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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 9/3/10

Two episodes of "Flying While Muslim"

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Message Abdus Sattar Ghazali
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"Flying while Arab or Muslim" has joined the profiling lexicon alongside "driving while Arab or Muslim," "driving while Black" and "driving while brown" since 9/11. "Flying while Arab or Muslim" expression has come to describe the reality of travel for all Muslims, non-Muslim Arabs, and anyone who looks like they could be from the Middle East or any other region of the world perceived as predominantly Muslim.

In a charged atmosphere - fomented by the inflammatory rhetoric surrounding the New York Mosque project by anti-Islam and anti-Muslim bigots as well as Rightwing ranters - two embarrassing incidents of "Flying While Muslim" happened this week.

On Monday (August 30), Ahmad Al-Soofi and Hezem Al-Murisi, United States residents of Yemeni descent, were taken into custody by the Dutch authorities when their flight from Chicago landed in Amsterdam. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officers alerted the Dutch authorities of the travelers after finding "suspicious objects" in the luggage of one of the passengers. The US Government found no reasons to charge either individual with any crime, and the Dutch authorities released the two on Wednesday (September 1).According to ABC News, at first it was believed the two may have been doing a test run on a terrorist attack. After investigation, it was uncovered that the two did not know each other and were not traveling together. Tellingly, neither of these men were on any U.S. terror watch lists as White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Tuesday.

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) has called for a clarification and explanation from the DHS as to whether the national origin of these two passengers played a role in notifying Dutch authorities and in the subsequent detentions. The ADC also called for an explanation of the "flight pattern" criteria, adopted this past April as part of the new Transportation Security Administration (TSA) guidelines, that may have been applied under these circumstances.

"It is readily apparent from this and other incidents that such guidelines are having a disparate impact on the Arab and Muslim American communities; and it appears, without question, that the final destination of these two individuals played a role in their detention," the ADC said.

In another episode of "Flying While Muslim," on Tuesday (August 31) a nine-member Pakistani military delegation, headed by Rear Admiral Arif Allah Hussaini, were deplaned from the United Airlines flight 727 from the DullesInternationalAirport in Washington to Tampa. They were interrogated for two hours after a passenger on the flight that a member of the Pakistani delegation, while talking to a flight attendant, had made remarks that he found threatening.

Mike Trevino, spokesman for the Airlines, was quoted by the Washington Post as saying they were deboarded from the plane after one of them "made a comment to a flight attendant." The delegation was to travel to Tampa, a GulfCoastBay city in the state of Florida, to attend the annual conference of the US-Pakistan Military Consultative Committee.

The Washington Post quoted an unnamed Pakistani military official as saying that the US officials "detained the delegation for two-and-a-half hours and refused to allow the officials to contact their embassy or the US military officials who had invited them to visit." Pakistan's Dawn quoted an unnamed security official as saying the officers "were treated like terrorists."

In Islamabad, the Inter-Services Public Relations said: "A Pakistani military delegation on a visit to US (on US invitation to attend a meeting at Centcom) was subjected to unwarranted security checks at Washington airport by US Transport Security Agency. Later, the delegation was cleared and US defense officials regretted the incident. However, as a result of these checks, military authorities in Pakistan decided to cancel the visit and call the delegation back."

Such incidents only strengthen the hands of extremists and help reinforce their narrative. The profiling of ordinary Muslims not only opens other avenues for the extremists, but results in the harassment and potential loss of support from the very people we need on our side to contain the extremists: ordinary Muslims.

Unfortunately, racial profiling has been openly acknowledged by many as the new approach in the fight to keep airlines safe. This opens the door to the creation of a brand new underclass of traveler -- anyone that falls within the ambit of watchlisted countries, and, at a stretch, anyone who is Muslim with an exotic name.

There cannot be two opinions about the national security but one wonders such kind of profiling is strengthening our security. The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed that people would be judged for "the content of their character." However, the Transportation Security Administration is judging Muslims by the way they look.

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Author and journalist. Author of Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality; Islam in the Post-Cold War Era; Islam & Modernism; Islam & Muslims in the Post-9/11 America. Currently working as free lance journalist. Executive Editor of American (more...)
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