As a 6’3″, 250 pound weightlifter of Middle Eastern descent, who sometimes wears a full beard, seldom wears a (perfunctory) smile, and who’s last name is “Ibrahim”—a name that sometimes appears in rather “unflattering” headlines, such as the recent attacks in Glasgow—I don’t mind telling you that, well, sometimes I get askance looks of “concern” whenever I board airplanes. Do I take any special delight in that? Not really. Do I understand it? Totally.
Since 1984, 20 of the 27 airplane hijackings have been carried out by Arabs, Pakistanis, Turks, et al—all people of “Middle Eastern” appearance. Moreover, since 9/11, the lion’s share of dramatic and fatal terrorist attacks carried around the world—such as the Bali nightclub bombing, where 202 were killed, or the Madrid train bombings, where 191 killed, or the Chechen hostage crisis, where 344 civilians, including 186 children were killed, or the London train bombings, where 52 were killed, or the Sharm al-Sheikh bombings, where 64 were killed—have all been committed by Muslims. This is not to disparage but simply state a fact.
It is understandable, then, why I, a non-Muslim, whose last name is nonetheless Ibrahim, may be a source of special attention in an airport or airplane. Yet so long as I am not unduly harassed or slighted and am treated professionally—and, most importantly, since I have nothing to hide—I am always happy to comply. It simply makes sense. Even so, I don’t believe that I have ever been treated differently than the majority—no doubt because I don’t go out of my way to be conspicuous.
A practicing Muslim associate of mine—call him Ishmael—once told me that, while riding the train, he noticed a bearded man dressed in traditional Pakistani garb, swaying back and forth in his seat in recitation while holding a Koran. At the next stop, Ishmael exited the train and chose to wait for the next one, adding, “I pray and recite from the Koran, too, but since 9/11 I know better than to engage in easily misconstrued activities”—activities from a fellow Muslim which worried him enough to board another train.
It is in this backdrop that one should best appreciate the current debate about the “John Doe” provision and the infamous case of the “flying imams.” Unlike myself and Ishmael, these six imams, exploiting religious freedoms granted them that their own religion, Islam, does not grant others, and no doubt fully aware of the scene they’d inevitably cause, decided to fall prostrate in prayer in the middle of an airport, chanting “Allahu Akbar”—the usual last words of Islamist suicide bombers prior to detonation—and then when they boarded the plane, began talking loudly in Arabic, with only words like “Osama bin Laden” being intelligible to English ears.
Why is it that Ishmael and myself and countless other people of Middle Eastern and/or Islamic backgrounds are cognizant enough to know that discreet behavior in airports and airplanes goes a long way in ensuring a hassle free flight, while these imams decided to take an “in-your-face” approach?
Ironically, airports provide non-denominational “meditation” rooms, but, as I’ve heard before, many “pious” Muslims—such as the “flying imams,” no doubt—feel their prayers are sullied if recited next to Christians, Jews, Buddhists, or Hindus—that is, infidels. So they take to the middle of the terminal floors.
More ironic still, CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) is trying to make it so that any American who observes such “aberrant” behavior and decides to report it—you know, to avert another 9/11—can be sued. So now, Muslims who were raised in stoic environments—whether run by dictatorial, authoritarian, or theocratic governments—and who themselves support the draconian dictates of sharia law (stoning adulterers and murdering “apostates”); Muslims whose attire is markedly different from their Western hosts and who must therefore be used to constant stares—supposedly these same Muslims are now “hurt” and “traumatized” and need monetary compensation because some concerned citizens thought, due to their totally inappropriate behavior in an airport, that they may have had nefarious intentions and thus reported them to the authorities. This is CAIR’s approach at trying to foster better “American-Islamic relations”—its own namesake: threats, fear, and intimidation.
Of course and for the record, should the imams wish to avoid a similar incident next time they board a plane, behaving “normally” (yes, there is such a thing) and like everyone—both Middle Eastern and non-Middle Eastern, Muslim and non-Muslim—is a sure bet that they most likely won’t be harassed.