Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Civil Rights Lynched in Seattle!! Racial Profiling Runs Amok!!

Not really.

In fact, there hasn't been all that much fuss about this matter, aside from the usual opinions in discussion threads. "Ferries of the World » Northwest US Ferries » Ferry threats" (thread started May 8, 2007) had this entry, posted Aug 21, 2007:

"... I can't help but question the possibility of racial profiling bringing this to air and if this would be made into a news item as widely distributed as it has been if these fellows were caucasian, .... "

This is a photo of the two 'non-Caucasian' men that appeared in that thread (and a great many other places on the Web).

I think I know what the person who wrote that meant.

However, before going any further, I'll touch on a problem with definitions that many people seem to have.

"Caucasian" - That Means Tall, Blond, and Blue-Eyed, Right?

Many people seem to think that "Caucasian" means English, German, Scandinavian, or (maybe) French. You know: tall, blond people with blue eyes and a serious need for a good sunblock.

Okay, I acknowledge that many people use "Caucasian" as a synonym for "white." And that their notion of "white" is rather restrictive.

Out here, "Caucasian" is an obsolete word used by Anthropologists a few generations back. Here's what the American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language has to say about "Caucasian," in part: "Of or being a major human racial classification traditionally distinguished by physical characteristics such as very light to brown skin pigmentation and straight to wavy or curly hair, and including peoples indigenous to Europe, northern Africa, western Asia, and India. No longer in scientific use."

Take a look at that photo again. Unless they're very odd representatives of whereever they're from, both of those men are Caucasian. For that matter, Osama bin Laden is Caucasian. So is the rank and file of the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and, to the best of my knowledge, almost the entire population of Islamabad.

Back to that photo: Those two men don't look like they came from a Bundt meeting, or are named Sven and Lars. But let's use the right words: They're almost certainly Caucasian.

But the FBI Was Looking For Them! Isn't that Profiling?

Now, as to why the FBI was so interested in them: they fit the profile of terrorists, to some extent.

It has nothing to do with the way they looked. It was what they were doing. Most tourists don't nose around a ferry, take pictures of everyday objects and scenes, and show a great interest on how many cars the ferry can hold.

That's because most tourists don't come from a place where there aren't any ferries. These two were very impressed by the transportation technology they were on, and learning as much about it while they had a chance.

If I were traveling around these days, I'd probably be stopped a few times in every city I went to. That's because I'm very interested in architecture and civic engineering.

I'd be photographing the underside of bridges, subway entrances and stations, warehouses, and quite a few other things that no normal tourist would look twice at.

I'd be detained - and released, after the authorities figured out that I was harmless - not because I have a full beard and a big nose, and often wear dark glasses in full sunlight. I'd be stopped because I was acting like someone collecting intelligence before an attack.

Those two businessmen saw their photos in the news, and very sensibly checked in with American authorities. Then, having established that they were tourists with a difference, they went on their way.

That's using common sense.

Racial Profiling? Get a Grip

Like it or not, there are people in this world who are not very nice. In fact, sometimes they're downright naughty.

For example, someone set off a bomb by a FedEx building recently, and another bomb went off outside the Federal building in San Diego ("FBI comparing blasts for links " (SignOnSanDiego.com (May 6, 2008)). The two blasts may or may not be linked.

Nobody got hurt, but it could have turned out differently.

Meanwhile, it's just a matter of time before someone affiliated with the Taliban, Al Qaeda, or a related group, takes a shot at killing lots of people they don't approve of. Those of us who are likely to be on the receiving end of this lethal attention would be well-advised to lay off random accusations of "racial profiling" and "invasion of privacy."

If you really think you're being picked on because you look like this Minnesotan with the beard and the big nose, fine: make a complaint.

But please, don't assume that every investigation of a non-blond who takes pictures of a bridge from odd angles is "racial profiling."

And Now, an Excerpt from The Seattle Times

"Business consultants ID'd as mystery men on WA state ferry"
The Seattle Times (May 6, 2008)

"Two European Union business consultants have been identified as the mystery men who raised security concerns when they were seen taking photographs aboard a Washington state ferry last summer.

"The men went to a U.S. embassy two weeks ago after seeing photographs of themselves that the FBI released to the news media in an effort to identify them, FBI agents said.

"Fearing they would be arrested if they traveled to the United States, the pair presented paperwork that established their identities, employment and their reason for being in Seattle, according to an FBI news release."

Profiling? I doubt it, but that photo (repeated in "Washington State Ferry + Two Tourists + FBI = Much Ado About Nothing / FBI identifies mystery men seen aboard Washington State ferries as tourists" (eTurboNews (May 6, 2008))) shows two young men who might, possibly, be considered "suspicious looking" based simply on appearance. The point is, it wasn't what they looked like, it was what they were doing that attracted attention.

Related posts, on tolerance, bigotry, racism, and hatred.


Brigid said...

Though they were acting suspiciously. I think that's the main reason they were suspected. Otherwise they probably wouldn't have warranted a blink of an eye.

Brian H. Gill said...


Thank you for your comment.

Yes, they were acting suspiciously. Quite understandably, once their background was known: but outwardly they acted like agents collecting intelligence.

For that matter, so have I, on many occasions. Thankfully, that was before 9/11.

And no, I doubt that those two would have gotten a second look.

(Many people seem to forget that America hasn't been a WASP preserve for decades. Even the small Minnesota town where I live isn't the German-Irish mix it was fifty years ago.

Case in point: My wife and I were at the elementary school this afternoon. As we approached the office, a little girl came out and hurried past us, down the hall. I don't know her, or her family, but I've seen members of the family around for several years. My guess, based on their appearance, is that their ancestors are from India - and not that melanin-deprived bunch.

People who don't look like they came from northwestern Europe are all over. Most of us are used to it by now.)

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.