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.