The fact that we have to coin the new phrase “flying while Muslim” is indicative of the unraveling of our national social fabric.

Many Americans are aware of the case of six American Muslim imams (prayer leaders) who were removed from a US Airways flight. Notwithstanding the fact that the imams had already cleared TSA security and did nothing illegal, they were discriminated against by not being allowed to re-board any subsequent US Airways flights to Phoenix.

Another recent case illustrates the absurdity of racial profiling. Last September, a Jewish man was removed from an Air Canada Jazz flight in Montreal for merely praying in his seat. Jewish rabbis criticized the move as insensitive, saying the flight attendants should have explained to other passengers that the man was not doing any harm.

My sentiments exactly, rabbis.

The lawsuit by the imams is seeking damages from US Airways for their alleged discrimination. It is not against any passengers who reported “suspicious” activity in good faith, even when that “suspicious” behavior includes religiously mandated prayers.

However, political cherry-pickers insinuate that the lawsuit punishes travelers who report suspicious activity. Nothing could be further from the truth. American Muslims are committed to the security of our nation. The six imams are signatories to an Islamic fatwa (religious decree) that states: “It is the civic and religious duty of Muslims to cooperate with law enforcement authorities to protect the lives of all civilians.”

Reporting suspicious criminal activity to law enforcement authorities does not absolve anyone from the responsibility to be factual. False reporting is criminal. We want to find out whether these “John Does” made other false claims against the imams – not just that they were praying, however ignorant complaining about that might be.

Once allegations are made, it becomes the responsibility of the airline to discern between peaceful prayers and passenger endangerment. Government officials have repeatedly stated that racial profiling is an ineffective law enforcement technique.

As Americans, we deserve security based on intelligence and evidence – not paranoia, false reporting, bigotry and witch hunts at 32,000 feet.

Arsalan Iftikhar is national legal director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.


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