8.20.2006

The politics of fear

This has implications for those geospatial approaches that rely on profiling and serves as a warning about the consequences of stereotyping:

British holidaymakers staged an unprecedented mutiny - refusing to allow their flight to take off until two men they feared were terrorists were forcibly removed. The extraordinary scenes happened after some of the 150 passengers on a Malaga-Manchester flight overheard two men of Asian appearance apparently talking Arabic...
It also raised fears that more travellers will take the law into their own hands - effectively conducting their own 'passenger profiles'.
We saw this already after 9/11 when many Americans expressed a fear of "Muslims" and the FBI started compiling a database of mosques. The current political climate in the US and the UK produces a politics of fear based on the construction of a group of people. Thus guilt is assigned not based on actual actions but deemed membership of this group. This is exactly the same logic as racism and the hysteria about immigration (see previous post).

Apparently this story has been applauded by some commentators. Glenn Greenwald puts it forcefully when he says:
But it is the irrational fear here that is so striking, and really quite pitiful. They have whipped people into a state of such intense paranoia that they quiver at the sight of two Arab males on their plane. There is roughly one billion Muslims in the world, including some countries which have more than 100 million. The U.S. alone has 10 million. Enormous numbers of Muslims are not Arab and do not reside in Arab countries. There are 320 million people living in Arab states, and it should go without saying that only a tiny handful of them are "terrorists" (and that many terrorists reside elsewhere). To start refusing to fly or take buses or trains or be in the same room with the males in that population -- which is clearly the path we are on -- is just stupid, hysterical, and counter-productive from every perspective.
The fear is not actually irrational, imho, but a product of the deliberately instilled politics of fear in which we now live. The task is to defy that politics by a refusal in the geospatial community to use geoprofiling in the same way that the New Jersey police no longer perform racial profiling.

1 comment:

tim waters said...

I agree, we do have responsibility to use our tools ethically, and with cosideration.
Also interesting is how geospatial tools could be used to fight back, to dispel anxiety and fear; A project to look at this is in its infancy:
http://emptystreets.net/?page_id=110
http://thinkwhere.wordpress.com/2006/07/13/anxiety-maps/

For example, showing where people perceive there is most risk of terrorist attacks, versus any real risk. Where do people worry about? How much do people worry about certain issues, and where do they live? What's the main worry at different areas? Would these maps make people more worried, or could they defuse the hype and hysteria?