Air marshals, pilots and security officials yesterday expressed concern that airline passengers and crews will be reluctant to report suspicious behavior aboard for fear of being called "racists," after several Muslim imams made that charge in a press conference Monday at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Six imams, or Muslim holy men, accused a US Airways flight crew of inappropriately evicting them from a flight last week in Minneapolis after several passengers said the imams tried to intimidate them by loudly praying and moving around the airplane. The imams urged Congress to enact laws to prohibit ethnic and religious "profiling." Federal air marshals and others yesterday urged passengers to remain vigilant to threats. "The crew and passengers act as our additional eyes and ears on every flight," said a federal air marshal in Las Vegas, who asked that his name not be used. "If [crew and passengers] are afraid of reporting suspicious individuals out of fear of being labeled a racist or bigot, then terrorists will certainly use those fears to their advantage in future aviation attacks." But Rabiah Ahmed, spokeswoman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), 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 traveler'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 travelers that were pulled off the plane in handcuffs and detained for many hours before they were cleared." The imams say they were removed from the Phoenix-bound flight because they were praying quietly in the concourse. They had been in Minnesota for a conference sponsored by the North American Imams Federation. But other passengers told police and aviation security officials a different version of the incident. They said suspicious behavior of the imams led to their eviction from the flight. The imams, they said, tested the forbearance of the passengers and flight crew in what the air marshal called a "[political correctness] probe." "The political correctness needs to be left at the boarding gate," the marshal said. "Instilling politically correct fears into the minds of airline passengers is nothing less than psychological terrorism." The passengers and flight crew said the imams prayed loudly before boarding; switched seating assignments to a configuration used by terrorists in previous incidents; asked for seat-belt extensions, which could be used as weapons; and shouted hostile slogans about al Qaeda and the war in Iraq. Flight attendants said three of the six men, who did not appear to be overweight, asked for the seat-belt extensions, which include heavy metal buckles, and then threw them to the floor under their seats. Robert MacLean, a former federal air marshal, expressed the fear yesterday 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 labeled a dogmatist or a bigot, or being sued." Flight attendants said they were concerned that the way the imams took seats that were not assigned to them -- two seats in the front row of first class, exit seats in the middle of the plane and two seats in the rear -- resembled the pattern used by September 11 hijackers, giving them control of the exits. A Minneapolis police officer and a federal air marshal who were called to the plane after the imams refused to leave the plane for questioning said "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." One pilot for a competing airline said the incident 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 behavior. I hope that's not the case, because I do think US Airways did the proper thing." Andrea Rader, spokeswoman for US Airways, said its employees "are going to do what is appropriate" to ensure that airplanes are safe and will not be dissuaded by 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 behavior that raises concerns." Many airports offer private rooms for prayer, but CAIR's Miss Ahmed said travelers required to arrive at airports two hours in advance to go through security inspections are too exhausted and must pray at the gate. "It's convenient to check in then get to the gate and pray there," she said.
MIM: This press release shows the bias claim hoax and reveals how Islamists use the accusation of 'religious bias' to claim victimhood and that Muslim religious sensibililties should take precedence over airline security.
WASHINGTON, Nov. 22 /U.S. Newswire/ -- On Monday, November 27th, 8:15 AM, at the US Airways ticket counter located in the Reagan National Airport, Imam Omar Shahin, one of the six Imams removed from US Airways flight 300, will join Imam Mahdi Bray, executive director of the MAS Freedom Foundation, Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center of Philadelphia, Rev Graylan Hagler of the United Church of Christ, Hillary Shelton, director of the NAACP-Washington National Office, and other interfaith members for a press statement, public prayer, and flight departure on US Airways.
The "pray-in" is in response to US Airways' removal of Imam Omar Shahin and five other Imams traveling from a religious leader's conference in Minnesota. Three of the Imams were observed praying prior to departure. Subsequent to boarding the plane, the six were removed from the flight, handcuffed, and detained in the airport for questioning for over five hours. Upon release, US Airways and other airlines refused to allow them to purchase tickets for other scheduled flights to Phoenix.
"The detention of these religious leaders, and the refusal of the airline to allow them travel, is a gross example of blatant Islamophobia and the violation of the civil rights of Muslim passengers", said Imam Mahdi Bray, executive director of the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation.
"The last time I checked, public prayer was still protected by the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion and speech. It's a shame that as an African-American and a Muslim I have the double whammy of having to worry about driving while Black and flying while Muslim. We charge the airline with not only discrimination, but with an action that is insulting and demeaning to these Muslim religious leaders, and to all people of faith."
The MAS Freedom Foundation, and many in the interfaith and civil rights community, feel strongly that in addition to religious discrimination, the issue involving the six Imams is also a religious freedom issue. We have forwarded the case to several prominent civil and constitutional rights attorneys and legal scholars.
The Freedom Foundation is the public affairs arm of the Muslim American Society (MAS), a national grassroots religious, social, and educational organization. MAS is America's largest grassroots Muslim organization with over 50 chapters nationwide. Learn more at http://www.masnet.org