Slipping into racism
Two recent news items caught my eye. One item featured a doctor who was required to deplane because his prayers frightened another passenger. The second was about two South Asian men who were speaking what some passengers thought to be Arabic and looking repeatedly at their watches (I know! No one without nefarious motives would look at their watch repeatedly as they waited to board a plane!) The passengers in this second case "mutinied" -- some refused to board or and others would not let the plane take off so long as the two men were among the passengers. Eventually all three men had to get off their planes and wait for another flight the next day. To add insult to injury, the airlines did not simply reschedule them, as they normally do if you miss your flight; they had to pay extra airfare to take the next flight out of town.
It is really a sad day for us all, when government rhetoric, media hysteria, and the actions of a few radicals makes having dark skin and speaking a foreign language into a crime. We've seen it before (the Japanese and African Americans can tell us all about racial profiling), we've acknowledged before that it is wrong, and we know that this kind of racial profiling doesn't even work. Terrorists surely aren't going to call attention to themselves by praying or speaking in foreign languages, wearing distinctive clothing or large beards. The 9-11 bombers certainly didn't.
As Azhar Usman, a stand-up comedian who has a five inch beard, a swarthy complexion and does his routine in a kurta pajama outfit, says, "If I were a terrorist trying to sneak onto a plane, do you think I'd really cultivate this look???"
We have to be vigilant, yes, but we also have to be smart. In fact, this kind of all-inclusive, knee jerk reaction to someone travelling as a Muslim is exactly the sort of fare that terrorist groups use to radicalize prospective members -- we can't even pray, or talk our own languages, in an airport, that's how much they want to strip our Islam from us.
Profiling doesn't work. Torture doesn't work. Justice and Liberty for all does.