Mus­lim pil­grims urged to com­plain about any ‘air­port pro­fil­ing’ in­ci­dents

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Au­drey Hud­son

Amer­i­can Mus­lims mak­ing a re­li­gious pil­grim­age to Mecca are be­ing en­cour­aged to file civil rights com­plaints if they feel dis­crim­i­nated against by air­lines.

The Coun­cil on Amer­i­can-Is­lamic Re­la­tions (CAIR), cit­ing what it called the “air­port pro­fil­ing” of six imams re­moved from a re­cent flight, on Dec. 12 said Mus­lims trav­el­ing this month to the holy site in Saudi Ara­bia need to be aware of their rights.

“Given the in­crease in the num­ber of com­plaints CAIR has re­ceived al­leg­ing air­port pro­fil­ing of Amer­i­can Mus­lims, we be­lieve it is im­por­tant that all those tak­ing part in this year’s hajj be aware of their le­gal and civil rights,” said Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR spokesman.

The group has es­tab­lished a toll­free hot line (800/784-7526) for vic­tims of “fly­ing while Mus­lim,” as Mus­lims have be­gun de­part­ing for the week­long hajj, a once-in-a-life­time obli­ga­tion to visit the holy city of Mecca, which this year be­gins Dec. 29.

But M. Zuhdi Jasser, a Phoenix physi­cian and chair­man of the Amer­i­can Is­lamic Fo­rum for Democ­racy (AIFD), said the an­nounce­ment by CAIR “con­tin­ues the tired stok­ing of the flames of vic­tim­iza­tion.”

“They are un­for­tu­nately ex­ploit- ing, for purely po­lit­i­cal rea­sons, what should be a sa­cred and purely spir­i­tual story of our faith’s an­nual holy pil­grim­age to Mecca,” Dr. Jasser said.

“We­need­newlead­er­shipan­dor­ga­ni­za­tions which use their pas­sions and the band­width of the me­dia to lead the ide­o­log­i­cal fight against rad­i­cal and po­lit­i­cal Is­lam rather than this tired pre-emp­tion of sup­posed dis­crim­i­na­tion.”

CAIR is rep­re­sent­ing the six imam­sre­moved­fro­maUSAir­ways flight last month and has asked for a meet­ing with the air­line to seek an out-of-court set­tle­ment. It main­tains that po­lice and wit­ness re­ports de­tail­ing the imams un­usual be­hav­ior be­fore their re­moval last month were eth­ni­cally and/or re­li­giously mo­ti­vated.

The imams say they were pray­ing and did not, as the re­ports say, change seats and make re­marks crit­i­cal of Pres­i­dent Bush and the Iraq war.

Pi­lots and air mar­shals called the in­ci­dent a “PC probe” to in­tim­i­date pas­sen­gers and crew from re­port­ing sus­pi­cious be­hav­ior by Mus­lim pas­sen­gers and are fear­ful the in­ci­dent will set off a domino ef­fect of law­suits.

De­bra Burlingame, whose brother was the pilot of Amer­i­can Air­lines Flight 77 that crashed into the Pen­tagon on Septem­ber 11, thinks this is a ploy to ex­tort money from the air­lines.

“I think CAIR is solic­it­ing com­plaints, and if they don’t get it, they will make it up,” said Miss Burlingame, who is also a di­rec­tor for the World Trade Cen­ter Me­mo­rial Foun­da­tion.

“Peo­ple com­plain about ev­ery­thing, in­clud­ing bad weather, so, the an­gry Mus­lim ac­tivists will be loaded for bear,” Miss Burlingame said.

A guide is­sued by CAIR ad­vises Mus­lims that “as an air­line pas­sen­ger, you are en­ti­tled to cour­te­ous, re­spect­ful and non-stig­ma­tiz­ing treat­ment by air­line and se­cu­rity per­son­nel.”

“You have the right to com­plain about treat­ment that you be­lieve is dis­crim­i­na­tory,” the guide says.

Those treated in a dis­crim­i­na­tory man­ner are ad­vised by CAIR to “ask for the names and ID num­bers of all per­sons in­volved in the in­ci­dent. Be sure to write this in­for­ma­tion down.”

The Wash­ing­ton Times ob­tained po­lice and wit­ness re­ports just days af­ter the in­ci­dent in­volv­ing the imams, and re­ported on Nov. 28 that the men did not sit in their as­signed seats, asked for seat-belt ex­ten­sions they did not need, and spoke in Ara­bic among them­selves.

Fed­eral air mar­shals and pi­lots we­re­al­soasked­byTheWash­ing­ton Times to ex­am­ine the imams’ seat­ing ar­range­ment, and re­ported that it re­sem­bled a pat­tern used by the Septem­ber 11 hi­jack­ers.

“That be­hav­ior has been iden­ti­fied as a ter­ror­ist probe in the air­line in­dus­try,” one pilot said.

One air­line of­fi­cial who asked to re­mainanony­mous­calledtheCAIR threats about eth­nic pro­fil­ing “much ado about a prac­tice that does not ex­ist in any ma­jor air­line.”

“You do won­der what the ul­ti­mate aim is here; to elim­i­nate a dis­crim­i­na­tory prac­tice that does not ex­ist, or is there some other agenda afoot,” the of­fi­cial said.

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