Saturday, March 31, 2007
On this day:

Artur Davis and the flying imams

Back in November, six Muslim clerics were removed from United Flight 300 after fellow passengers and flight attendants complained that they were acting suspiciously. This AP report and this follow-up piece in the Washington Times have the details. (If you prefer primary sources, Rich Miniter at Pajamas Media has provided links to the police report and a letter from one of the passengers describing her experience.)

Here are some of the relevant details, from the Washington Times (link above):
Muslim religious leaders removed from a Minneapolis flight last week exhibited behavior associated with a security probe by terrorists and were not merely engaged in prayers, according to witnesses, police reports and aviation security officials.

Witnesses said three of the imams were praying loudly in the concourse and repeatedly shouted "Allah" when passengers were called for boarding US Airways Flight 300 to Phoenix. ...

Passengers and flight attendants told law-enforcement officials the imams switched from their assigned seats to a pattern associated with the September 11 terrorist attacks and also found in probes of U.S. security since the attacks -- two in the front row first-class, two in the middle of the plane on the exit aisle and two in the rear of the cabin. ...

According to witnesses, police reports and aviation security officials, the imams displayed other suspicious behavior.

Three of the men asked for seat-belt extenders, although two flight attendants told police the men were not oversized. One flight attendant told police she "found this unsettling, as crew knew about the six [passengers] on board and where they were sitting." Rather than attach the extensions, the men placed the straps and buckles on the cabin floor, the flight attendant said.

The imams said they were not discussing politics and only spoke in English, but witnesses told law enforcement that the men spoke in Arabic and English, criticizing the war in Iraq and President Bush, and talking about al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.

The imams who claimed two first-class seats said their tickets were upgraded. The gate agent told police that when the imams asked to be upgraded, they were told no such seats were available. Nevertheless, the two men were seated in first class when removed.

A flight attendant said one of the men made two trips to the rear of the plane to talk to the imam during boarding, and again when the flight was delayed because of their behavior. Aviation officials, including air marshals and pilots, said these actions alone would not warrant a second look, but the combination is suspicious.

"That's like shouting 'fire' in a crowded theater. You just can't do that anymore," said Robert MacLean, a former air marshal.
Earlier this month, these six imams filed a federal lawsuit against both United Airlines and those passengers who reported their concerns to authorities. The clerics claim that they were victims of religious and racial discrimination.

The notion that passengers can be sued for reporting suspicious activity in airports and aboard airplanes is unacceptable in the post-9/11 world. Any reasonable person who notices a group of people acting the way these six imams were acting has a moral duty to do something about it. The passengers and crew of Flight 300 did just that, and now they are paying the price for having acted responsibly.

Last week, Republicans in the U.S. House forced a vote on a measure to help bring an end to this sort of litigious nonsense. According to the Washington Times (3/27):
House Republicans tonight surprised Democrats with a procedural vote to protect public-transportation passengers from being sued if they report suspicious activity -- the first step by lawmakers to protect "John Doe" airline travelers already targeted in such a lawsuit.

After a heated debate and calls for order, the motion to recommit the Democrats' Rail and Public Transportation Security Act of 2007 back to committee with instructions to add the protective language passed on a vote of 304-121.

Republicans said the lawsuit filed by six Muslim imams against US Airways and "John Does," passengers who reported suspicious behavior, could have a "chilling effect" on passengers who may fear being sued for acting vigilant.

Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican and ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, offered the motion saying all Americans -- airline passengers included -- must be protected from lawsuits if they report suspicious behavior that may foreshadow a terrorist attack.

"All of our lives changed after September 11, and one of the most important things we have done is ask local citizens to do what they can to avoid another terrorist attack, if you see something, say something," said Mr. King.

"We have to stand by our people and report suspicious activity," he said. "I cannot imagine anyone would be opposed to this." ...

The amendment is retroactive to activities that took place on or after Nov. 20, 2006 -- the date of the Minneapolis incident, and authorizes courts to award attorneys' fees to defendants with immunity.
All 121 House members who voted against this sensible amendment were Democrats, one of whom was Alabama's very own Artur Davis (D.-Birmingham). (The results of the final roll call vote are here.)

Thus, Davis has the distinction of being the only member of the Alabama delegation who voted to allow people like these six imams to continue hauling airline passengers into court for merely exercising their civic duties and alerting authorities when they see or hear things that raise concerns about their own safety.

Why? Perhaps Davis agrees with Mississippi Democrat Bennie Thompson, who seems to believe that passengers should filter their observations through the lens of political correctness:
Rep. Bennie Thompson, Mississippi Democrat and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, opposed the motion over loud objections from colleagues on the House floor, forcing several calls to order from the chair.

"Absolutely they should have the ability to seek redress in a court of law," said Mr. Thompson, who suggested that protecting passengers from a lawsuit would encourage racial profiling.

"This might be well-intended, but it has unintended consequences," Mr. Thompson said, before he accepted the motion to recommit.
Or maybe he agrees with Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Awad insinuates that the Flight 300 passengers and crew acted in bad faith, even though every shred of evidence shows that the imams' antics gave them more than enough reasons to be concerned:
The imams will not sue any passengers who reported suspicious activity in good faith, even when the 'suspicious' behavior included the imams' constitutionally protected right to practice their religion without fear or intimidation," Mr. Awad said.

However, Mr. Awad said that "when a person makes a false report with the intent to discriminate, he or she is not acting in good faith."
Congressman Davis has often indicated an interest in running for Governor or U.S. Senate one day. If so, he just handed his future opponent what is sure to be a very effective campaign ad.