March 15, 2007

Unfriendly Skies


From CNN: U.S. imams sue airline over removal from flight.

Six Islamic religious leaders have filed suit against US Airways for having them removed from a domestic flight last November.

Police escorted the imams, all residents of the United States, off a plane in Minneapolis, Minnesota, after passengers and airline staff said the men were acting suspiciously.

Some of the men had prayed in the airport lobby before boarding, and passengers were concerned when two of the men requested seat belt extensions. ...

The men said the arrest was degrading and a violation of their civil rights, and the event provoked outrage from several minority groups. At a news conference Tuesday morning, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said the government must work to protect the civil liberties of every citizen. ...

In a statement regarding the incident, US Airways defended the flight crew. ...

"This was not about prayer, but rather about behavior on the airplane that led to a decision by our crew members -- backed by local law enforcement -- to remove these customers from the airplane for further questioning."

In addition to US Airways, the imams are suing the Minneapolis Metropolitan Airports Commission.

But the suit doesn't stop there -- some passengers are included, too. From the Star Tribune: The real target of the 6 imams' 'discrimination' suit by Katherine Kersten. (via Debra Burlingame)

[T]he most alarming aspect of the imams' suit is buried in paragraph 21 of their complaint. It describes "John Doe" defendants whose identity the imams' attorneys are still investigating. It reads: "Defendants 'John Does' were passengers ... who contacted U.S. Airways to report the alleged 'suspicious' behavior of Plaintiffs' performing their prayer at the airport terminal."

Paragraph 22 adds: "Plaintiffs will seek leave to amend this Complaint to allege true names, capacities, and circumstances supporting [these defendants'] liability ... at such time as Plaintiffs ascertain the same."

In plain English, the imams plan to sue the "John Does," too.

Who are these unnamed culprits? The complaint describes them as "an older couple who was sitting [near the imams] and purposely turn[ed] around to watch" as they prayed. "The gentleman ('John Doe') in the couple ... picked up his cellular phone and made a phone call while watching the Plaintiffs pray," then "moved to a corner" and "kept talking into his cellular phone."

In retribution for this action, the unnamed couple probably will be dragged into court soon and face the prospect of hiring a lawyer, enduring hostile questioning and paying huge legal bills. The same fate could await other as-yet-unnamed passengers on the US Airways flight who came forward as witnesses.

The imams' attempt to bully ordinary passengers marks an alarming new front in the war on airline security. Average folks, "John Does" like you and me, initially observed and reported the imams' suspicious behavior on Nov. 20. Such people are our "first responders" against terrorism. But the imams' suit may frighten such individuals into silence, as they seek to avoid the nightmare of being labeled bigots and named as defendants.

Also this week, The New York Times saw fit to defend CAIR against charges that the Muslim group is tainted by terrorist connections. At Protein Wisdom, Karl provides the context conveniently evaded by the NYT. (via Little Green Footballs).

At, Patrick Poole recaps more of CAIR's history: CAIR's Blood Money.

And there's at least one Muslim group in America with a different opinion on this issue. From the American Islamic Forum for Democracy: Press Release: Not All Muslims Support CAIR Plan to Sue U.S. Airways on Behalf of Six Imams. (via Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi)

1. We will not accept the victimization agenda of organizations like CAIR. Lawsuits like the one announced today exploit the climate of political correctness and at the end of the day are harmful to the Muslim minority in America.

2. Make no mistake, this type of agenda and policy direction of organizations like CAIR only represents its own membership and its own donors. ...

3. One of the frontlines in the war on terror is at the airports and at the gates. While the imams were clearly removed for their behavior after entering the plane, it should be made clear that many less rigid but equally pious Muslims believe (including 3 out of 6 of the imams for that matter) that the prayer they performed could have been performed upon landing in Phoenix due to travel dispensations in Islam or privately on time while seated on the flight. Muslims believe that God is forgiving and does not expect religion to be "too difficult".

Related cartoons:
Flying While Islamist
Safety on Board

UPDATE I -- March 16: Worth pointing out again, from The Wall Street Journal in December: On a Wing and a Prayer; Grievance theater at Minneapolis International Airport by Debra Burlingame.

And Tim Sumner has not only reposted USAirways contact information for showing your support, he also has a suggestion:

If someone, acting in good faith, reports suspicious behavior or items in airports or aboard a plane, they should be federally protected from civil action, as should the crews be who act upon those reports. And the safeguard is already in place as those who maliciously or falsely report such things are punishable under federal law for disrupting a commercial aircraft.

UPDATE II -- March 17: From The Washington Times in December: Imams' suit risks 'chill' on security by Audrey Hudson.

"If such a suit could proceed, it would have a chilling effect on the willingness of people to provide information that authorities need to act when people are engaged in wrongdoing," said Mark Behrens, a liability defense lawyer with the Washington firm of Shook, Hardy & Bacon. ...

"The implications are that if you appear to just buzz about what you perceive to be a security threat then you are a legal wrongdoer and responsible for damages, even if all you did was notify the authorities. And that would have a tremendous chilling effect, win or lose.

"Unless this is thrown out of court early, the lesson learned will be that next time someone sees something, it may be safer to stay quiet and hope someone else reports it. Even if the charges get thrown out or dropped, this is an announcement that you could be caught up in litigation for years and spending your savings on lawyers."

And the Mark Levin Fan Web site has posted audio commentary by Levin and a guest on his show, M. Zuhdi Jasser, M.D., founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy.

UPDATE III -- March 18: LGF has posted a Hannity & Colmes video in which Steven Emerson gives a breif history of CAIR.

UPDATE IV -- March 18: Much more info on the lawsuit at The Washtington Times Insider Politics Blog.

UPDATE V -- March 24: From The Washtington Times Hill bill protects flying public by Audrey Hudson.

House Republicans are pushing legislation to protect airline passengers from lawsuits for reporting suspicious behavior that might be linked to a terrorist attack.

Rep. Steve Pearce, New Mexico Republican, introduced the Protecting Americans Fighting Terrorism Act of 2007 on Thursday, a week after a lawsuit was filed by a group of Muslim imams who were taken off a US Airways flight in November.

It is "unconscionable" that those who report suspicious activity could be "terrorized in our own court system in our own country," Mr. Pearce said on the House floor yesterday afternoon.

Posted by Forkum at March 15, 2007 04:49 PM