Accuracy in Media

The Washington Post reported that on November 27, a group of imams, ministers and a rabbi staged a pray-in at Reagan National Airport. The group of religious leaders staged the pray-in to “demanded an apology from US Airways for removing six Muslim clerics from a Minneapolis-to-Phoenix flight.” The religious leaders involved in the pray-in were reported to be calling for an end to racial profiling. But that’s not what this case was all about. And even if it was, racial profiling was still justified.

Although the incident they were protesting took place at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, on a flight from Minneapolis to Phoenix, the religious leaders chose to stage their pray-in at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C. That was guaranteed to get sympathetic press coverage from Washington- area media.

Omar Shahin, one of the six imams detained, declared that the six men had done nothing suspicious. Perhaps not “suspicious” to him, but the actions of the imams were suspicious enough that local law enforcement and the FBI believed the six men posed a security risk, and were therefore removed from the plane, handcuffed, and questioned.

The Post article wants the reader to believe that this is a case of racial profiling and that somehow what occurred to these six clerics is a danger to all Americans. The Post goes so far as to connect this incident with the director of the NAACP national office, Hilary Shelton, calling on Congress to pass legislation to bar racial profiling.

But, the imams were not removed from the plane because they had Muslim sounding names or because they were Muslim; they were removed from the planes because of their behavior prior to boarding.

As radio host Faye Hardin said, “if you’re going to act like hijackers, you will be treated like hijackers.”

Prior to boarding the airplane, the imams, who were returning from a religious conference, prayed on their prayer rugs in the airport before the flight. In addition to making a scene by engaging in Islamic worship in the airport, US Airways spokeswoman Andrea Rader told the Post, “Apparently, as they were boarding, one passenger overheard them saying what they thought were anti-U.S. statements.” It was not until after the clerics had boarded the flight, that a passenger, alarmed by their activity, passed a note to a flight attendant.

Rader also told the Post that the imams got up and moved around the airplane. Although Rader is not clear why the imams were moving around the plane, their actions could be perceived as suspicious if it appeared they were trying to case their surroundings. It appeared that they were trying to “case” their surroundings. It was their actions, combined with their perceived anti-American rhetoric, that caused the flight crew to consult with the airline about whether they might pose a security risk. It was only after consulting with local law enforcement and the FBI that the six men were removed, and taken off the airplane, handcuffed and questioned.

The six men were allowed to board the plane and go through security without being stopped even though they were Muslim with Muslim-sounding names. The men were not removed because of racial profiling. It was their behavior that caused them to be removed from the plane.

When eggs of silly putty are being confiscated from seven- year-old kids prior to boarding an aircraft, because the material could potentially or theoretically be used in a bomb, it is reassuring that Muslims engaging in overt behavior are being subjected to scrutiny as well. That is the way it should be.

While the Muslims in this case clearly deserved special attention, a case can be made for using racial profiling when there is no questionable activity. That means that those who resemble the 9/11 hijackers, in terms of general appearance, age or background, should be the subject of heightened awareness. This is common sense. If airline security is not allowed to use racial profiling to protect Americans from terrorist attacks, then they are left with few other tools to keep us safe. One of those tools, and a tool that has long been used by law enforcement, is to be cautious of suspicious activity.

Although these men proved to be harmless, we cannot expect the government to keep us safe from terrorists if we keep taking away all the tools and techniques the government uses to do their job.

So far the imams have limited their displeasure with this incident to a pray-in. But the Post reported that although the Transportation Department hasn’t received any complaints, the Homeland Security Department’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties has already decided to investigate the incident.

It was their actions, not their race or religion, that led the six clerics to be removed from their flight. The Post never questioned Shahin about any anti-American remarks, and instead of supporting law enforcement, the FBI, and the airlines concerned about our safety, the Post instead sided with those making dubious claims of discrimination.

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