (see Robinson’s interview for his book “Enemy of the State”). If Sam can still be taken in by such a character, it may be from a misplaced sense of injustice. For Sam is often accused of hatred at people, rather than at religion and extremism.
The fallout from the podcast on social media shows the need for free spaces – to discuss ideas and have an exchange of views without worrying how you come across or how soundbites will be used, as you try to formulate your opinion. I genuinely am grateful Harris does this. He takes me out of my comfort zone, and stops me taking for granted the views and opinions I have. With Sam his intention is one thing, but how he communicates can let him down. He can also, as in his profiling anti-profiling, be inconsistent. And wrong.
Maryam tried to show we have to go beyond theorising and look at the real impact on people in society. Profiling and attitudes to immigrants affect ex Muslims as well as Muslims. When we challenge Islamist bigotry we do not need to use the bigoted language of the far right – especially if we have no intention of supporting them. Or else we are creating the friendly fire in the discourse and saying do not shoot back I was not aiming at you, you hurt me saying I shot you, would you mind not bleeding over me in response?
To support secular Muslims and ex Muslims, we need to be attentive to what they say about racism in society. We need to give them a voice.
Then we need to listen. And it is not going to necessarily make us feel comfortable.
Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog