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American Muslim

August 26, 2006

‘Flying While Muslim’

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

American Muslims braced for a back lash soon after the alleged London plot to blow up 10 US airliners was announced on August 10, 2006. The fears aren't unfounded. The back lash is coming in the form of increased vandalism against mosques, harassment, discrimination, hate mails and ethnic profiling.

A group of Muslim-Americans were detained for hours at New York's Kennedy Airport when they came back to the United States from trips abroad on August 15. About 200 passengers of Arab, Muslim or South Asian backgrounds were plucked from the baggage area, held six hours without food or water by Customs and Border Protection agents and questioned about their views of Iraq. One of the passengers, Arwa Ibrahim, told a press conference in New York that they were forced to sit on the floor without food or water and were treated rudely when they asked questions of the officers. "We were treated really horribly by the officers that were there, we were yelled at, we were told to get back, threatened with arrest and threatened to have to stay longer if we complained," said Arwa who came to US from Iraq at the age of 5. Arwa and her family was returning from a visit to Jordan. She said that they were questioned about their lives, if they ever had weapons training, and what they thought about the situation in Iraq, even though they have been in this country for 15 years.

While the Justice Department and Homeland Security say they do not practice racial profiling, more and more cases are popping up that tell a different tale:

A California Muslim community leader and his wife, an Islamic school principal, were stopped at San Francisco International Airport after returning from Egypt. The couple was questioned about money they had withdrawn for their son's wedding, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

A Canadian Muslim doctor, Dr. Ahmed Farooq, and his two colleagues were kicked off a United Airlines flight from Denver to Winnipeg (Canada) after a passenger identified them as a terrorist threat because he was offering prayers.

A British Muslim airline pilot, Amar Ashraf, is hauled off a Continental Airlines’ flight from Manchester, UK to Newark, NJ, just before take-off. He was returning to his job as a pilot for one of Continental's partner airlines in the U.S.

Not only the alleged terror plot but the war in Iraq, the callous disinterest in the loss of civilian lives and infrastructure in Lebanon and the demonization of Islam lay the foundations to this hysteria. The icing on the cake are the incidents mentioned above. This has created a general feeling among the the Muslims that they can't even pray or talk their own languages in an airport.

In post-9/11 America the common phrase Driving While Black (DWB) has been replaced by Flying While Muslim (FWM). DWB was having a car pulled over by a police officer for no other reason than the driver is black. FWM is searching, questioning, or denying service to an airline passenger for no other reason than the person appears to be a Muslim.

Since 9/11, the Muslims and Arabs have been resigned to some extra checks while traveling by air but they are shocked to hear a prominent congressman publicly calling for ethnic profiling.

Declaring that airport screeners shouldn't be hampered by "political correctness," House Homeland Security Chairman Peter King has endorsed requiring people of "Middle Eastern and South Asian" descent to undergo additional security checks because of their ethnicity and religion. His prejudice against the American Muslims is nothing new. In 2004 he said that 85 percent of the mosques in the United States have extremist leadership. Peter King is seeking re-election from the third district of New York.

Profiling of Muslims and Arabs has also become an issue in the Republican Party campaign.

Mark Flanagan, a congressional candidate in Florida was the fourth Republican office-seeker to call for profiling of Muslim airline passengers since the alleged airline bombing plot in Britain announced. "It is a fact that over the past 34 years, starting with the Munich Olympics, the majority of terrorist attacks have been carried out by Muslims," said Mark Flanagan, a candidate in the 13th District of Florida, in a statement.

Joining the fray, Paul Nelson, a Republican running in the third district of Wisconsin, also endorsed the idea on a local radio show. Asked on the show how screeners would spot a Muslim male, Nelson said, "If he comes in wearing a turban and his name is Muhammad, that's a good start."  The GOP gubernatorial candidate in New York, John Faso also joined the chorus said law enforcement officials should be able to question a Muslim man without fear of being slapped by an ACLU lawsuit.

Fanning the flame, radio host Mike Gallagher in the Fox News' Dayside show argued: "It's time to have a Muslims check point line in American airports and have Muslims be scrutinized. You better believe it." Gallagher's suggestion was met with applause from the audience.

While the alleged London plot, in which President George Bush sees the hand of “Islamic Fascists,” precipitated yet another red alert and “imminent threat from terrorists within our midst” Muslim organizations and individuals received venomous e-mails while mosques were attacked. A mosque in Southern California was vandalized twice within a week. On August 14, teenagers with pellet guns shot at the door of a mosque in La Mirada. Three days later, pellet guns were also used to shoot out two windows at the same mosque. And in a latest report, a Minneapolis mosque was target of an arson attack on August 24 while prayer was in session. No one was hurt in the incident, but dozens of books and other equipments were destroyed.

The terror hysteria has generated a hostile environment which is affecting the Muslims on a social level. At least three incidents of harassment were reported in Florida alone.

In Tampa: "Drop the bomb!" "Drop the bomb!" a Muslim woman wearing Hijab was yelled by two men two men as they cruised past her in a pickup while she was waiting to pick up her 15-year-old granddaughter at a school.

In Tampa again, Mohsin Teladia, a Muslim clergyman, was shopping with his wife and four children at a Wal-Mart when a man walked up to Teladia and said, "Osama." The stunned family left quietly.

In Palm Bay, a man who was armed with an AK-47 was arrested after his wife refused to let him spray paint "down with Islam" on her car.

The hate mongers are also targeting Muslim candidates seeking public offices. Saqib Ali, a candidate for Maryland House of Delegates, became a target, not for his stance on the issues, but because of his religion. On August 14, he was shocked to find a man, outside his residence, sitting next to his sign that read, 'Islam sucks.' The man carrying that sign was also wearing a t-shirt that read "this mind is an Allah-free zone."

As the 5th anniversary of 9/11 nears, the American Muslims and Arabs find themselves in a hostile environment similar to the era of immediately after 9/11. The fear is constantly whipped and hysteria is perpetuated by the government’s wartime rhetoric, politicians and media.

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Executive Editor of the online magazine American Muslim Perspective: www.amperspective.com