Courage in Profiles

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For Tunku Varadarajan, a features editor at the Wall Street Journal, profiling is a personal issue.

After the terrorist bombings in London, and the revelations that many of the perpetrators were of Pakistani origin, I find that I am–for the first time in my life–part of a “group” that is under broad but emphatic visual suspicion. In other words, I fit a visual “profile,” and the fit is most disconcerting.

The fact that I am neither Muslim nor Pakistani is irrelevant: Who except the most absurdly expert physiognomist or anthropologist could tell from my face that I am not an Ali, or a Mohammed, or a Hassan; that my ancestors are all from deepest South India; and that my line has worshipped not Allah but Lord Shiva–mightiest deity of the Hindu pantheon–for 2,000 years? I will be mistaken for Muslim at some point ….

What does he think about that? He’s aware of the danger: “When scrutiny becomes stigma, and stigma leads to victimization, a clear jump to evil has occurred. This has not happened in America, and must not.” But he feels it has a place as a forensic tool. That is, he’s unwilling to relegate profiling to the category of things that “ought not to be done.”

Do I like being profiled? Of course not. But my displeasure is yet another manifestation of the extraordinary power of terrorism. I am not being profiled because of racism but rather because Islamist fanatics have declared war on my society. They are the dark power that leads me to an experience in which my individuality is corroded. This is tragic; but it strengthens my resolve to support the war that seeks to destroy terrorism.

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