Ahsan Baig's molehill

Posted: Nov 05, 2001 12:00 AM
Eleven days after Sept. 11, United Airlines politely bumped Pakistani immigrant Ahsan Baig from one Philadelphia-bound flight to the next after a pilot incorrectly thought that he saw Baig send a suspicious signal to a fellow passenger. Now Baig is suing United and 50 United employees for discrimination. Baig sees himself as a champion of other Muslims living in America. What -- other than money -- Baig expects to gain from this law suit, I can't imagine. He wouldn't say Thursday just how much money he should get. "How do you quantify money," he said from his Bay Area office, "after the stress and humiliation I've faced?" Certainly Baig shouldn't expect a lot of sympathy. It's not as if he was denied employment, or has been denied access to the good life. Baig admittedly is a frequent flier who, according to a lawsuit press release, had "never had a problem boarding a plane" before. He was bumped from one lousy flight. "You're not in my shoes," Baig noted. "You don't know what we're going through." Then again, he doesn't seem too anxious to understand what airline employees and other passengers are going through, either. Of course, American employers should not discriminate against Muslims, and if they do, they should expect to be sued. It's a given in this country that you don't discriminate on the basis of religion or race. "I'm not a second-class or third-class citizen," Baig complained. Actually, he's not a citizen. In the 11 years that he has lived in this land of opportunity, he has yet to apply to be a citizen -- yet he wants all the benefits of citizenship. He also wants this country to be perfect, understanding and flowing with equanimity -- to the point where airline employees should prefer to risk hundreds of lives rather than hurt his feelings. He asks too much. The nation is under attack from noncitizens who have entered the country. Visitors from countries with hostile populations areas should expect some extra scrutiny and inconvenience. It's not particularly fair, especially since none of the 19 hijackers appears to be from Pakistan, although many of them did travel through that country. But if airline personnel are polite and don't prevent foreigners from traveling, it's not particularly unfair either. Baig said he fears that worse discrimination will occur. I share his concern, but noted that such inequities would be less likely to happen if he, for example, were vocal in their outrage over the attacks. On "Mornings on 2" last week, Baig told host Ross McGowan, "My concern is that we should not really isolate the entire (Muslim) community here just because one person or two people did something wrong to the whole country." One or two people did some thing wrong? That's how he describes 19 hijackers who killed thousands of innocent civilians? Baig could learn from the example of Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. On Oct. 4, Air France bumped Issa, an Arab American, from a flight to Paris. Issa believes he was a victim of racial profiling and he didn't like it. Still, he sees Baig's suit as "over the top." America, Issa noted, is going through a "learning experience." For the time being, he understands there will be more scrutiny "when you fit a high profile set of circumstances, you are male, you are from another country, that country has been known to harbor terrorists." Issa told me that on a recent flight a passenger complained to a flight attendant that Issa, the grandson of Lebanese immigrants, was too close to the pilot's door. Issa said he moved to the back of the plane to put the man at ease. Issa explained, People have to "adjust. There are sacrifices that are made in wartime."