Putting Homeland Security First
By Robert Spencer
FrontPageMagazine.com | November 22, 2006
“I never felt bad in my life like that. I never. Six imams. Six leaders in this country. Six scholars in handcuffs. It’s terrible.”
So spoke Imam Omar Shahin, director of the Islamic Center of Tucson, after he and five other imams were removed from a Phoenix-bound US Airways flight at the
Airport. What were they doing to get removed from the flight? “We did nothing,” Shahin maintains – and the Council on American Islamic Relations has seized on the incident as evidence of American “Islamophobia.” “We are concerned that crew members, passengers and security personnel may have succumbed to fear and prejudice based on stereotyping of Muslims and Islam,” said CAIR’s executive director, Nihad Awad.
However, there were indications that this was not a straightforward case of prejudice and profiling. Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport official Patrick Hogan said that “there were a number of things that gave the flight crew pause” about the imams: some of them had made anti-American statements before boarding the plane, and some asked for seat belt extensions despite not appearing to need them. There was also an inconsistency in the accounts of the incident by Shahin himself: initial reports held that the men had been removed from the plane after ostentatiously standing and praying Islamic evening prayers; however, according to Associated Press, “Shahin said Tuesday that three members of the group prayed in the terminal before the six boarded the plane, although on Monday night he said they had prayed on the plane.”
Nonetheless, CAIR announced its intention to file a complaint: “Because, unfortunately, this is a growing problem of singling out Muslims or people perceived to be Muslims at airport, and it’s one that we’ve been addressing for some time,” said CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper. This gibes with a statement by incoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi: “Since September 11, many Muslim Americans have been subjected to searches at airports and other locations based upon their religion and national origin. We must make it illegal.” This new incident may give such an initiative the impetus it needs in order to be taken seriously. If legislation were passed outlawing airport searches based on religion or national origin (which are already frowned upon as it is), airport officials would be wary of detaining any Muslim, for fear of facing prosecution on discrimination charges. Such legislation therefore would in effect hand Islamic terrorists a free hand to operate in American airports with impunity. CAIR has made no statement about the potential damage the criminalization of such searches could have on national security.
There are also lingering questions about just what the six imams on the flight to Phoenix were intending. It seems clear that they had no terror plans, but there is a possibility that they were being intentionally provocative: one woman wrote to US Airways: “Having been married to a Muslim (deceased husband) I might add that evening prayers can be said quietly and while sitting in a chair. Those Muslims knew that yet refused to behave properly and respectfully towards the other passengers. It is obvious that they planned to taunt the authorities.” Supporting this possibility is the fact that Imam Omar Shahin was involved with the Islamic charity Kind Hearts, which has had its assets frozen by the U. S. Treasury Department because of its connections to the terrorist group Hamas. And according to a September 2001 story in the Arizona Republic, Shahin “said members of the
Tucson mosque may have helped bin Laden in the early 1990s.” He maintained, however, that this was consistent with the practice of the CIA itself: “They (the CIA) called him a ‘freedom fighter.’ Then they tell us he is involved in terrorist acts, and they stopped supporting him, and we stopped.” On a dime, no doubt.
None of these questions about Shahin surfaced in the mainstream media. Instead, MSNBC’s Contessa Brewer compared the imams to Rosa Parks, offering a grateful Ibrahim Hooper a “defense that could be used for these imams”: the possibility that in refusing to get off the plane, as some unconfirmed reports held, the imams were engaged in an act of civil disobedience. Hooper suggested that even if this were not an act of civil disobedience, “it may come to that in the future, where people are just fed up and they say, ‘No, I am not going to be vulnerable to anybody’s stereotyping and bias, and their hysteria based on fear and prejudice, and I’m not going to give up my seat.’ Boy, it’ll be interesting to see what happens in that case.” Kenneth Quinn, general counsel for the Aviation Security Administration, spoke against the appropriateness of civil disobedience on airplanes, but called the incident “regrettable” and spoke of what he called the “But For Test:” “But for the person’s religious orientation in this case, would they have taken the security procedures that they actually took? And here I think it’s questionable. We’ll have to look at all the facts, but you don’t want to single people out on unfounded fears or through racial or gender or religious bias. In the post-9/11 environment, we have to really be careful about not singling people out and taking them off of airplanes.”
But Rosa Parks did not have ties to terrorist organizations. In light of repeated targeting of aircraft by Islamic jihadists operating by their own account out of their sense of duty as Muslims, discrimination against American blacks is hardly comparable to the scrutiny of Muslims in airports that CAIR is almost certain to try to stop by means of this case. But the apology that is likely to come from US Airways will set a precedent that ostentatious and even suspicious behavior by Muslims is not to be questioned, in the name of avoiding discrimination. What can that do but embolden Islamic jihadists?
If America is to survive, it is eventually going to have to choose national security over political correctness. Shahin has complained that he was “humiliated” and that the way the imams were treated was “terrible.” Indeed. It is terrible. It is terrible that he and the other imams who were taken off the plane, as well as other Islamic leaders in
America, have allowed those who commit violence in the name of their religion to do so unimpeded and unchallenged. It is terrible that these and other Islamic scholars have responded only with vilification when asked about the teachings of their faith that promote violence, instead of with honest dialogue and attempts to reform those teachings. It is terrible that, if they were indeed removed from the plane for praying, they are among those who have allowed their religion to become so associated with violence that American citizens on an airplane become alarmed at the sight of Islamic prayer.
In a sane world, officials would tell the imams that if they’re upset about being taken off the plane, they should redouble their anti-terror efforts in the Muslim community in the U.S. – which are sorely deficient in any case. They would ascribe their inconveniencing to the sacrifices that are incumbent upon all of us during wartime. But instead, they are compared to Rosa Parks, and it is likely that their canonization is just beginning.
Osama bin Laden, who predicted after 9/11 that soon many more planes would be falling out of the skies, is no doubt enjoying the spectacle.