Flying Imam Settlement Makes Us Less Safe
Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which represented the imams, said the settlement is "a victory for civil rights."
"The six imams are pleased," Hooper said. "Their rights were maintained by the settlement."
This is no victory for civil rights. These imams gave reasonable cause for alarm, based as much upon behavioral profiling as much as religious and ethnic profiling. The settlement sends a message that favors stupidity over safety:
That lawsuit has now been settled out of court for an undisclosed amount — which might serve the defendants' short-term interests but carries a long-term price for air safety.
Consider what the pilot and police knew, or thought they knew, at the time: Passengers reported the men had been praying loudly in the terminal, chanting "Allah, Allah" and cursing U.S. policies in Iraq. Once on board, the men took separate seats in the cabin's front, middle and back. Two imams asked for seat belt extenders, which include a heavy metal buckle that could be used as a weapon, but left them on the floor. The pilot was told that three of the men had one-way tickets. A passenger who spoke Arabic said one imam expressed fundamentalist views. All told, the imams' actions appeared to be either intentionally provocative or clueless as to how others might perceive them in the aftermath of 9/11.
Yet, after a federal judge ruled in July that the defendants could be liable for civil damages and authorities lacked probable cause to detain the imams, the airline and airport operators settled the case last week, without admitting any wrongdoing.
While the settlement spared them the uncertainly and expense of a trial, it could have a chilling effect on the ability of airline crews and officials to protect passengers from a perceived threat. Pilots have to make quick, tough judgment calls: Take off with frightening suspicions unresolved or err on the side of caution. The only way to determine whether a real threat existed was to remove the clerics from the plane and investigate.
In this case, some of the initial suspicions proved unfounded. It turned out that the imams, who had been attending a religious conference in Minneapolis, didn't have one-way tickets and hadn't changed their seat assignments, as first thought. They denied making remarks about Saddam Hussein or U.S. involvement in Iraq. Even so, that was the information available to the captain when he had to make a "go/no go" decision. Airlines and airport authorities need flexibility to act in the interest of safety without worrying about being sued.
This case was especially troubling because the imams initially attempted to drag into their lawsuit an unknown number of passengers and airline employees who had raised concerns. They were dismissed as potential defendants just before Congress enacted a law to give immunity to people who report suspicious behavior.
Ethnic profiling is wrong and violates American values. "Flying while Muslim" is no more an offense than "driving while black," the common complaint of African Americans pulled over without credible cause. In this case, though, it was primarily the imams' behavior that led to their detention.
I would disagree that ethnic profiling is "the big evil" that it is made out to be. I think we've become overly sensitive on matters of race. There is a certain logic to racial, religious, and national profiling- to all types of profiling- that have nothing to do with racism, religious bigotry, or national prejudice.
If there were a terror cult whose immediate, recognizably identifiable trait was a love for wearing white t-shirts and an addiction to sporting Casio F91W watches, then it would make sense to pay attention to those wearing white t's and Casio F91Ws. It doesn't mean you believe every frikkin' person on planet earth wearing white t-shirts and a particular brand of watch is part of the terror cult; you'd even concede that the majority of people wearing white T's and those Casios are not terrorists. But they are a part of the list of traits you have every reason to be looking for in a member of the cult. It warrants further investigation.
I do however, agree with the conclusion of the article post:
It would be sad if this settlement prompted others to act out in hopes of cashing in. And it could be tragic if it prevented passengers from speaking up, or airline crews from acting, when they have reasonable suspicions.
And I also agree with Dr. Zuhdi Jasser:
countering Islamism and combating Islamist terrorism should be a greater public responsibility for the organized American Muslim community than the obsession with civil rights and victimization in which current Islamist organizations like CAIR engage, and says the credibility of the Muslim community suffers because groups such as CAIR, ISNA, and the North American Imams Federation deny the interplay between Islamism and terrorism
Cross-posted at Flopping Aces