Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
This here's a religious establishment. Act respectable.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

...And He Is Us, Part II

Playing in the background: The soothing chuggity-chug of the washing machine
Meters swum today: None, 1300 yesterday.

Y'all may find this hard to believe, but once in a while I get negative comments on this blog. Some people even call me bad names. Check out the response to ...And He Is Us, below. Oh, wait, you can't because it's not there. I deleted it. And before you jump all over me for stifling interfaith discussion and discouraging conflicting opinions, let me just say that I had three (count 'em, three) very good reasons for deleting the comment. One, there's a big difference between enlightened discussion and throwing more fuel on the fire of conflict. If you want to engage in enlightened discussion, you should probably not start off your first sentence by calling the other person an idiot. Two, this here's a religious establishment and y'all need to act respectable. Three, this is my blog and I'll delete whatever I want. You wanna call me names, do it on your own blog.

That aside, though, this person did have a couple of valid points. One of them was that you don't often see Buddhists or Catholics or Seventh-Day Adventists hijacking airplanes (though one wonders what faith D.B. Cooper professed; I'd suspect some stripe of Protestant, but I could be wrong.) In fact, El Al, the state airline of Israel and by far one of the safest in the world, admits to practicing 'racial profiling' in its screening of passengers - specifically singling out young Islamic men. They can get away with that, in part because they're a small airline (this level of security is ridiculously labor-intensive) and in part because they're based in Israel, where the laws are different. This would never fly, so to speak, in the States. That rotten ol' "all men are created equal" thing in the Declaration of Independence is still causing trouble after 230 years.

Which leads us to this person's second point about the additional layer of personal responsibility one should be required to assume in a post 9-11 world. The person points out that if a family of white Southern Baptists had a discussion about airline safety prior to take-off, we never would have read about it. Anybody getting on an airplane in traditional Muslim dress should confine his or her conversation to English-language discussions of bunnies, flowers and Shakespeare. (The sonnets, not those violent plays.) Furthermore, this person says that the airline shouldn't have said, "We're sorry, here's your free tickets"; it should have said, "We're not sorry, you're banned for life and we're suing you for the cost of diverting the plane and delaying everybody for two hours."

Look: Airline pilots have always had wide discretion to decide who flies aboard their aircraft. Pilots have been known to remove people from flights for everything from making jokes about drunk pilots (following an incident at Heathrow, London involving a United Airlines pilot from the States) to wearing provocative buttons to not wearing enough clothing. The safety of everybody aboard is the most important concern, and the joking half-naked button-wearing passengers of the world can't be allowed to open emergency-exit doors in flight and stuff like that.

In this instance, the pilot did what the pilot was supposed to do; he (or she) reported the incident to the TSA. The TSA did what the TSA was supposed to do; it investigated, called in the FBI, and then determined that there wasn't a problem. The airline then did what it was supposed to do; it apologized and gave the family new tickets. The point of my post, which seems to have been lost on my commentor as well as the general public, is that it's not the airline that should be apologizing. In fact, let's put that in bold caps. THE AIRLINE SHOULD NOT BE APOLOGIZING. THE TWO TEENAGE GIRLS WHO OVERHEARD THIS NON-EVENT AND BLEW IT ALL OUT OF PROPORTION ARE THE ONES WHO SHOULD BE APOLOGIZING.

I can't imagine it's ever a good idea to jump on an airplane and begin a loud conversation about how Dan Simmons' last book, The TERROR*, really BOMBED and he better get himself a new editor or else he's gonna CRASH. But that's not what happened here. Nor here: This guy was told he couldn't get on an airplane unless he covered up a t-shirt** with Arabic script. (He sued and was awarded $240,000.) A man on a Canadian airliner was removed for praying before takeoff. He wasn't even Muslim; he was a Haisidic Jew. And in one celebrated incident, six Islamic imams who were removed from an airplane in Minneapolis were the subject of conspiracy theories that they staged the whole event as a publicity stunt. Right. I'm sure this mom and her son got themselves tossed off an airplane to raise money for autism research.

I always pray before takeoff. What should I do if somebody next to me thinks Om mani padme hum means "Death to America" in Sanskrit? Do Buddhist monks make other travelers "uncomfortable" because they're obviously wearing "religious dress"? How about Orthodox priests? They look pretty suspicious. Plus, they have long beards. Just like imams. Should we go past Flying while Muslim/Russian/Buddhist/Seventh-Day Adventist/Whatever to the much simpler Flying While Different and just get rid of everybody who isn't white, Christian and normal?

I like my idea better. Let's all just take a deep breath and relax. Om mani padme hum.

*Incidentally, I loved that book. I do think it could have been a couple hundred pages shorter, though.

**The T-shirt read, "We will not be silent." You gotta wonder if he would have received more or less money if the shirt had read, "Fly the Friendly Skies."

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