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Showing posts with label Hamira Khan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hamira Khan. Show all posts

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Utoeya, Oslo and racial profiling

When I replied to Hamira Khan’s defence of racial profiling of Asians at Glasgow Airport, both in the online Herald and in by blog, Racial profiling and Hamira Khan  on the 15th of July, I gave as the example, to highlight the logical contradiction of racial profiling, of a crime committed by a red-haired man. When the horrific news of the Utoeya massacre and the Oslo bomb broke, the usual anti-Muslim commentators immediately tried to lay it at Al Quaeda’s door, without a scrap of evidence, and then had to swallow some very sour grapes when the terrorist was revealed to be a tall, blonde, blue-eyed native of Norway with a far-right, anti-Muslim agenda.

My red-haired man had become a blonde, but we can safely assume that tall, blonde, blue-eyed men of Nordic appearance will not be subject to stop and search and general harassment by the authorities.

(Do I think Al Quaeda capable of such an atrocity? Of course, I do - the terrorist mindset crosses political, racial, national, religious and ideological boundaries.)

In the frenzy of analysis, recrimination and comment that followed, the sound of stable doors being shut after the horses had bolted were deafening. We have the same kind of thing after every outrage, with the same fruitless results, all avoiding the inevitable conclusion that there is no defence against random acts of terror, any more than there is against a lightning strike, that is to say, there is no defence that does not involve an attack on fundamental democratic freedoms that effectively increases the likelihood of terrorism. (For example, do we imprison people for what they might do, rather than what they actually do? The answer has notoriously been yes  in some instances.)

The increase in the number of terrorist attacks post 9/11 was a direct result of the invasion of Afghanistan, and subsequently the war crime of Iraq. We owe 7/7, the Glasgow airport incident, and other acts of terror, to the profoundly misconceived actions of Tony Blair and George W. Bush, among others.



After my blog, but before Utoeya and Oslo, I received an email from an American reader, and I now have his/her permission to reproduce it , which I have edited to protect his/her identity.

Edited extract

Thought you might be interested in an experience I had over profiling.  Was racial? I don’t know - mostly the motivation seemed to be to present a soft target to show the American taxpayer where their tax dollars were going I think.

I do a lot of international travelling mostly from (American city) in  (American state). For a period of time a few years back, the airport security lot had a great wheeze. After checking passports, they'd pull someone out ‘at random’ from the screening queue to go through special screening. That person was reduced to stocking soles, with pockets turned out (literally), carry-on bags completely emptied, stuff minutely checked, and laid out for the display to the other passengers arrayed in a semi-circular queue (easily up to 100 persons) around the hapless soul who was picked.

After five nabs on the trot at ‘random’ I opined that clearly I must fit the profile, to which the officer (in those days always very polite and affable) said with all sincerity that I was mistaken. I pointed out some basic maths to her and explained if the pick and choose was random then I should play the lottery that day 'cause the odds were shorter that I would win a chunk of change before being picked at ‘random’ that day - again.

My profile:

In those days I had a work visa (H1b) which could be rescinded at the stroke of a bureaucrat's pen. I am a citizen of a friendly (i.e. sycophantic) nation whose consulate was unlikely to do anything if I complained to them. I did not have a senator nor congressman to take my case on - in short, I was a foreigner.

I did point out, however, that I had an immigration lawyer, who was an American citizen, who did have both a congressman and a senator, and who would take my observation forward at my insistence. I asked the security lady to take note of my name and tell her supervisor what I had said. After that, I had no more random stop and searches. Funny that, I thought.

A question of de jure vs de facto? - if I've got my Latin tags right …

Anyway, all that said, don't get me wrong, USA's been very good to me and mine.

However, I do believe that all the searching and herding that goes on in airports really is more to do with trying to give folk the feeling that the authorities know what they are about and they are weeding out dangerous people from the traveling public.

(A commercial pilot of my acquaintance pointed out to me that they get even stricter screening when they turn up for work.  How dopey is that? )

The answer to all this is twofold: firstly, like the war on drugs, the airport security is now a big business industry and will never go away no matter how ineffective it is - just like the war on drugs.

Secondly, I'm sure the most effective screening is in intelligence gathering and analysis. I'd rather have the resources from the first diverted into the second but only if we want to be serious about safe travel.


My thanks to my anonymous correspondent. His/her account has the unmistakable ring of authenticity and real experience, and his/her analysis is spot on. I still entertain the probably vain hope that our intelligence services, police and politicians will learn something from these and similar experiences. We can certainly learn from them in Scotland, because we are not yet consumed by the blind paranoia and hatred of the other that characterises the war states of the US and the UK, and we have demonstrated our compassion, spectacularly and controversially, in the Megrahi release.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Racial profiling and Hamira Khan

Yesterday’s Herald online carried a piece by Hamira Khan with the title - I’m a Glasgow-based Muslim and ethnic minorities should stop moaning about extra airport checks.

For once, the Herald has carried a headline that exactly reflects the content below it - it encapsulates Hamira Khan’s message to all ethnic minorities, not just her own Asian ethnic minority, namely, accept racial profiling by the police and security authorities.

(Hamira gets the term ethnic minority right in the headline, but gets confused in her penultimate paragraph, saying that “Scotland has a large ethnic population”. Scotland’s entire population is ethnic, Hamira - what you presumably meant to say was that Scotland has a large number of ethnic minorities who form a significant part of the population.)

Before I address her position on racial profiling, it is important to know a bit more about Hamira, because she is in some respects a public figure, and her words therefore have a resonance beyond that of an ordinary citizen. Because of this, one would expect her to consider carefully the impact of what she has chosen to say publicly.

Here’s what she says about herself on her website Hamira Khan - Profile

She is a prominent Scottish Tory, and was chosen to fight Glasgow East at the 2010 general election. She is also the chief officer of the Scottish Youth Parliament.

Hamira opens her piece with a simplistic and inaccurate generalisation -

“Until Saturday 30 June 2007, al-Qaeda threats, extremists and war on terror were simply words to us in Scotland.

We all did - and still do have - our own interpretation of what these words mean, however the mutual factor which historically brought us together was that these problems were elsewhere and didn’t really affect us in Scotland.”

I don’t know where Hamira was on the 9th of September 2001, or when the US and the UK  occupied Afghanistan  0r when the illegal Iraq invasion commenced in 2003, but to a helluva lot of people in Scotland, including me, these problems, and the reality of Al Quaeda were not “elsewhere and didn’t really affect us” - they were a deeply disturbing political development that threatened world peace and was sucking the UK - and Scotland with it - into the cycle of death and destruction that it produced, including the inevitable consequence of terrorism being brought to our doorstep, as it was with 7/7 and our own incident in Glasgow Airport.

Hamira Khan homes in on Kenny MacAskill, who has little experience of the world of motivational consultancy in Dubai, but a deep knowledge of Scottish law, derived from practice as a senior partner in a law firm, and as Scotland’s Justice Minister, about the justice system, the police, and their impact on crime and intelligence gathering in Scotland.

But to Hamira, when the Justice Minister tells an audience in Pollokshields Burgh Hall with concerns about apparent racial profiling by the police, that he will attempt to find out exactly how much counter intelligence has been delivered by such methods, he is not investigating a notoriously unreliable technique of policing - illegal in some countries - but trying to make pleasing comments to a possibly hostile audience.

Hamira is entirely happy with racial profiling, however, and uses her credentials as a member of an ethnic minority to give credibility to her support. In essence, she says that she and her husband are Asians, and are happy to be singled out from the mass of travellers in Glasgow Airport because of that fact and that fact alone. Ergo, it must be OK, and other ethnic minorities should just stop moaning and accept it.

She asks a question that deserves an answer - “However you tell me which country in the world does not practise racial profiling?”

A definition: Racial profiling refers to the use of an individual’s race or ethnicity by law enforcement personnel as a key factor in deciding whether to engage in enforcement.

In the US, racial profiling is an infringement of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, the bedrock of civil rights in America. President George W. Bush - not everyone’s idea of a prominent defender of human rights said to Congress in 2001 that racial profiling was “ … wrong, and we will end it in America. In so doing, we will not hinder the work of our nation's brave police officers. They protect us every day -- often at great risk. But by stopping the abuses of a few, we will add to the public confidence our police officers earn and deserve."

In 2002, well after 9/11 and after the invasion of Afghanistan, the US Attorney General, John Ashcroft said "This administration... has been opposed to racial profiling and has done more to indicate its opposition than ever in history. The President said it’s wrong and we’ll end it in America, and I subscribe to that. Using race… as a proxy for potential criminal behavior is unconstitutional, and it undermines law enforcement undermining the confidence that people can have in law enforcement."

In 2003, months after the invasion of Iraq, the US Department of Justice forbade the use of racial profiling by Federal law enforcement agencies. Many US states require special statistics to be gathered on all stop and search procedures to monitor the possibility of racial profiling being applied.

American television drama series, such as the acclaimed Law and Order series, have dramatised the dangers of racial profiling.

The ACLU, the American Council for Civil Liberties is opposed to racial profiling, drawing from their deep and painful experience of racial discrimination against American blacks.

But Hamira might find some support for her position in Canada, where there is a growing concern among ethnic minorities over apparent racial profiling of black aboriginals.

In Europe in 1992, one Rosalind Williams, an African-American by ethnic group and a naturalised Spanish citizen had her identity document demanded of her by a police officer, who when challenged, said he was following orders - he has stopped her solely because of the colour of her skin. It took Roslalind 18 years to get a landmark ruling from the United Nations Human rights committee Open Society Justice Initiative in 2009, but she still has not received an apology from the Spanish Government.


If witnesses to a crime attested that it had been committed by a red-haired man who had fled the scene, police conducting a search in the vicinity might have reasonable grounds for stopping red-haired men and questioning them. However, if a series of crimes had been committed by red-haired men at different times and in different place (as doubtless happens every day, together with crimes committed by red-haired women, blondes brunettes, albinos and totally bald persons), it would be extraordinary if police were legally empowered to stop, question and search all red-haired men wherever they were to found - in airports, lurking near public buildings, using cameras near power stations or near military installations, etc.

Hamira’s reasoning, which seems to run something like “terrorists were involved in a single incident in Glasgow Airport were Muslims and Asians, so all Asians or those of Asian appearance must be assumed to be Muslims and therefore potential terrorists” is deeply flawed, and her defence of racial profiling on that basis is, bluntly, dangerous and demeaning not only to her own ethnic group and to a religious affiliation that is not bounded by race of ethnic grouping or nationality, but to all ethnic minorities, and let’s face it, to any ethnic minority who may be pigeonholed and stereotyped by the colour of their skin and/or their mode of dress.

Hamira Khan is a motivational consultant, a PR consultant and “a communications specialist”. Her communication in this instance has motivated me to an extended blog, and frankly, a feeling of revulsion at her views, which, of course she has a right to hold and express.

She is also a prominent Scottish Tory. Although such views have always represented a segment of Tory opinion, I had hoped Scottish Tories might be free of them. If their electoral fortunes are to revive in Scotland, they must repudiate them. And for the record, I think the Scottish Youth Parliament should express a view on them, coming as they do, albeit in a private capacity, from its Chief Operating Officer.

I took Hamira Khan's version of event at Pollokshields Burgh Hall as accurate - I shouldn't have. Here is Aamer Anwar's version of events, as quoted in the Herald online comment on Hamira's piece -

Aamer Anwar: "It would help if Hamira had her facts right, firstly Kenny Mackaskill did no such thing but said we needed the terror laws for a reason and it was unfortunate if there were instances of people being abused, but we had to strike the right balance.It was in fact myself that robustly challenged the police to produce statistics. "