Is My Name is Khan timely or out of sync with the times?

A specter is haunting the world, the specter of radical Islam! Yes there is centuries of history behind this, and we can do all the ‘they did, we did’ that we want, but don’t you think at some point someone has to stop and say “This is here and now!! I do not care about the Crusades or the Shaka, Hun, Kushan and Moghul invaders. Why? Because we are supposed to learn from history, and not treat it like a vendetta record book.”

Muslims, or followers of Islam, are 1.6 billion strong and live all over the world, with the largest Muslim population in India! In this country Muslims have co-existed with the Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and other religions for almost 9 centuries. In this secular country the birthdays of Buddha, Mohammed, Jesus and Gandhi are all celebrated as national holidays! The partition of India at independence rent the fabric of co-existence and created a situation where there were Muslims on either side of the border in India and in Pakistan. Were there patriots and traitors amongst them? It is hard to imagine that a man’s personal belief and conscience would be completely subjugated to his religious beliefs, but I have no doubt that it happened many a times on both sides. But then we also had Hindus play traitor to the motherland and turn British informers during the Raj. No attempt to strike at the British was successful in achieving its aim, be is Kakori or the Saunders murder, because there were always informers ready to give up the revolutionaries! Patriotism and its opposite, being a traitor, cut across religious divides in history.

Cutting to present times, we are faced with a serious threat to the fabric of society. Radical Islam has reared its head, dusted off the history books and wants vendetta for all historical ills dating even further back than the crusades! And it is not afraid to send emissaries far and wide to disrupt the non-Islamic way of life. That the current threat is from one religion, albeit a radicalized faction or factions of it, is hard to deny. So what do we do to combat this threat? Is the answer to view every Muslim askance? To be afraid to sit next to a bearded Muslim male on an airplane? To be “vigilant” and eye your neighbors of another culture or religious preference with suspicion?

Yes, the courts may decide that there is equal protection under law:
[W]hile the officers’ discretion in deciding whom to arrest is certainly broad, it cannot be exercised in a racially discriminatory fashion. For example, a police officer can’t investigate and arrest blacks but not whites, or Asians but not Hispanics. Police can’t discriminate on the basis of the victim’s race, either…. [T]here is no right to state protection against madmen or criminals, but “[t]here is a constitutional right … to have police services administered in a nondiscriminatory manner — a right that is violated when a state actor denies such protection to disfavored persons.

But how does this translate in real terms to the American context? How does “authority” treat people across the racial divide? Here it seems reasonable to use race as a surrogate for religion as in both instances we are dealing with the unfamiliar and a skewed perception of the people within the category. In San Diego a Hispanic looking male dating a white woman, may still be pulled up and his papers examined! In LA a young black university student may still have enough self-preservation instincts to throw down his back-pack and lie on the ground with his arms out when he hears the words “Halt!!” Better to eat some dirt than get shot for resisting arrest! Is this profiling of sorts? Of course it is. Is it justified? Who in their right minds can say so?

How can it be fair to let a majority of innocent people pay for the sins of a few fanatic elements? Is this not what the fanatics want? Do they not want to disrupt the normal fabric of life and make it such that we eye each other with suspicion, curtail collaborations and initiate confrontations, and generally get so bogged down in the minutiae of who is who that we stop functioning? But there is the flip side to this argument too. If you work on limited financial and personnel resources, why not profile? If all terror attacks on US soil have been Islamic, why not focus you attention on Muslims and save the effort of interrogating/searching others who just are not in the type group? Two incidents shed some light on these questions.

Does the system in place work? A Waupaca woman finds herself in the middle of a major security investigation at Cleveland’s airport.
Kimmy Janke had gone through security. In fact, she was in a secure part of the terminal when she stopped to go to the bathroom before making her connecting flight.
That’s when she found a loaded handgun. . . . A Cleveland police report confirms a fully-loaded .40-caliber pistol was left on top of a toilet paper dispenser.
“A little kid could have grabbed that. The wrong person could have grabbed that. You never know,” Janke said.
We’ve since learned the gun was traced to a federal customs agent. Customs officials have denied all requests to explain why a highly-trained agent left her gun in the bathroom, claiming there is an internal investigation.”

And not to be forgotten is the case of Ann Marie Murphy. In April 1986, she was about to board a plane from London to Tel Aviv, to meet – so she thought – the parents of her Palestinian fiancé, a man called Nizar Hindawi. She was 32 years old, and pregnant.
She was also, unknowingly, carrying a bomb in her suitcase, hidden there by Hindawi, and primed to explode when the El Al plane was somewhere over Europe. The airline security people spotted it, and she never got on the plane. (You can read the official Israeli account of the story here.)
I was reminded of Anne-Marie Murphy amid all the renewed discussion following the attempted Christmas Day plane attack about whether or not airline passengers should be “profiled” – in other words, singled out for more intense screening if they fit someone’s idea of what a terrorist looks like.
Back in 1986, there was no particular reason to single out pregnant Irish women as likely anti-Israel terrorists. But Israeli security have long been suspicious of single women travelling alone, and they have no hesitation in asking the most personal questions about their relationships and private life.
It may be that it makes sense to concentrate anti-terrorism measures at airports on certain categories of passengers. But the Hindawi case reminds us that it’s not always easy to decide what a terrorist looks like.”

Added to all of this is the simple fact that profiling creates two channels, one with high scrutiny, and the other with low scrutiny. As soon as profiling becomes the norm, terrorists will look to recruit people who do not FIT THE PROFILE so that high scrutiny can be evaded. More and more it becomes clear that there is NO PROFILE! MI5 has concluded that:
• Far from being religious zealots, a large number of those involved in terrorism do not practise their faith regularly. Many lack religious literacy and could actually be regarded as religious novices. Very few have been brought up in strongly religious households, and there is a higher than average proportion of converts. Some are involved in drug-taking, drinking alcohol and visiting prostitutes. MI5 says there is evidence that a well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalisation.
• British-based terrorists are as ethnically diverse as the UK Muslim population, with individuals from Pakistani, Middle Eastern and Caucasian backgrounds. MI5 says assumptions cannot be made about suspects based on skin colour, ethnic heritage or nationality.

In the wake of the recent undie-bomber, the official line has changed. “The Obama administration has announced that it will subject citizens of 14 countries, including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, to intensive screening when flying to the United States (the rule will also apply to those passing through those countries). This means treating people differently depending on where they come from or what passports they hold.”

So who exactly are we profiling? The blue eyed Caucasian male, or the black eyed bearded Asian male? This is in the official realm at the borders. What exactly goes on within the US borders and among the common populace is guided by our knowledge of who fist the profile. Do we get our ideas of other ethnicities from the Simpsons and Apu becomes a type? Do Muslims wear turbans or are those Sikhs? What about beards? When an entire country can be typed by talk show hosts like Glenn Back to have no quality medical schools (while almost the entire NHS of the UK is staffed by graduates from these non-schools!!), the entire nation to be so backward as to not even have indoor plumbing, and the Ganges River, to sound like a disease the hearing of which would require immediate CIPRO therapy then any kind of religious profiling begins to take on a milder connotation!

So what does My Name is Khan bring to the table? No one has seen the film yet, but the early previews promise that it will force us to re-evaluate how we treat those that do not look, behave or practice their faith, like we do! The IMDb blurb describes the film thus: “Khan ……. a thematic range that focuses less on post-9/11 fears and more on relationships between individuals, between a man and his State, and between a man and his chosen country.” Will the film bring the religious profiling issue back to front and center? Time will tell. But is this an issue that needs to be discussed yet again? I, for one, feel it does!!

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3 Responses

  1. Hello PARDESI,How are you,its me ALI ,remember you forwarded my wish to join NG to Rohit. If you don’t mind i can request u to please come back on NG ,we all miss you and other fellow KING SRK FANS so much.It is time for MNIK Release so plz come back and start promoting MNIK.

  2. Hi pardesi.If you wrote this then great article.
    You write so well.

  3. Thanks Sunil! Yes I did write this piece, it is not a copy paste job. Your kind words are much appreciated.

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