Grievance Theater

The mau-mauing flying imams’ grievance theater.

Debra Burlingame writes:

Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar! Those are the words that started it all. Six bearded imams are said to have shouted them out while offering evening prayers as they and 141 other passengers waited at the gate for their flight out of Minneapolis International Airport. It was three days before Thanksgiving. Allahu Akbar: God is great.

Initial media reports of the incident did not include the disturbing details about what happened after they boarded US Airways flight 300, but the story quickly went national with provocative headlines: “Six Muslims Ejected from US Air Flight for Praying.” Yes, they were praying–but let’s be clear about this. The very last human sound on the cockpit voice recorder of United flight 93 before it screamed into the ground at 580 miles per hour is the sound of male voices shouting “Allahu Akbar” in a moment of religious ecstasy.

They, too, were praying. The passengers and crew of flight 93 lost their valiant fight to take back the plane just one hour and 20 minutes after it pushed back from the gate. Until the hijackers stormed the cockpit door, they were just a handful of Middle Eastern-looking men on their way to sunny California. So, yes, let’s be exceedingly clear about the whole matter. Some 3,000 men, women and children are dead because the unassuming people on those airplanes did not look at them and see murderers. Or dangerous Arabs. Or fanatical Muslims. They saw a few guys in chinos.

…”Allahu Akbar” was just the opening act. After boarding, they did not take their assigned seats but dispersed to seats in the first row of first class, in the midcabin exit rows and in the rear–the exact configuration of the 9/11 execution teams. The head of the group, seated closest to the cockpit, and two others asked for a seatbelt extension, kept on board for obese people. A heavy metal buckle at the end of a long strap, it can easily be used as a lethal weapon. The three men rolled them up and placed them on the floor under their seats. And lest this entire incident be written off as simple cultural ignorance, a frightened Arabic-speaking passenger pulled aside a crew member and translated the imams’ suspicious conversations, which included angry denunciations of Americans, furious grumblings about U.S. foreign policy, Osama Bin Laden and “killing Saddam.”

Predictably, these imams and their attorneys now suggest that another passenger who penned a frantic note of warning and slipped it to a flight attendant was somehow a hysterical Islamophobe. Let us remember that but for their performance at the gate this passenger might never have noticed these men or their behavior on board, much less have the slightest clue as to their religion or political passions. Of course, that was the point of the shouting. According to the police report, yet another alarmed passenger who frequently travels to the Middle East described a conversation with one of the imams. The 31-year-old Egyptian expressed fundamentalist Muslim views, and stated the he would go to whatever measures necessary to obey all the tenets set out in the Koran.

She also writes:

Here’s what the flying public needs to know about airplanes and civil rights: Once your foot traverses the entranceway of a commercial airliner, you are no longer in a democracy in which everyone gets a vote and minority rights are affirmatively protected in furtherance of fuzzy, ever-shifting social policy. Ultimately, the responsibility for your personal safety and security rests on the shoulders of one person, the pilot in command. His primary job is to safely transport you and your belongings from one place to another. Period.

I can’t wait until the federal courts hear that argument and someone like Justice Stephen Breyer intones the magisterial line: airline passengers do not shed their rights at the airplane door.

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