The Cost of Fearing Strangers

Stephen J. Dubner in his Freakonomics blog at the New York Times:

Stranger What do Bruce Pardo and Atif Irfan have in common?

In case you’re not familiar with their names, let me rephrase:

What do the white guy who dressed up as Santa and killed his ex-wife and her family (and then committed suicide) and the Muslim guy who got thrown off a recent AirTran flight on suspicion of terrorism have in common?

The answer is that both of them had their intentions badly misread. The one who should have been scary to people who knew him wasn’t; and the one who scared the people who didn’t know him turned out to not be scary at all.

As we’ll see below, this is a common pattern. But before going forward, let me first backtrack a bit.

Pardo was a churchgoer whom no one pegged as a homicidal maniac. “He’s a totally different person from what you hear and see on the news for what he did,” said a family friend named Amanda Dunn. “I’m shocked, literally, I’m shocked. I can’t believe that’s actually the same guy.”

Irfan, born in Detroit, is a tax attorney who lives with his family in Alexandria, Va. He was on his way from Washington to Florida with several members of his family for a religious retreat.

More here.