Security and profiling

John R. Richardson at Esquire discusses Sarah Palin’s comments about how she thinks political correctness prevented proper treatment of Dr. Hasan:

As usual, Sarah Palin captured the idea best. The occasion was her interview with Sean Hannity (a minute of which is shown above), who asked her if she thought that Ft. Hood killer was a terrorist.

“I certainly do,” Palin answered, “and I think that there were massive warning flags that were missed all over the place, and I think that it was quite unfortunate that, to me, it was a fear of being politically incorrect to not — I am going to use the word — profile this guy, profile in the sense of finding out what his radical beliefs were.”

Richardson correctly points out that this isn’t the real meaning of the word “profile” in this context. What she means, he argues, is investigate, which is really different than profiling. Profiling means that because of who is and his religion, we would subject him to scrutiny and surveillance the minute he showed up. His “major red flags”–which I assume were behavioral–are different. It’s the difference between the police saying “we pull over every black guy in a nice car” vs “we pull over every black guy (and every other guy) in a nice car going 80 mph.” One actually displays an evidentiary basis and probable cause, the other uses stereotype as evidence.

The key to social inclusion and justice in these instances is the focus on behavior, not identity, per se, and that focus on behavior goes both ways, as Richardson points out. It isn’t the case that, when moving to new countries, that immigrants should expect that their practices should rule public mores if they can’t be reasonably accommodated in existing cultural practice. It may be accepted that men beat their wives or children in their home country, but there are social contract reasons that invalidate that behavior in new contexts.

Let’s think of it this way: if I went on a shooting rampage tomorrow, would we then begin to argue for profiling of portly female professors? It’s doubtful. Palin routinely argues that she is part of an oppressed minority in the US: the religious right, and she shares a lot in common–superficially–with Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. The difference is that she is engaged in dialogue and deliberation, not antisocial behavior, and that distinction matters enormously in how society should treat difference.