You are sitting in the concourse of an airport, preparing for your flight, when out of the corner of your eye, you spot six Arab men praying loudly in Arabic.
"Okay," you say to yourself, "that's a bit disquieting. But praying isn't terrorism."
You glance at your watch. It's time to board the plane. Sure enough, there's the boarding announcement. Suddenly, you hear the six Arab men chanting loudly. "Allah! Allah! Allah!"
"Okay," you say to yourself, "maybe they're still praying."
You board the flight and take your seat. You notice that two of the Arab men sit at the back of the airplane, two more sit in the middle of the plane on the exit aisle, and two sit at the front of the airplane.
"Okay," you say to yourself, "perhaps they couldn't get seats together."
A few seconds later, you hear a stewardess explain to another passenger that the six Arab men moved from their assigned seats to the new seating arrangement. And it seems that the two Arab men up front are now asking for seat-belt extensions.
"Okay," you say to yourself, "they don't look overweight. But perhaps they have indigestion."
Except that the two Arab men quickly tuck the seat-belt extensions underneath their seats. Then they begin speaking in both English and Arabic about President Bush, the war in Iraq, al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.
You spot another passenger signaling a stewardess. Minutes later, the six Arab men are escorted from the airplane.
Secretly, you're breathing easier. You make it to your destination without further incident. But when you turn on the television that evening, you see the six Arab men telling the media that their removal from the flight was a reflection of American xenophobia and ignorance. "I never felt bad in my life like yesterday," says one, apparently the leader of the group. "It was the worst moment in my life when I see six imams, six leaders in this community, humiliated. . . . In America we have no freedom to practice our faith, to do our faith."
A spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security's Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties is telling the media that the incident will be investigated. A Democratic congresswoman from Texas is explaining that the terrorist attacks of September 11 "cannot be permitted to be used to justify racial profiling, harassment and discrimination of Muslims and Arab Americans."
"Okay," you say to yourself, "maybe my perception was skewed by my fears."