Saturday, April 07, 2007
  Flying Imams and Creating Hysteria
Yesterday we had to change planes in the Minneapolis airport. Every ten minutes a recorded message announced that the Homeland Security Department has set the security alert level at orange. This continual reminder of "orange alert" and a message that passengers were only allowed to carry on three ounces of liquids or gels were the only announcement that played regularly. Not even the typical, do not leave your luggage unattended and don't carry on bags for strangers, messages were playing.

One wonders if this was really necessary. It certainly kept everyone in the airport reminded of the potential of terrorist attacks -- or rather, it kept them on edge and nervous about something that really is very, very unlikely. There have been no terrorist attacks on American planes for six years. And only one plot in the past five years overseas, and that was prevented in the planning stages, not by airport vigilance, and especially not by passenger vigilance. The attempted shoe bombing now appears to have been an isolated incident, carried out by an unstable individual.

As a woman who wears a headscarf, I couldn't help but wonder if every time the announcement went off some passenger would look at me fearfully. When my family decided to pray our evening prayers in an out of the way corner, I wondered if other passengers, provoked by the constant reminders, would decide those prayers were ominous.

It seems to me that the warnings were completely out of proportion to the danger. As such, they only served to create unnecessary fear and suspicion.

The imams who were pulled off their flights and are now suing the airlines for discrimination were flying out of Minneapolis. The suit names USAirways and some of the passengers. I wonder how much of a role these repetitive announcements played in creating the situation, in creating anxiety among the passengers that otherwise might not have existed, or exacerbating low level fears into something more intense.

Diligence is necessary -- but so too is common sense. Terrorists are not likely to wear clothing and facial hair that screams, "I'm Muslim." Nor are they likely to read Qu'ran aloud or pray in airports, potentially calling attention to themselves, and stirring up their fellow passengers.

Muslims would be wise to be considerate of the fears of other passengers -- even if they are irrational fears -- but so too, airport officials should not unnecessarily stir up those fears either.
 
Comments:
This just in...check it out:
http://www.philly.com/inquirer/currents/20070408_Head_Strong___See_suspicious_acts__Feel_free_to_report_them.html
 
Richard Reid, aka the 'shoe-bomber', was not an isolated incident. Please research the terrorists' history of hijackings and attacks upon commerical airliners. 9/11 was not the 1st plot where airliners were to be used as weapons; it was only the 1st succussful use of them as weapons. Commercial airliners remain a high-value target for terrorists.
 
The problem is that some people are being targeted for behavior that is normal, every day stuff, not suspicious activitiy. I remember reading of a case where a woman reported someone because they repeatedly checked their watch. What! In an airport, waiting for boarding, you checked your watch several times. Obviously you're up to no good.

I repeat that people who are planning terrorist attacks on American planes are not likely to wear foriegn clothing, long beards or headscarves. They aren't likely to pray in public or to read Qur'an out loud (or even silently). Rather they are going to try and be as inconspicuous as possible (as did the 9-11 bombers, and even Richard Reid.)

These passengers who are noticing obvious Muslims and getting afraid are actually practicing a form of racism... like people who see a black man walking down the street and feel uncomfortable. Racial profiling is just a mild form of racism, and has little to do with reality.
 
Fear is a great motivator by an entrenched beauracracy and an unpopular administration to make you want to vote for his party again. Ugh. A little power makes people morons.
 
hi Pamela,

I am a non-muslim South Asian male and still feel the same panic response every time I hear the blasted warnings. It seems all that they are doing is issuing a warning against me. Watch out for this South Asian - he can be a possible terrorist. They have started playing this stuff on bus stations, subway stations, and train stations.

Even though this country is absurdly safe, I am always amazed to see how deeply felt and pervasive the fear is.
 
the second thing that stumps me is the "if you see anything suspicious" alert - it also seems like a codeword for if you see a muslim or a south asian - well let us know.
 
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Progressive Muslim, feminist, mom, writer, mystic, lover of the universe and Doug Schmidt, cellist, theologian and imam.


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