When President Barack Obama announced to the public that U.S. troops had killed Osama bin Laden, he was careful to say that the nation was not at war with Islam. It was an important message that echoed similar statements in recent years from other high-ranking U.S. officials. Sad to say, not everyone got the message.
There’s no other explanation for the recent treatment of four members of the Muslim clergy. The imams — two from Memphis and two from New York — were either barred or removed from domestic U.S. airline flights. The only apparent reasons for such treatment were the appearance and perhaps the names of the religious leaders. That type of discrimination shows America at its worst.
Each of the four clergyman, ironically, was attempting to travel to Charlotte, N.C., for a conference on Islamophobia, or the fear of Islam. The incidents should give those who smugly assume that the United States is far too progressive to need that sort of conference reason to reconsider the opinion.
The imams from Memphis were taken off an Atlantic Southeast Airlines flight. American Airlines removed one imam from the New York-Charlotte flight and denied the other a seat — twice. The airlines’ reasoning defies reasoning.
According to one of the Memphis imams, a professor at the University of Memphis, the ASA pilot said other passengers aboard might feel uncomfortable with them on board. That’s of no consequence, assuming the clergymen had passed the same security tests as other passengers.
Reports indicate that both of the New York imams were cleared by authorities for their flight, but that American Airlines nevertheless barred them from traveling. What happened to the imams makes the case for widespread discussion of Islamophobia and other discriminatory acts and beliefs.
Both airlines ultimately offered regrets of sorts. ASA, which flies connector routes for Delta, said “we take safety and security very seriously,“ then apologized for any inconvenience, as did Delta officials. That’s not enough. A change in attitude is required.
American Airlines was equally artless. “There was no ill intent on the part of any of our employees involved in this [the new York incident]. It was a situation that just got very complicated in a hurry from a security standpoint.” That’s an excuse, not an explanation.
One of the clerics involved poignantly said that “this is the first time this kind of thing ever happened to me ... I was devastated. ... I wanted to know: What did I do. I’m American-born. It stressed me out.”
There is, of course, lingering concern that bin Laden’s followers will seek revenge within the United States. That’s no reason, however, to demonize someone on the basis of appearance, ethnicity or name. Law-abiding Muslims, whatever they wear, whatever their name, should be treated with the same respect accorded everyone else. That part of Obama’s message seems to have been forgotten in the general elation that greeted his announcement of bin Laden’s demise.