Jewish man pulled off plane for praying

This is somewhat old news, but  SeekersDigest  reports how a Jewish traveller was removed from a plane flying over Canada a few months ago after passengers observed him rocking back in forth in prayer.

I’m not sure whether to be appalled by this violation of somebody’s basic rights, or relieved that for once post-9/11 security paranoias are appearing to be applied fairly and without regard to whether the "suspicious" character appears to be a Muslim. 

I say the latter not in the spirit of misery enjoying company but out of my perhaps naive conviction we should be able to expect security policies to be implemented fairly and without regard to whether those affected belong to the "right" community.

According to  CBC.CA:

Jewish leaders in Montreal criticized the move as insensitive, saying the flight attendants should have explained to the other passengers that the man was simply praying and doing no harm.

I agree wholeheartedly that these people should have been told that their hangups were not this gentleman’s problem.  One’s right to freedom of religion and expression should not be contingent on the opinions and/or prejudices of others.

I’m sure the air has been thick with denunciations of this decision, and across community lines.  I just hope that those rightly denouncing this narrowminded blunder now will take a comparable stand next time they hear of a Muslim being  targeted for a comparably routine and ultimately unthreatening display of religious devotion.  And in the latter case there will almost certainly be many next times. 

Hasidic Rabbi Ronny Fine said he often prays on airplanes, but typically only gets curious stares.

"If it’s something that you’re praying in your own seat and not taking over the whole plane, I don’t think it should be a problem," said Fine.

The Jewish group B’nai Brith Canada has offered to help give Air Canada crews sensitivity training.

Update (2006-12-16): Tweaked language a bit.

  • Rachel

    There are indeed Jewish leaders who speak out against this kind of thing. More of us should, to be sure — and it shouldn’t take a similar instance of prejudice against one of “our own” to motivate us to do so — but I can assure you at least that there *are* Jewish voices who protest when Muslims are targeted in these ways.
    My friend Reb Deb recently posted about the imams who were forced off the plane, and her post ends with the story of a mixed-faith group of clergy who staged a “pray-in” at the airport in DC. There’s a beautiful photograph at the bottom (and a historical photograph which it echoes), and the rabbi on the far right (hee! that’s just funny — I can’t think of many leaders I know who are further left) is my teacher R’ Arthur Waskow, who was at the ProgFaithBlogCon last summer. :-)
    Her post is here:

  • Svend

    Thanks for the important reminder, Rachel. I actually did not intend to imply that this (Jewish leaders being silent on discrimination again Muslims) was a pressing concern today, as I realize that Jews have and continue to be leading the way in protests against these sorts of problems. There is a minority of people who do apply a doublestandard, but these rotten apples are found in all communities, alas.
    Just wanted to bring home the important parallels.

  • Irving

    The internet and blogs have ruined dissent in the West, it seems. In the 60s there would have been a march and sit-in, or pray-in in front of Air Canada’s headquarters by Jewish, Muslim, and Christian religious leaders to protest this kind of behavior, and that would have stirred some action, for fear of lost revenue if nothing else. Now there is nothing but blogging about it, and a few media reports.
    The times, they are achangin’ and not for the better.

  • OmarG

    Svend, if I saw a man rocking back and forth in his seat, I’d think he was about to have a nervous breakdown… I bet that’s a “natural” first instinct, and I don’t think too many people would lean over and ask because talking to someone who looks crazy is typically asking for trouble.

  • Lawrence of Arabia

    irving is a wise man, but i worry it is complacency and fear that ruined dissent in the west, not the internet. the very fact that passenger are freaking out over someone praying suggests that there is mob psychology going on here that is just about unhinged. lump that in with the recent discussion on immigration (“w00t, let’s build a wall!” = god help us) and the radio host who ironically suggested that muslims be labeled so they would be easily identifiable which received overwhelming and enthusiastic support from callers, and one can see that there is a xenophobia present in the collective psyche at the moment that is simply frightening.

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