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Still With Us: The Politics of Fear

By       Message WILLIAM FISHER       (Page 1 of 3 pages)     Permalink

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As Barack Obama's inauguration approaches, I suppose it was inevitable that inhabitants of the parallel universe that is the right-wing blogosphere would begin circulating dark reports that our new president will take his oath of office by placing his hand on a Koran.

Well, these wingnuts are entitled to their own opinions, but not to their own facts. Here's the main fact, no doubt inconvenient: Obama will place his hand on the same Bible used by Abraham Lincoln, that other radical Muslim.

The one from Illinois.

And, while we're on the subject of radical Muslims, it's worth noting that the past few weeks have given us yet more evidence that our post-9/11 Islamophobia is still alive and well.

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Should you have any doubt, just ask the members of the Irfan family. The Irfans are American-born Muslims of Indian descent. Last week, eight members of the family, plus a friend, were sitting on the tarmac at Washington's Ronald Reagan airport in an AirTran plane and attempting to fly to Orlando, Fla. The men in the party wore beards; the women wore headscarves.

Two members of this family reportedly had a conversation about the safest place to sit in the event of an accident. Whereupon other passengers reported these "suspicious" remarks to a flight attendant, who passed them on to the pilot, who notified a couple of air marshals on the plane, who then called the FBI and the Transportation Security Administration.

All 104 passengers were ordered off the plane. The FBI questioned the "suspicious" family and cleared them of any wrongdoing.

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Most of the passengers were then allowed to reboard the plane -- but the nine American Muslims weren't. Nor were they allowed to buy tickets on any other AirTrans flights. They had to buy tickets on U.S. Airways.

Initially, AirTran said it was not at fault. Later it said the incident was a "misunderstanding" and issued an apology.

"We regret that the issue escalated to the heightened security level it did,"
the airline said, "but we trust everyone understands that the security and the safety of our passengers is paramount and cannot be compromised," AirTrans said.

Well, actually, no, many of us don't understand. We don't understand the relationship between passenger security and safety and the conversation these two passengers had. What we do understand is that if these passengers had been white and clean-shaven, and the women's hair uncovered, this incident would never have happened.

But wouldn't that be racial profiling? Sure sounds like it. Yet the FBI, the DHS, the TSA, and every other government agency you can name, will vehemently deny it practices racial profiling.

Atif Irfan, one of the passengers who is a lawyer from Alexandria, Virginia, has a more realistic view. "Whenever we get on a plane, because of the color of our skin, people tend to look at us with a wary eye anyway."

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Kashif Irfan, 34, Atif's older brother and another of the detained passengers, is a medical doctor. Perhaps a tad too magnanimously, he said, "We are very grateful for the apology, and we're impressed by the outpouring of respect that AirTran has demonstrated after the fact."

He added, however, that the Irfan family has "not ruled out the possibility of legal action."

Others aren't waiting for the Irfans, however. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), an advocacy group, has already filed a complaint with the Transportation Department requesting an investigation.

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William Fisher has managed economic development programs in the Middle East and elsewhere for the US State Department and the US Agency for International Development. He served in the international affairs area in the Kennedy Administration and now (more...)

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