That Feeling of Being Under Suspicion

Tunku Varadarajan in the Wall Street Journal:

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–just as earlier this week in Manhattan five young men were pulled off a sightseeing bus and handcuffed by police on suspicion that they might have been Islamist terrorists. Their names, published in the papers, revealed that they were in fact all Sikhs and Hindus–something few could have established by simply looking at them. (The Sikhs here were short-haired and unturbanned.)

What we had in this incident–what we must get used to–is a not irrational sequence: alarm, provoked by a belief that someone in the vicinity could do everyone around him great harm, followed instinctively by actions in which the niceties of social intercourse, the judgmental taboos that have been drilled into us, are set aside in the interest of self-preservation.

More here.