Monday, November 27, 2006

Airplanes, Anti-Arabism, Anti-Semitism, and Religion-o-phobia

October 2001 Two Jewish men removed from airplane for praying and being a bit 'Middle Eastern' looking
A Delta Air Lines flight from Atlanta to Newark was diverted to Charlotte, N.C., on Sunday after passengers complained of two "Middle Eastern" men who were huddled in the back of the plane speaking a language other than English. After the plane landed in Charlotte, investigators found that the two were Orthodox Jews who were saying prayers during the flight.

"Officials at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport initially received reports that the men were trying to break into the cockpit, said Aviation Director Jerry Orr. It turned out to be two Jewish men praying together in the back of the plane, he said."

August 2006: Muslim man removed from airplane
removed for praying and being a bit 'Middle Eastern' looking
Dr. Ahmed Farooq, a Muslim, was escorted off an airplane in Denver on Tuesday. According to Farooq, reciting his evening prayers was interpreted by one passenger as an activity that was suspicious. Dr. Ahmed Farooq was escorted off a plane in Denver because another passenger found his praying suspicious.

September 2006: Jewish man
removed from airplane for praying
"He was clearly a Hassidic Jew, he had some sort of cover over his head and was reading from a book.He wasn't exactly praying out loud but he was lurching back and forth. The action didn't seem to bother anyone." Nonetheless, a flight attendant approached the man and told him his praying was making other passengers nervous, CBC said. "The attendant actually recognized out loud that he wasn't a Muslim and that she was sorry for the situation but they had to ask him to leave," Faguy concluded. Air Canada Jazz spokeswoman Manon Stewart stated in response: "We have received more than one complaint about the man's behavior and due to that the crew had to act in the interest of the majority of passengers." Stewart termed the matter as "being a delicate situation." She added:" The passenger spoke neither English nor French, so we really had no choice but to return to the gate and secure a translator."
CBC quoted Hassidic Rabbi Ronny Fine, who said he often prays on airplanes, but typically only gets curious stares, and added that "If it's something that you're praying in your own seat and not taking over the whole plane, I don't think it should be a problem."

Jews Praying in Public
"I don't know where to begin with what's wrong with this. How could a man be thrown off a plane for an action as simple as shaking back and forth? How a flight attendant could conclude that a person was safe simply because he didn't look like a Muslim? Or assume that he would not be safe if he was a Muslim? And how could she announce such a thing to the passengers? If they had simply explained to the complaining passengers that the man was praying, as the train conductor in my colleague's situation did, the plane could have been on its way with no disruption to anyone. Instead, the flight was delayed for all, and the praying Jew had to explain himself to authorities and catch a later flight -- a serious inconvenience for an Orthodox Jew on a Friday!

We truly live in a frightening world when we have to remove people from a plane for engaging in harmless, albeit strange and unfamiliar, behavior. The Jewish community of Montreal has offered to provide sensitivity training to Air Canada's staff so they will know what is going on in the future and will know how to handle it.

But I would like to correct a misconception I've seen in some of the blog entries about this: the passenger's prayer was probably not related to fear of flying, and probably was not a prayer related to the flight (though a generic prayer for safe travel was likely included). Orthodox Jews pray three times a day, every day, and this may simply have been the most convenient time to do it. Many Orthodox Jews pray on planes or trains or in other public places.

November 2006: Six Muslims removed from airplane for praying and being a bit 'Middle Eastern' looking
Six Muslim religious leaders were taken off a US Airways flight in Minneapolis on Monday evening and detained for several hours after some passengers and crew members complained of behavior they deemed suspicious, including prayers at the gate.
"To practice your faith and pray is a crime in America?" he said. The incident set off a nationwide uproar, and the Department of Homeland Security's Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties said it will review the incident.
Bloggers and talk radio buzzed about the need to be vigilant against potential terrorists, while civil rights advocates and Muslim leaders cried foul.
Locally, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, and the Somali Justice Advocacy Center questioned the detention.
Muslims Praying in Public
Muslims generally have two kinds of prayer. One is a silent, often brief invocation that may occur throughout the day. The other, which is supposed to occur five times a day, involves some ceremony beyond simply kneeling, as Muslims prostrate themselves, touching their foreheads to the ground, in order to venerate God.

Eide Alawan of the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn said that he always looks for a place to practice that prayer in some isolation. And if no provisions can be made, Alawan said he suggests that Muslims ask for permission and explain to others nearby what they are doing.

"I tell people it's common courtesy," Alawan said. "I tell Muslims, 'You should ask for permission.' I have never been refused, by the way. There is always an accommodation that can be made."

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