On Herman Cain’s Muslim Remarks

By The Pajama Pundit | Related entries in Religion, Republicans

Over at The Daily Caller, there is a piece up that features Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN) commenting on Herman Cain’s famous ‘Muslim litmus test’. In his comments, Rep. Ellison makes the point that:

“Well, you got violent Christians and good Christians,” he said. “You got violent Jews and good Jews. You got people of all — what he said about Muslims is true for every community. So it’s absurd that he would make a distinction when it comes to Muslims. Look, Mr. Cain has made a lot of statements about his hostility toward the Muslim community. Now trying to backtrack but not doing a good job of it.”

Ellison offered some advice for Cain – to review the Pledge of Allegiance and what it means in terms of inclusiveness.

“I would ask him to say look, the Pledge of Allegiance said ‘and liberty and justice for all.’ ‘All’ means all and doesn’t mean ‘except one group or another.’ I would ask Herman Cain to review that Pledge of Allegiance he swears when he gets up.”

Okay. Pledge of Allegiance. Good argument Congressman — but let’s take it a step further, shall we?

Let me back up a bit. Here are Herman Cain’s comments from earlier this year on Fox News Channel:

[A] reporter asked me would I appoint a Muslim to my administration? I did say no. And here’s why. But the reporter didn’t tell you this.

I would have to have people totally committed to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of this United States. And many of the Muslims, they are not totally dedicated to this country. They are not dedicated to our Constitution. Many of them are trying to force Sharia law on the people of this country.

My emphasis.

Mr. Cain professes to have a strong affinity towards the Constitution of the United States of America.

So, my question to Mr. Cain is this: have you actually read the Constitution? In particular, Article VI, Paragraph III:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

Now, one could make the argument that White House staffers and Presidential appointees are not covered in this statement. But, my point is that, if Cain so highly regards the document, he should use it as a template for running his (hypothetical) administration.

If he’s going to use the U.S. Constitution as a guide in his decision-making, then there is no way that he should be comfortable with using religion as a factor in making staff appointments.

At the Republican Primary Debate in New Hampshire, Cain had to address this issue again:

[T]he statement was would I be comfortable with a Muslim in my administration, not that I wouldn’t appoint one. That’s the exact transcript.

And I would not be comfortable because you have peaceful Muslims and then you have militant Muslims, those that are trying to kill us.

And so, when I said I wouldn’t be comfortable, I was thinking about the ones that are trying to kill us, number one.

Secondly, yes, I do not believe in Sharia law in American courts. I believe in American laws in American courts, period. There have been instances -

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

CAIN: There have been instances in New Jersey — there was an instance in Oklahoma where Muslims did try to influence court decisions with Sharia law. I was simply saying very emphatically, American laws in American courts.

KING: So, on that point, Governor Romney let me come to you on this.

What Mr. Cain is saying that he would have — my term, not his — a purity test or a loyalty test. He would want to ask a Muslim a few question or a few questions before he hired them, but he wouldn’t ask those questions of a Christian or Jew.

CAIN: Sorry. No, you are restating something I did not say, OK? If I may, OK?

KING: Please let’s make it clear.

CAIN: When you interview a person for a job, you look at their — you look at their work record, you look at their resume, and then you have a one-on-one personal interview. During that personal interview, like in the business world and anywhere else, you are able to get a feeling for how committed that person is to the Constitution, how committed they are to the mission of the organization –

KING: When I asked — I asked this question the other night, though, you said you want to ask a Muslim those questions but you didn’t you have to ask them to a Christian or a Jew?

CAIN: I would ask certain questions, John. And it’s not a litmus test. It is simply trying to make sure that we have people committed to the Constitution first in order for them to work effectively in the administration.

The bizarre applause after the Sharia law comment aside, if Herman Cain had simply said the words that I have emphasized, I wouldn’t be writing this post. Looking at a person’s education and record should be the only factors used when deciding whether or not to hire them.

This idea that you need to administer a religious litmus test — because no matter how much he protests, that is what Cain is suggesting — is insanity, pure and simple.

Roger Simon has an excellent op-ed at POLITICO, and I think that his words are very poignant:

You want to live in a country that has a litmus test for Muslims? You want to live in a country that demands loyalty oaths from Muslims?

Fine. Today, it will be the Muslims. Tomorrow, it will be you.

Indeed.


This entry was posted on Thursday, June 16th, 2011 and is filed under Religion, Republicans. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

32 Responses to “On Herman Cain’s Muslim Remarks”

  1. Milo Says:

    We’re actually taking the time to talk about Herman Cain? This guy won’t even be a trivia answer two years from now.

  2. kranky kritter Says:

    Maybe we don’t need a litmus test. Or a purity test. I can agree with that . . . as long as this position isn’t used as a blunt instrument to bludgeon anyone who suggests that there might be some demonstarble reason to worry that a domestic muslim might be a radical islamist. There’s a nonzero probability, and IMO it’s unreasonable to regard all with equal suspicion when there’s reason to regard some with a little bit more. That’s human nature.

    What bothers me about this conversation is that, well, no one really seems to want to have it in an open and honest way. Some folks want to insist that all muslims have the right to be regarded with no more suspicion than anyone else when it comes to the potential for terrorism.

    That’s unrealistic, People will worry, and IMO that doesn’t make them racists. I don’t care what anyone says about that. We know for a fact that some muslims, especially Wahabbists, bear substantial hostility towards America, and advocate acting upon it. That’s troublesome enough for reasonable people to worry, and I don’t have a problem with folks giving some small measure of heightened scrutiny to muslims. That’s not racism, it’s just playing the percentages.

  3. Reda StCyr Says:

    To make a long story short “Bullshit”

  4. The Pajama Pundit Says:

    @Milo — Good point. Still, I think it’s important to speak out against people who would discriminate against a specific segment of the population. But, in the end, you are right; Herman Cain will very likely be a small footnote in the scheme of the 2012 election.

    @kranky — I’m glad we can agree. =) Seriously though, your point on human nature is well-taken. I know that some of my most liberal friends had guilty consciences when seeing a “Muslim-looking” person at the airport in the months following September 11th, 2001. Human nature indeed.

    However, I submit to you that in America you are innocent until proven guilty.

    The world in which we live is a dangerous place. There are those who would do us harm — BUT, that is not an excuse to advocate “purity tests” (as you put it) for one segment of the population to “prove” their love for our country.

    @Reda — I’m not sure what you are calling ‘bullshit’ on…

  5. Ghosty Kips Says:

    The possibility of encountering violent radical Christians is also non-zero.

  6. The Pajama Pundit Says:

    @Ghosty — you are joking, right? (that took all of 15 seconds to search on Google)

    Look, I’m not attacking Christians here. I’m just saying that there is no reason to single out certain groups — whether they be religious, ethnic, geographic, or otherwise.

  7. Gerryf Says:

    What bothers me about this conversation is that, well, no one really seems to want to have it in an open and honest way. Some folks want to insist that all muslims have the right to be regarded with no more suspicion than anyone else when it comes to the potential for terrorism.

    Ok kranky, I will take you at your word and believe you really want to have an open and honest discussion about this.

    This article is not about you. This is about Cain. There is no evidence that Cain wants to have the same conversation. Oh, sure, his people and he have tried to spin it a little since he first made his remarks, but if you are being honest you have to admit that is not his intent.

    He is making the emotional appeal to an at best still frightened party base and at worst racist, anti-Muslim contingent of the GOP. Either way, he is wrong to single out a group on one hand while waving the constitution that he sometimes confuses with the declaration of independence with the other.

    We don’t need a man like this as president.

  8. kranky kritter Says:

    Gerry, I thought it was pretty clear that I wasn’t defending Cain. But since you didn’t get that, let me be clear: I don’t support him in any way and regard him as a fringe vanity candidate with a slate of simplistic ideas that I find unappealing. No real insights beyond recycled and simplified conservative ideals.

    I was following up on Milo’s comment. I don’t take him seriously and not that many folks outside hardcore conservatism seem to either. But I do take the general conversation about how Americans regard muslims seriously. That’s why I turned the discussion in that direction. As I indicated before, I find certain conversation-ending positions on this issue to be irritating and counterproductive.

    However, I submit to you that in America you are innocent until proven guilty.

    The world in which we live is a dangerous place. There are those who would do us harm — BUT, that is not an excuse to advocate “purity tests” (as you put it) for one segment of the population to “prove” their love for our country.

    I’m really not sure what you mean here. It’s quite true that you are innocent until proven guilty. This relates to one’s potential conviction in a court of law. Our very important right to a presumption of innocence until proven guilty DOES NOT apply to suspicion. No one would ever be proven guilty unless we acted on suspicions to prove guilt, right?

    I don’t advocate “purity” tests. But I do advocate reasonable suspicion, and investigation on that basis. Anyone that understands probability understands that muslims have a somewhat higher than average association with anti-American terrorism. IMO, it’s Ok to both notice and act on this as long as one does so with an understanding that as you say, one deserves to be presumed innocent until shown guilty. Just like the rest of us, muslim Americans have (and deserve!) this presumption of innocence. This is IMo a very different thing from saying that muslims deserve to be presumed to be as above suspicion as an 81 year old non-muslim grandmother in a wheelchair.

    Why is it really so very hard for us to acknowledge that as a group, muslims have taken some actions which call for just a little more scrutiny, in general terms. How exactly this might manifest probably depends on the context. Muslim Americans certainly already enjoy substantial civil rights protections just like the rest of us, so I’m not worried about electronic scarlet letters solely on the basis of religious affiliation. But if I were an employer or an individual making a new muslim friend, I’d want to know a little more about them as a person as it relates to their religion. And that’s sensible.

  9. kranky kritter Says:

    I’ve been moderated.

  10. Nick Benjamin Says:

    @Milo
    Don’t be so quick to dismiss Cain. He’s fourth in the polls, with just under 10%, but his name recognition is also low. His net favorability ratings (inside the GOP) are very positive. This means he can increase his standing in the polls just by telling GOP voters he exists. He hasn’t peaked yet.

    OTOH a lot of his opponents have. Palin and Bachman are splitting 20%. Santorum, Gingrich, Huntsman, and TPaw are getting no traction. Giuliani is a no-hoper. Romney has issues with RomneyCare. The only other potential GOP candidate with upside as big as Cain is Rick Perry, and Perry isn’t officially a potential candidate yet.

    @kk
    Can you name a single demographic group that doesn’t have “a nonzero probability” of supporting anti-American terrorists of some type?

    The problem with Cain’s statement isn’t that it’s unreasonable in isolation, it’s that he’s not claiming everyone else has to swear that their first loyalty is to these United States. Think about it. Approximately half of terrorist attacks on American soil are perpetrated by conservative white people. Several American Jews have been caught sending Israel classified information. It’s very easy to imagine a scenario where an Irish-American judge refuses to extradite an IRA terrorist to the British. These are all “non-zero” probabilities.

    I agree that sometimes it’s hard not to be suspicious of Muslims on an emotional level. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to do what Cain’s doing, and claim the emotional suspicion justifies different treatment from the government, even in a job interview.

  11. The Pajama Pundit Says:

    @kranky — sorry about the moderation. I didn’t see the note in my mailbox until just now…

    …and you raise a good point about suspicious versus guilt.

    I guess the problem that I have with Cain’s (and others’) position is that they are saying Muslims should be treated differently (e.g. with a raised eyebrow of suspicion) based on something other than their actions.

    kranky, you said:

    Why is it really so very hard for us to acknowledge that as a group, muslims have taken some actions which call for just a little more scrutiny, in general terms.

    …and that makes sense, from a macro point-of-view.

    However, when hiring an individual, the actions/beliefs of a group should be irrelevant. One should not be suspicious of a person simply because other people who look like/sound like/worship the same deity as said individual do bad things.

    You also said:

    I don’t advocate “purity” tests. But I do advocate reasonable suspicion, and investigation on that basis.

    When I apply for a job, I would expect that the person(s) looking to hire would evaluate the applicants based on education and/or previous work experience. They would look at a candidate’s resume, conduct an interview and check their references. My guess is that if there is anything that should raise eyebrows, you would detect it (read: reasonable suspicion) in one of those settings, not by trying to figure out what church/mosque/synagogue the person attends.

    At no point should someone’s religious beliefs (or lack thereof) be a consideration.

  12. WHQ Says:

    You can pick any of a great number of demographic groups, perhaps tailored to a specific outcome, and say that that group has a higher-than-average propensity for some undesireable behavior. I could make the argument that men are far more likely than women to be rapists (or terrorists!). Does that then mean that I need to keep that in mind when hiring someone? Who shouldn’t I be suspicious of for some reason or another? Who doesn’t belong to a group that does this or that more than everyone else?

    When you decide that Muslims require more scrutiny or suspicion based on some undetermined, marginally greater propensity for terrorism, as opposed to some other groups undetermined, marginally greater propensity for some other nasty thing, that is predjudice and that is discrimination. It’s not racism, since being a Muslim is a matter of religion, but it’s just as bad.

    Even if it’s understandable (if not necessarily excusable), as racism sometimes is, that doesn’t mean it’s something other than what it is. You have to put this in the proper persepective within the wider context (which is quite wide), and, if you aren’t, it may be due to your own predjudicial thinking that you don’t notice the narrowness of your focus.

  13. WHQ Says:

    I have to add that there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. What percentage of them are terrorists? Is it statistically significant? Even if it is greater than percentage of non-Muslims that are terrorist, even if we narrow it down specifically to anti-American terrorists, is it really cause for specific concern when it comes to an individual Muslim? Seriously?

    This is IMo a very different thing from saying that muslims deserve to be presumed to be as above suspicion as an 81 year old non-muslim grandmother in a wheelchair.

    And what are we to do with the Muslim 81-year-old grandmother in a wheelchair? They do exist. What part matters – the 81-year-old grandmother part or the non-Muslim part?

  14. kranky kritter Says:

    First, let me remind everyone that I wasn’t defending Cain, but rather speaking in general terms about trying to have a conversation where we could all notice a bunch of different true things that belong as part of the conversation. As opposed to just skipping to the conclusion. Back to that in a minute.

    Second, let’s remember that Cain was talking about who he would have in his Presidential administration. Now, even though I disagree pretty strongly with Cain’s position as he stated it, I think we all understand that in that instance we’re certainly talking about a higher bar of scrutiny than for general employment. So in any of the cases where you’re talking in the context of Cain, the usual level of scrutiny you describe for a joe blow job, while sensible and agreeable, probably doesn’t apply. In other words, I’m just checking that we all get that while one’s muslim background quite likely isn’t worth scrutiny to enter data or man a reception desk, it’s a different game once we start talking about federal security clearances and so on, right?

    Back to the other.

    You can pick any of a great number of demographic groups, perhaps tailored to a specific outcome, and say that that group has a higher-than-average propensity for some undesireable behavior. I could make the argument that men are far more likely than women to be rapists (or terrorists!). Does that then mean that I need to keep that in mind when hiring someone? Who shouldn’t I be suspicious of for some reason or another? Who doesn’t belong to a group that does this or that more than everyone else?

    Fantastic point. Fantastic question. These raise the equally good question “who decides?” Is there any “one size fits all” standard for suspicion? We know there isn’t, right? Instead, a decision gets made based on its context. One standard at the mall, another at the airport, yet another to work at the FBI, And so on. Then, the decision gets made by a human. So mileage varies there, too. Some folks are more paranoid than others. So it goes. What criteria for suspicion do you approve of, and which deserve to be precluded? My sense is that you apply probability that’s relevant to a specific context, as best you can.

    When you decide that Muslims require more scrutiny or suspicion based on some undetermined, marginally greater propensity for terrorism, as opposed to some other groups undetermined, marginally greater propensity for some other nasty thing, that is predjudice and that is discrimination. It’s not racism, since being a Muslim is a matter of religion, but it’s just as bad.

    Of course its discrimination, which is something we do every day, imperfectly. Inaccurately. Suboptimally. Cheerfully granted. Every person discriminates based on some overall gestalt of perceived quality, including precognitive visceral “perceptions” with nearly every action they take. I do it when I buy toilet paper, watch tv, browse the internet, choose a restaurant seat or checkout line. And so on. To hire an employee, to pick the best from among many, is quite explicitly to intentionally discriminate. What we’re talking about is which “channels” are appropriate and acceptable to tune into while discriminating, right?

    Let me ask you this, in very good faith, as I hope it may help us both clarify what we think.

    Suppose I (or someone) has recently started a small business, and have reached a point where I need to hire a few folks to help out. I’ll be working pretty closely with the 1 or 2 people I hire, and relying on them for the continued survival of my business. One of the people I interview is clearly some sort of fairly recent immigrant from the middle east. He speaks with a slight accent. Maybe he wears a head scarf and loose fitting foreign-looking robe-like clothes. I dunno. Riffing here, so bear with.

    Obviously, as a good businessman, I have all sorts of directly relevant job-related questions…will you work hard, are you flexible on hours, how’s your driving record, etc, etc.

    But along with all that, maybe my strong impulse is to also want to know more about this person’s origins, the nature of his religion, how he feels about America, and say Wahabbists? Maybe I want to know whether he thinks his need to pray 5 times daily will interfere with the job, if he even does that. The answers I get just might bear on my willingness to hire him. Maybe I’m a blunt, straightforward, curious guy, for one, and need to feel out the person I’m going to work with. And my tenuous business is calling on me to be sure I have a good comfort level with my hire.

    Maybe I start out with a nice, “tell me a little bit about yourself?” But if that fails, just maybe I need to ask.

    So, do you think I am wrong to want to know such things? Do I, in your opinion, have no right to ask such questions?

  15. kranky kritter Says:

    I have to add that there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. What percentage of them are terrorists? Is it statistically significant? Even if it is greater than percentage of non-Muslims that are terrorist, even if we narrow it down specifically to anti-American terrorists, is it really cause for specific concern when it comes to an individual Muslim? Seriously?

    Estimates vary, but supposing 1.6 billion, all estimates of the number in the US (a range of 1 to 7 million) are that fewer than half of one percent of these live in the US. We’re talking about the US right? So, I just brought the probabilities down by between 3 and 4 orders of magnitude. Since we know that there were at least 20 terrorists in the US in 2001, we’re talking about odds of no lower than 20 in seven million, or 1 in 350,000. If there are 100 terrorists in the country now and only 1 million muslims instead of 7 million, the odds drop to 1 in 10 thousand. If 1000 terrorists, then 1 in a thousand, and so on. You tell me how any given individual is supposed to feel about such odds. How many people won’t have laser eye surgery because the complication rate is like 1 in a hundred?

    That’s to say nothing of muslims who might bear substantial antipathy to the United States. If I hire a muslim and then catch him smiling at footage of the WTC, would I be wrong to fire him? In other words, in a less inflammatory formulation, am I wrong to ask an immigrant how he likes it here?

    Let me be clear. I’m extremely comfortable that the vast majority of American muslims are regular folks. That’s to say, they care about their family, friends, and living a decent predictable life where they can have something decent for themselves if they work hard and honestly. They’re just like us in all the ways that matter. I strongly believe that people everywhere have way more in common than we have separating us, simply as a matter of human psychology.

    That doesn’t mean I want people not to play the percentages. You asked about statistical significance. As you point out, we are talking about VERY small numbers of bad actors from out of a much, much larger population. And, statistically, I agree that we all should take substantial comfort from that. (whether and why we do or don’t is another matter). But let’s look at the task of that airport security person. As you point out, the numbers of actual terrorists are small. Needles in haystacks. But at the same time, we are talking about someone who has been explicitly tasked with finding the one needle from a thousand haystacks. In that context, if the searcher has ANY criterion which offers a doubling, a tripling, or better of his odds, please explain why it shouldn’t be employed?

    And, would you at least agree that refraining from such methodology declares that detecting terrorists is a lower priority giving moral offense? Just asking, not saying that makes it wrong.

  16. kranky kritter Says:

    However, when hiring an individual, the actions/beliefs of a group should be irrelevant.

    Oh yes, right! Henceforth, let’s reform the official chicken coop hiring policy to end the longstanding discriminatory policy of not hiring foxes as guards. By all means, let us finally begin to treat foxes as the individuals we know them to be?

    Now, that’s a silly counterargument, I freely admit it. All foxes will eat chickens, they can’t help it, no vegans in that group. 100% probability.

    At the same time, the example clarifies the issue. It’s really a matter of how low the probability must gos before we feel comfortable rounding down to zero in the absence of known probable cause.

  17. WHQ Says:

    My sense is that you apply probability that’s relevant to a specific context, as best you can.

    Are we picking names randomly out of a bin and trying to guess if the person is a terrorist, or are we interacting with face to face human beings?

    What we’re talking about is which “channels” are appropriate and acceptable to tune into while discriminating, right?

    I guess. I think what where talking about is what is an appropriate basis upon which to discriminate – that is, to make decisions based on differences. If I were drafting players for my football team, I would certainly discriminate against crappy football players.

    So, do you think I am wrong to want to know such things? Do I, in your opinion, have no right to ask such questions?

    Maybe, maybe not. But it’s not a question of rights. You can ask whatever you like as far as I’m concerned, in terms of rights. That doesn’t bear on whether or not you’re being a bigot (not that necessarily I think you are).

    Since we know that there were at least 20 terrorists in the US in 2001, we’re talking about odds of no lower than 20 in seven million, or 1 in 350,000. If there are 100 terrorists in the country now and only 1 million muslims instead of 7 million, the odds drop to 1 in 10 thousand. If 1000 terrorists, then 1 in a thousand, and so on. You tell me how any given individual is supposed to feel about such odds.

    Are we assuming every terrorist in this country is a Muslim, regardless of how many terrorists there are? You tell me how I should feel about that assumption.

    In that context, if the searcher has ANY criterion which offers a doubling, a tripling, or better of his odds, please explain why it shouldn’t be employed?

    I wouldn’t try. But I think looking at people because you think they are Muslim, whether you’re right about that or not, distracts from looking at people who behave suspiciously and causes people who are Muslim (or who think others will think they are Muslim) to behave suspiciously even if they aren’t up to anything. It makes them needlessly nervous or angry or defensive, making them unwitting distractions from the need to screen people on anything other than a non-random basis. So I think it’s wrong to assume that targeting supposed Muslims does anything helpful to detect would-be terrorists, despite the undefined, marginal statistical basis for doing so.

    And, would you at least agree that refraining from such methodology declares that detecting terrorists is a lower priority giving moral offense?

    No. See above.

  18. WHQ Says:

    “non-random” should be “random.” Extra negative, that.

  19. The Pajama Pundit Says:

    Oh yes, right! Henceforth, let’s reform the official chicken coop hiring policy to end the longstanding discriminatory policy of not hiring foxes as guards. By all means, let us finally begin to treat foxes as the individuals we know them to be?

    Now, that’s a silly counterargument, I freely admit it. All foxes will eat chickens, they can’t help it, no vegans in that group. 100% probability.

    At the same time, the example clarifies the issue. It’s really a matter of how low the probability must gos before we feel comfortable rounding down to zero in the absence of known probable cause.

    Okay kranky — good point. Perhaps my argument was oversimplified.

    However, you cannot disagree that we should not hold someone accountable for the actions of a group to which they belong.

    For example, if I have a friend who is German and was born in 1920, should I assume that they were sympathetic to the Nazis? No.

    That’s why I think it comes down to the individual. In the case of hiring for a job (whether it’s low-level, or a top-level White House staffer), you look at the cumulative record of the individual.

  20. The Pajama Pundit Says:

    Post-script: this discussion is a prime example of why I love coming back to Donklephant. We are having a great discussion with nary an instance of “bomb-throwing and partisan hackery”.

    Good on you.

  21. kranky kritter Says:

    Yup. PP I agree 99.999%, you don’t hold individuals responsible for the actions of the group. As to hiring, I would go 100%. To the 0.001%, what I do think that it would be plausible and honest to say to an individual American muslim, say a good friend with whom you can have a real discussion? I’d like to be able to say that he or she should take some small responsibility for representing the peaceful and responsible version of islam that rejects say wahabbism, as opposed to say remaining silent during say a muslim in-group bitch session about the challenges that muslims face in America. Did I describe that right? It’s no more than I’d expect of myself in any sort of similar situation.

    Not sure if I’m getting it across. All I’d hope is that muslims value their own faith well enough not to stand for being bullied into silence by vocal extremists. Which is far from easy. Not everyone can do it, but if you can’t, you know in your heart it’s a small failing when you choose to go along to get along. That’s really the only sort of manifestation of individual responsibility for group behavior that makes sense to me.

    I also agree that this has been a good discussion, which i am more likely to get here than some other places. Let me give a plug, one other really good place for that is Sol Kleinsmith’s “Rise of the Center.” It’s the only other place I’ve found for independents that has a decent critical mass of subjects and open-minded thinkers more interested in potential insight than in winning an argument. The critical mass is crucial. You need content and readers and talkers for it to work.

  22. Tully Says:

    Fallacy of generalization. Falls apart when not all members of the group exhibit uniform behavior. All foxes will eat chickens; not all or even most Muslims will be terrorists or promote Shariah law standards be incorporated into the American legal code.

    Aside from that, what Milo said in the first comment. :-)

  23. kranky kritter Says:

    Are we picking names randomly out of a bin and trying to guess if the person is a terrorist, or are we interacting with face to face human beings?

    I think we’ve discussed both, right?

    I guess. I think what where talking about is what is an appropriate basis upon which to discriminate – that is, to make decisions based on differences. If I were drafting players for my football team, I would certainly discriminate against crappy football players.

    I think we’ve agreed here.

    Are we assuming every terrorist in this country is a Muslim, regardless of how many terrorists there are? You tell me how I should feel about that assumption.

    I think I was talking about the real actual probabilities based on a range of assumptions. because you brought them up and asked me. I gave a good faith answer to your question, even though you may have imagined it was a rhetorical question following what you thought was a powerful refutation of what I’d said earlier. I just did some back of the envelope math to answer your question.

    But it’s a good question, worth exploring other questions it raises. I can cheerfully agree with your implication that it’s a mistake to assume that only muslims might be terrorists. History shows this isn’t true. How should this acknowledgment bear upon the question of whether to act upon possibly divergent probabilities? That’s a real tough one, I think we’d agree?

    Indulge me by giving a direct good faith answer to a very sensitive and hard to answer question. Do you think that a randomly chosen muslim in America is more likely to be a terrorist or terrorist sympathizer than a non-muslim? I’m asking what you think, presuming that we both agree that a data-based answer is, let’s face it, still something of a wild guess. I’m asking you to set aside an answer like “it’s 100% unknowable” and tell me your thoughts.

    In that context, if the searcher has ANY criterion which offers a doubling, a tripling, or better of his odds, please explain why it shouldn’t be employed?

    I wouldn’t try.

    Pleas try, or at least explain your basis for refusal.

    But I think looking at people because you think they are Muslim, whether you’re right about that or not, distracts from looking at people who behave suspiciously

    Seems to me they need not be mutually exclusive approaches. If you are charged with needle searching, an ultra-low-probability task, multivariate approaches are part of the nature of the job. Surely a searcher can run both subroutine A “look a bit more closely at muslims” and subroutine B “keep an eye out for suspicious behavior listed on list x” with relative ease. Seriously, how hard is that? Especially given that less than 100 of Americans is muslim. Running subroutine B is going to predominate without there even being a potential conflict.

    and causes people who are Muslim (or who think others will think they are Muslim) to behave suspiciously even if they aren’t up to anything. It makes them needlessly nervous or angry or defensive, making them unwitting distractions from the need to screen people on anything other than a non-random basis.

    That’a very cogent point. I agree with all of it except “needlessly.”

    So I think it’s wrong to assume that targeting supposed Muslims does anything helpful to detect would-be terrorists, despite the undefined, marginal statistical basis for doing so.

    I guess maybe that’s the answer I was looking for. But I don’t entirely get your reasoning. You seem to acknowledge that there may be some small statistical basis, yet you deny this does anything helpful. That seems like a conflict. Care to add anything?

    And, would you at least agree that refraining from such methodology declares that detecting terrorists is a lower priority giving moral offense?

    No. See above.

    Especially given the conflict embedded in your answer above, it seems to me that you already implicitly answered ” Yes.” My now reinforced impression is that you acknowledge that there may be some very small added statistical benefit to finding terrorists by giving muslims more scrutiny. But that this benefit is outweighed by the emotional harm done to muslims.

    Or is it the case that you really do think that the supposed distraction of targeting muslims really does adversely impact the general search among the entire population enough to negate any gains? It really seems quite unlikely to me that in a low probability search, the searcher would be unable to simultaneously entertain multiple suspicion hypotheses.

  24. WHQ Says:

    Do you think that a randomly chosen muslim in America is more likely to be a terrorist or terrorist sympathizer than a non-muslim?

    If I had to guess, I’d say yes. But, as I wrote before, the difference is undefined and marginal. I think we’re talking about very small differences between very small probabilities. That’s my point, really. If I thought, say, 1 in 10 Muslims was a terrorist, I’d be looking at Muslims pretty hard. But I don’t think that or anything remotely approaching it is true. I think the probability that a given (assumed?) Muslim is a terrorist is so small that it doesn’t matter, regardless of whether it’s marginally greater than the probability that a non-Muslim is.

    Pleas try, or at least explain your basis for refusal.

    Because I wouldn’t want to. If I really thought the rate of terrorist-detection success could be doubled or tripled (putting aside some unreasonably bad consequence for doing so, since we’re talking in the abstract), I wouldn’t argue against whatever method could acheive that. More below.

    Or is it the case that you really do think that the supposed distraction of targeting muslims really does adversely impact the general search among the entire population enough to negate any gains?

    That is what I think. First, how do you know if someone is a Muslim? And, if you’re targeting Muslims, wouldn’t that make terrorists try to look not so Muslim, perhaps recruiting the least “Muslim-looking” among them? So going after people who “look Muslim” isn’t necessarily going to get you the right Muslims, and will probably get you a good number of non-Muslims. That is beyond what I already wrote about Muslims or “Muslim-looking” people, even if they aren’t actually Muslim (I’ve been there – enough southern-Italian and southern-Spanish ancestry that I can easily pass for Arab), being stressed out at screening locations regardless of their lack of terroristic intentions, but looking suspicious because they are stressed out. You must have a very high opinion of airport screeners (which is what I think we’ve sort of landed on here – no pun intended) to think that they are that good at picking Muslims out based on appearance and that they can discriminate between [people who are nervous because they think they might look like terrorists to others] and [people who are nervous because they are terrorists].

    So, how do you pick out Muslims?

  25. kranky kritter Says:

    By appearance and name and perhaps accent would be the only way for an airport screener to occasionally or usually get in the right neighborhood.

  26. WHQ Says:

    So, we should imperfectly discriminate against a religious group based on an undefined statistical basis? That doesn’t sound like America to me, or, at least, it shouldn’t.

  27. WHQ Says:

    Based on a basis. I must proof-read more.

  28. kranky kritter Says:

    When someone’s job is to do a low probability search, we shouldn’t preclude them from using tools that up their chances of success. Unless, say, those tools cause demonstrable concrete harm.

    You’ve consecutively suggested that muslims should not receive ANY enhanced scrutiny and then suggested that it couldn”t really be done. If you really believe the latter, why be so concerned about the former?

    Here’s the thing about airport security IMo. It’s a nearly total waste of time and resources. There was only one thing that needed to happen to make it virtually impossible for some group to successfully hijack a plane and use it as a suicide missile. And that thing was for someone to do it. I expect to go my lifetime without seeing it happen on a domestically originated flight ever again. I have serious doubts anyone will even try.

    And here’s the thing about domestic terrorism. I don’t think there are hardly any serious active organized terrorist groups in our country of any flavor. If there are, then they are uncreative, unmotivated, untalented, and lacking in means and opportunity. We know this because there just aren’t any incidents ([Leaving aside solo kooks, which IMo don't count in the category we're considering.] No group sets a mall on fire or blows up a bridge or a coffee shop or hijacks a bus or slaughters 20 people at a family cookout in the name of allah or white power. No one has murdered dozens at a lesbian wedding. Or a christian fellowship meeting.

    To me that means we’re pouring tons of resources into making ourselves feel safe from actions that are extraordinarily unlikely to happen. But once you DO devote the resources and ask thousands of people to try to screen for likely terrorists, it still seems preposterous to me to preclude them from using one of the very few known potential red flags. To me it feels like you are complaining about false positives even when we know that’s overwhelmingly the likeliest result of every potential screen performed.

  29. WHQ Says:

    To me it feels like you are complaining about false positives even when we know that’s overwhelmingly the likeliest result of every potential screen performed.

    I’m complaining about religious discrimination based on a likely insignificant and undefined statistic. I’m complaining about a lack of effectiveness that goes beyond simply resulting in false positives to the point of causing false positives. I’d go further to say that such discrimination increases the likelihood of alienation that causes people to lash out at the alienating society.

    Otherwise, I agree with most of what you just wrote.

  30. kranky kritter Says:

    Well, you’ve made several good arguments here. If one feels (as I do) that the vast and possibly unending ramp up of resources to better secure our airports is a waste, then that raises the question of identifying the point where the enterprise becomes a farce.

    The more I think about it, the more persuaded I am by the idea (which you mentioned and I had already considered) that it’s extremely unlikely to matter one way or the other when the probabilities are so vanishingly small as we think they are.

    That does still leave the matter of the sanity of the actors in the farce. For example, If I were a screener and believed as I do, I’d have to choose between playing my farcical role while rubberstamping every screenee, or else adopting the pretense that nothing less than maximum possible vigilance is acceptable. And if I took door #2, then all the stuff I said above would still follow, I think.

    Plus, any screener is going to screen when their highly subjective visceral radar goes off. So lots of screeners are going to run that muslim ID subroutine subconsciously regardless of what they tell themselves they do. Unless they worry about that and then consciously avoid screening anyone that they think they’ve identified as suspicious because they feel they might be muslim. Which all gets pretty idiotic pretty fast. Again, where does it become a farce?

    Anyway, thanks for giving me a lot to think about. Next time I have a pear cider, I’ll quaff one for you too. It’s that season up here in MA.

  31. WHQ Says:

    So lots of screeners are going to run that muslim ID subroutine subconsciously regardless of what they tell themselves they do. Unless they worry about that and then consciously avoid screening anyone that they think they’ve identified as suspicious because they feel they might be muslim. Which all gets pretty idiotic pretty fast.

    Yes, there’s that, too. That, I think, gets into what’s official policy and what sort of emphasis there is in training. How hard do you try to prevent individuals from profiling, consciously or subconsciously, beyond whatever the policy might be? I’d think the emphasis should be on what behaviors to look out for, regardless of who exhibits them, without making screeners feel gun shy about selecting apparent Muslims who exhibit those behaviors. But it’s never going to be perfect either way.

    Cheers!

  32. sam Says:

    Cain got it right the first time:

    I would have to have people totally committed to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of this United States. And many of the Muslims, they are not totally dedicated to this country. They are not dedicated to our Constitution. Many of them are trying to force Sharia law on the people of this country.

    The fight over Sharia law is raging through Europe, and it is getting louder here too. There is no compromise here. Support the Constitution as written or you cannot serve. Has nothing to do with religion.

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