The imams were praying a little too loudly for the other passengers in the waiting lounge at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport that day last fall.
One passenger thought they sounded angry. Others said they became alarmed because the six clerics split up once aboard the Phoenix-bound flight, chatting amongst themselves, requesting seats near exits and asking for unnecessary seatbelt extenders.
Fearful passengers complained.
US Airways booted the imams from the flight.
When they were cleared of any wrongdoing after an investigation, they sued the airline and their accusers. The religious leaders say they were harassed and humiliated.
The passengers told police they saw a potential reprise of 9/11 unfolding.
Now, in new legislation passed by the U.S. Congress and awaiting President George W. Bush’s signature, individuals who report terror threats “in good faith” will be immune from such lawsuits.
Republicans, cheered on by conservative talk radio and cable news, pushed the so-called John Doe amendment into Democratic legislation implementing the recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission. The amendment has been lauded in many quarters as a simple, commonsense move to aid America’s best defence against another terror attack, the eyes and ears of a vigilant populace.
But it has also raised troubling questions – when does vigilance become vigilantism and when does a legitimate fear cross into racial profiling?
Some fear it could lead to open season on those who look different, dress differently or practise a different religion.
“It appears to give people carte blanche to point fingers at others they find strange or those whose appearance, ethnicity or presumed religious affiliation cause them some fear,” said Hussein Ibish, executive director of the Foundation for Arab-American Leadership.