Friday, November 23, 2007

Flying while Muslim

Too dangerous to fly?

What it boils down to, says Dr. Waleed Meneese, the Imam of Daralfarooq mosque in Southeast Minneapolis, “is that the faith of 1.5 billion people is becoming a suspicious practice in America.”

Twin Cities Daily Planet,
November 22, 2006

The cancerously expanding Terrorist Security Center watch lists that underlie everyday U.S. airport security theater generate thousands of false stops and create inconvenience of hundreds of thousands of prospective passengers. But those experiences are innocuous compared with the harassment and humiliation that U.S. Muslims and others with Arabic names experience when crossing the border and boarding airplanes.

Southern California InFocus recently catalogued numerous incidents:
  • "I was returning from a trip to Dubai and Saudi Arabia," recalls [Dr. Monzer] Kahf, [a well-known Syrian-born consultant, trainer and lecturer in Islamic banking, finance and economics] who has been living in the United States for 37 years and became a U.S. citizen in 1980. "The customs officer told me I had too many stamps in Arabic on my passport." Kahf said he was detained for an hour and a half, questioned and eventually let go. Kahf also added that since then he has traveled overseas 24 times and on each and every trip he was stopped, detained and interrogated.

  • "Any time I leave the country, I'm usually stopped for at least an hour or two - the most was four hours," said [Shaikh Yassir Fazaga] an Eritrea-born soft-spoken imam. "I've gotten so used to it, that I actually prepare myself." When returning to the United States from Canada in July 2006, Fazaga, who is a U.S. citizen, arrived two hours before his flight and was given clearance to board the plane only to be pulled off later. He was then detained and questioned for close to three hours. Fazaga was not given a reason for his detention but was cleared and let go. "I missed my flight and had to wait an extra day to catch the next flight out of Calgary," Fazaga added.

  • On Dec. 16, 2004, Anaheim resident Bilal Dalati, 42, was coming back from a business trip with a 15-person delegation that included Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez and several elected officials. ... Then, something unexpected happened. "The minute I stepped off the plane, there were two officers waiting for me," Dalati said. "They took my passport, walked me to my luggage and then went through it piece by piece." Dalati, a U.S. citizen of 20 years, said he was pat-searched, had the contents of his pockets and wallet emptied and then asked odd questions. Dalati added that the officers subsequently photocopied all paperwork in his possession, and then he was let go.

Given the frequency of these incidents, it is good news that the six Muslim religious leaders who were yanked off a US Airways flight last year will be getting their day in court.

A federal judge on Tuesday rejected most defense arguments to dismiss a lawsuit filed by six Muslim imams who were arrested last November on a U.S. Airways jet in Minneapolis after passengers reported they were acting suspiciously.

The imams have said that three of the men in their party said their evening prayers in the airport terminal before boarding the plane, then entered the aircraft individually, except for one member who is blind and needed a guide. Once on the plane, the men did not sit together.

A passenger raised concerns about the imams through a note passed to a flight attendant. Also, witnesses reported that the imams made anti-American comments about the war in Iraq and that some asked for seat belt extensions even though a flight attendant thought they didn't need them.

U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery, in a 41-page opinion and order, said it is "dubious" that a reasonable person would conclude from those facts that the imams were about to interfere with the crew or aircraft. She said the plaintiffs had stated a plausible claim that Metropolitan Airports Commission officers violated their constitutional rights.

Associated Press,
November 21, 2007

How very conventional these citizens, these imams, are! They think they should have a constitutional right to pray, travel and hold opinions. Perhaps courts will agree. We can hope so.

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