WorldTies: Campaign against ‘suspicious’ imams continues
Friday, December 01, 2006
Campaign against 'suspicious' imams continues
By Khalid Hasan
The Daily Times, Lahore, Pakistan
WASHINGTON: The capital's second newspaper, the right-wing Washington Times which is owned by Rev Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church, is continuing what increasingly looks like a campaign aimed at discrediting the six Muslim prayer leaders who were taken off a plane because their behaviour was considered "suspicious" by some.
On Wednesday, the newspaper reported that air marshals, pilots and security officials have expressed concern that airline passengers and crews will be reluctant to report "suspicious behaviour" aboard for fear of being called "racists". The six imams who were offloaded, handcuffed and interrogated, held a press conference on Monday at the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport decrying the manner in which they had been treated. According to the newspaper, several passengers said the imams tried to intimidate them by loudly praying and moving around the plane. The imams urged Congress to enact laws to prohibit ethnic and religious "profiling".
The newspaper quoted an unnamed federal air marshal as saying, "The crew and passengers act as our additional eyes and ears on every flight. If (crew and passengers) are afraid of reporting suspicious individuals out of fear of being labelled a racist or bigot, then terrorists will certainly use those fears to their advantage in future aviation attacks. The political correctness needs to be left at the boarding gate. Instilling politically correct fears into the minds of airline passengers is nothing less than psychological terrorism."
Robert MacLean, a former federal air marshal, told the newspaper that the situation "will make crews and passengers in the future second-guess reporting these events, thus compromising the aircraft's security out of fear of being labelled a dogmatist or a bigot, or being sued". A Minneapolis police officer and a federal air marshal who were called to the plane after the imams refused to leave the aircraft for questioning were quoted in the report as saying that "the seating configuration, the request for seat-belt extensions, the prior praying and utterances about Allah and the United States in the gate area … was suspicious". The newspaper also quoted a pilot from an airline other than US Airways where the incident took place that it would have a chilling effect on the flight crews. "The flight crew may be a little more gun-shy about approaching people, they may have a higher standard for the next few weeks for screening unusual behaviour. I hope that's not the case, because I do think US Airways did the proper thing."
The report also quoted Rabiah Ahmed, a spokeswoman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), who said Muslims "have to walk around on eggshells in public just because we don't want to be misconstrued as suspicious. You have to strike a balance between legitimate fears which people may have, but not allow passengers to have so much discretion that they can trigger a process that would violate a traveller's basic civil rights. Because one person misunderstood the actions of other law-abiding citizens, they were able to trigger a very long and daunting process for other travellers that were pulled off the plane in handcuffs and detained for many hours before they were cleared."
US Airways, however, remains unrepentant. Andrea Rader, a spokeswoman, said its employees "are going to do what is appropriate" to ensure that aeroplanes are safe and will not be dissuaded by the uproar over last week's incident. "I don't think people will be less vigilant as a result of this, and I think that's appropriate. There is a balance, and I think we will continue to achieve that. Our crews and people on the airplanes are going to watch for behaviour that raises concerns."
Damian J. Anderson