Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Defenders of the six outraged imams removed from a Minneapolis flight last week want people to think that airline officials overreacted by removing them from the plane — that all the imams were doing was trying to pray. But listen to what they did. It wasn’t just praying.

The imams left their assigned seats shortly before takeoff in violation of the rules — and then formed the same seating pattern that al Qaeda uses to test in-flight security. They switched “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,” Audrey Hudson reported in yesterday’s editions of The Washington Times. In the course of this episode they prayed loudly — this is the part the imams are now focusing on — shouting in voices that even the gate agents outside the plane heard. But the praying isn’t the issue.

The provocative seat-switching is. Now, there’s a chance that it wasn’t a deliberately provocative act. There’s also a chance that pigs might fly, or that beer might fall from the heavens. We’ve never heard of a Muslim religious tenet that requires worshippers to occupy the entry and exit routes of an airliner. That’s because there isn’t any.

Was this an orchestrated ploy to intimidate airlines — to exploit American civil-rights law? We can’t peer inside the hearts and minds of these six men. But considering the details unearthed this week, that’s where the evidence points.

To hear these imams’ defenders, you would think that the freedom to pray is the issue. Here’s Mohammed Abu Hannoud of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the country’s largest Islamic advocacy group: “I think we should be smart enough to distinguish between peaceful Muslims and terrorists.”

The imams should be smart enough — we certainly think that they are smart enough — to know that if they engage in seating maneuvers that mimic al Qaeda’s, they will be under immediate suspicion and will be removed from the airplane.

There is no civil right to disobey airline seating rules, occupy the exits and entries of an airplane and shout loudly. Not for Muslims or Christians or anyone else.

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