Perhaps you have heard of the "Flying Imams" lawsuit, brought on by an incident on U.S. Airways in November 2006. The lawsuit against U.S. Airways and the United States Government was filed by six Muslim clerics who claim discrimination because they were removed from their flight before take-off on account of "suspicious behavior" noted by both the flight crew and fellow passengers. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), an unindicted co-conspirator in a separate trial recently brought by the United States Attorney General against terror front organizations, announced the imams' lawsuit earlier this year. The lawsuit originally included fellow passengers as defendants as well as U.S. Airways and the U.S. Government, although these passengers were removed after a public outcry.
U.S. Airways officials said the men's behavior included alleged anti-American statements, changing their seat assignments so that they would be scattered around the airplane, and asking for seat-belt extenders, which could be used as weapons.
Now comes news of two similar suspicious incidents. NBC San Diego recently reported that six Michigan men have filed a lawsuit against American Airlines, claiming they publicly were humiliated while being escorted from an aborted flight in San Diego. The six men, all Iraqi military contractors hired by the U.S. Army to teach Marines about Iraqi culture and etiquette, were returning to Detroit on August 28. The men were detained after a passenger heard them speaking Arabic, grew uncomfortable with their behavior and asked that she and her two children be removed from the flight. During their brief detention the men were questioned and released. There was no law enforcement officer involved, no one was imprisoned and no one was handcuffed. Yet one of the men is reported to have said that, "They treated me like a terrorist; I'm anything but a terrorist. We didn't do anything wrong, but they made everybody scared of us," according to NBC San Diego. The Detroit Free Press quoted another as saying they felt violated.
They are suing American Airlines for hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensatory damages for hours of detainment, interrogation, public humiliation and embarrassment.
In a separate incident on June 27, twelve men flew Sun Country Airlines from Washington, D.C. to Minnesota. Based upon passenger accounts reported to journalist Annie Jacobsen, the twelve Middle-Eastern men "appeared to be going out of their way to call attention to their aberrant in-flight behavior. 'They stood up in unison, kept changing seats, and kept passing cellular phones. They were so disruptive. The flight attendant kept telling them to sit in their seats, but every time [the flight attendant] was out of sight, they would begin again.'"
According to the media, one of the men subsequently pulled out a video camera with a large microphone and began taping all the passengers on the plane. This frightened passengers and the flight crew, who told the man to put it away. He agreed to do so, but whenever the flight attendants were out of sight he brought it back out and began filming again. Many of the passengers claimed he intimidated them.
Sun Country Airlines requested that representatives of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) meet the aircraft when it arrived, and they did. TSA now refuses to discuss the incident, although TSA has acknowledged that it occurred. So far the twelve men have not filed a discrimination-based civil suit. Jacobsen reports that they would have difficulty doing so because they violated the other passengers' privacy by videotaping them.
It seems that some individuals and organized groups are pushing the envelope on acceptable behavior aboard airplanes simply because they can. Others are using such behavior as an easy ticket to monetary gain or a chance to intimidate Americans ideologically. In every instance the men exhibited non-violent but suspicious behavior that resulted in their removal from the aircraft or detention afterwards. In two cases they filed a lawsuit against the airlines and/or the Government.
The passengers in all three cases felt threatened. Whether they were or not is irrelevant. Flying is a serious matter, particularly because the consequences of a mistake usually are fatal. After September 11, 2001, Americans have every justification for being suspicious of large groups of Middle-Eastern men who exhibit unusual behavior in an aircraft. This is simply the reality of the situation.
TSA and airlines have an obligation to make sure passengers feel safe during their flight. When flight crews try to correct an obvious problem that arises airlines should not be penalized for doing so. TSA also needs to abandon its fear of profiling and start screening passengers who could be a problem based upon their appearance. This is not to suggest that every Middle-Eastern man is a threat. But the truth is that Middle-Eastern men and/or Muslim men have instigated all of the airplane terror problems, violent or non-violent, in the last six years. When one has a general description of who the potential problem is one should screen him more carefully before allowing him on a flight. Forget harassing grandmothers, young adults or those who do not fit the profile of a terrorist. (How many passengers of the traditional American stereotype have wreaked havoc in the sky recently?)
We have become so afraid of offending anyone that we deny reality. Americans know better, and it is time we demanded a more realistic airport screening process from our government.