Six imams got on a plane in Minneapolis. Accounts vary, but it seems that they were speaking in Arabic before boarding of their disgust with the U.S. war in Iraq and with American policy in general. One was heard to declare that he would do whatever was necessary to fulfill his obligations under the Koran. Another repeated, "Allah, Allah." Once aboard, they aroused suspicion by requesting seat-belt extenders that they did not appear to require and took seats not together but scattered throughout the plane.
Several people contacted the flight attendants, and the men were asked to leave.
Now comes the nonsense. The Associated Press declares that this is a case of "flying while Muslim," and a TV anchor compares the imams to Rosa Parks. Nihad Awad of the Council on American-Islamic Relations denounced the incident as an example of "Islamophobia," adding, "We are concerned that crew members, passengers and security personnel may have succumbed to fear and prejudice based on stereotyping of Muslims and Islam."
The Department of Homeland Security has announced that its Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties is opening an inquiry into the incident. And talk radio is abuzz. "Would they have done the same to a group of priests?" asked one talk radio host. "Or rabbis?"
Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that the person who was overheard chanting "Allah, Allah" was actually saying something else. Let's go ahead and allow that there was nothing suspicious about the request for seat-belt extenders, as several of the imams were a bit rotund. Let's even agree that the six imams were "victims" of discrimination.
It's a shame. But it's absolutely necessary. It cannot have been pleasant to be denied the opportunity to fly, to be singled out, to be embarrassed in front of a plane full of strangers. But this knee-jerk reaction to the word "discrimination" is completely out of place in this discussion.
When passengers see six Arab men praying, talking animatedly in Arabic (a fellow passenger understood Arabic and was one of those who contacted a flight attendant), and then boarding an airplane and sitting in different places, I wonder what goes through their minds? Is it: "I sure don't like Muslims. Think I'll just harass and annoy them"? Or could it possibly be: "Oh dear God, this is what the 9/11 hijackers must have looked like"?
Is it discrimination? Well, of course it is. But that cannot be the end of the discussion. We are so robotic in America whenever the word "discrimination" is used that we shut down thought and all genuflect in the direction of whoever is complaining. But the proper question is not whether it is discrimination but whether it is justified.