Flying While Muslim is the New Driving While Black

Flying While Muslim is the New Driving While Black May 10, 2011
Bismillahi Rahmani Rahim

Salaam Alaikum wa Rahmatullah

Well, the title says it all, no?  It seems that merely wearing traditional Islamic clothing, or sporting a long beard, or wearing a veil, or simply having swarthy skin is enough to get you bumped from a flight. Just the other day, two Imaams (Muslim clerics),  Mohamed Zaghloul and Masudur Rahman, were removed from a flight to Charlotte, North Carolina, after some passengers complained that their mere presence made them feel “uncomfortable”.

Now, here’s the thing.  If Sally Lou Ann is in an office building, and she is at the elevators, and she is about to get on but a couple of men get on before her and that makes her uncomfortable, then Sally Lou Ann has the absolute right to simply not get on the elevator and wait for one that has people who do not scare her.  She does not have the right to call building security and insist that those men be taken off so she can enjoy her ride to the fourth floor to meet with her orthodontist.  But for some reason, the same does not hold true for the passengers on an airplane.

In my world, if a passenger had expressed discomfort at having to share stale recycled air with a brown man in his pajamas (c’mon, you know that’s what they’re thinking), the pilot or the flight attendants would simply and politely say “I’m sorry you are not satisfied with the color and composition of the airplane passengers.  We will be happy to taxi back to the terminal and allow you to deplane so you can wait for a more racially pure airplane that does not have scary brown people on it.  Have a nice day.”

Unfortunately, in the real world, this does not happen.  The two Imaams, who had passed through security screening twice, and who were, ironically, on their way to a conference on Islamophobia, were chucked off the plane with hardly more thought than a chain smoker might give to tossing a cigarette butt out the window of his car while speeding down the highway.  The pilot would have had the power to ignore the passengers and allow the flight to proceed, but he was the one who insisted he would not take off with the Muslims aboard.  Education and the ability to pilot a thousand-ton aircraft apparently does not translate into having common sense. So my poor brothers were humiliated and harassed, profiled and persecuted, all because some idiot didn’t realize that if there was someone on the plane that intended to do harm, he would most likely be clean-shaven and wearing chinos and a blue button down chambray shirt. (Note to FBI agents reading this: I just made that up.  No need to scurry and update your profiles or stake out the local menswear store.)

It appears that Flying While Muslim is the new Driving While Black.  Sadly for my brothers and sisters of color, the old Driving While Black, which is still Driving While Black (or Hispanic) is still fully in force, so be aware that if you did really well at your law firm last year and treated yourself to a new Beemer with your bonus you will still get pulled over randomly by troopers who think you are a drug dealer.  Sorry we can’t help you with that.

The two Imaams have legal counsel now and are considering their options.  The airline is zipping its lip and not saying anything after releasing the usual “security is important to us” statement.  Muslims around the country are shaking their heads and sighing into their coffee.  Normal Americans are thinking “that sucks” while secretly wishing they could travel in their pajamas.  Tea party enthusiasts are training legions of volunteers in how to feel uncomfortable in the presence of a brown person.  Legislators are seriously hoping they don’t have to get involved.  The media is returning to covering news of the flooding Mississippi and the split of The Governator and his wife.  Life goes on. 

About 4 million people will fly on any given day.  Some of those flyers will be Muslim, and many of them will undergo special  procedures.  Screeners will wand, pat, xray, and feel up men, women, and children in the name of security.  Some guys with beards and long robes will be looked at with fearful eyes and will be allowed to fly, or not.  The friendly skies are getting less friendly every day, and it does not make us one whit safer.  Indeed, it has the opposite effect.  It makes the warped jihadi overseas smile because he knows that he can use the video of Muslims being targeted and humiliated as a recruiting tool.  He can trot out the tape as evidence that the West hates “us” and that he is justified in declaring war against the infidels.  It is another, albeit smaller and less traumatic, Abu Ghraib moment.  And I don’t know what I can do about it. 

The last time I flew was seven years ago.  That was four kids ago, and I really don’t look forward to having to schlep them and all our stuff to the airport even if the goal is a lovely vacation in my husband’s native Egypt.  I know that if we do decide to travel one day,  I may have to stand there and grit my teeth while some eight-dollar-an-hour security person runs her hands up and down my body.  I may have to watch some guy do the same to my kids, undoing years of “good touch, bad touch” teaching.  I may see my tall, bearded husband ushered off for special attention.  I’ll try not to cringe, try not to jump out of my skin, I’ll refrain from getting in anyone’s face and telling them to go straight to hell, because I really need that vacation and I haven’t seen the Pyramids in years and I want to eat some fresh dates and cactus fruit.  I’ll submit, because I don’t have a choice.  But it pisses me off to no end, and it’s made worse by the fact that even if I allow myself to suffer all these indignities I still might not be allowed to get on the plane because someone feels uncomfortable.  If that happens, I don’t know what I might do.  If that happens, the redneck in me might come out and I might have to track down Miss Uncomfortable and get in her face and pop her right in her uncomfortable mouth.  Then the air marshals would haul me away and I could enjoy my vacation in a nice little cinderblock room being interviewed by the FBI. 

Maybe I’ll  tell the husband we’ll be having a staycation this year, just to be on the safe side.

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