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Showing posts with label racial profiling. Show all posts
Showing posts with label racial profiling. Show all posts

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. "