No one yet has the full story on the infamous June 29 Northwest Airlines Flight #327 from Detroit to Los Angeles, on which thirteen Syrian musicians acted so suspiciously that passenger and WomensWallStreet.com writer Annie Jacobsen feared she was about to be killed by terrorists. The identity of the band remained unknown for a while until I identified them as the backup band for Canaanite crooner Nour Mehana, whom I dubbed the “Syrian Wayne Newton.”
Regardless of the behavior of Nour Mehana’s band, Ms. Jacobsen’s story has focused international attention on the very serious issue of terrorists sizing up our commercial aviation for another strike. She has been getting the full Paula Jones treatment for her trouble.
Critics gleefully hang Ms. Jacobsen’s fear on a moral defect: a hidden and unacknowledged racism. She felt fear, you see, because deep down, she is really a bad person. And also because she is “bigoted and paranoid” (per Salon.com’s Patrick Smith), and a “sniveling little twit” (from leanleft.com), and because girls tend to get hysterical and overreact. It’s their hormones. It’s why they can’t be president.
I told my wife that, and she overreacted.
But it’s not just the amateurs on left-wing blogs gunning for Ms. Jacobsen. Anonymous “federal officials and sources” told Los Angeles radio station KFI that “[t]he lady was overreacting,” More recently she tangled with the Syrian ambassador to the United States, who repeatedly called her a “paranoid racist.” It’s always reassuring when officials of Syria’s government and of our own sing from the same hymn book.
The opposite of paranoia is complacency — in this case, a refusal to grapple with mounting evidence that hostile forces still stalk our skies. The Washington Post reported that air marshals had observed and filed reports on 192 instances of “potential terrorists” probing and testing aircraft between September 11, 2001 and January 2, 2003. Recent news, such as a Middle Eastern passenger removing a mirror from a plane’s bathroom wall in order to break into the cockpit, and the capture of a suspected al Qaeda hotshot trying to fly to New York from Texas, suggests that our airliners and our resolve are still being tested.
For those who assume it’s paranoid to suppose that a musical group might practice espionage, here’s one better: How about an entire film crew? We know it can be done, because we’ve done it. During the Iranian hostage crisis, a CIA team infiltrated Iran disguised as a Canadian film company.
But don’t take my word for it. You know who else thinks there’s a terrorism risk posed by some Middle Eastern bands? Nour Mehana’s tour manager. But more about him in a second.
LEFTISH PUNDITS ARE ALSO attacking the notion that political correctness had something to do with the way that Flight 327 unfolded. And it’s true that “PC” can be a convenient scapegoat for outcomes conservatives dislike. But that’s not the case here.
The funny thing about flight 327 is that something very much like it happened before. When it did, Northwest Airlines reacted very differently. Consider the case of Northwest Airlines Flight 979, traveling from Memphis to Las Vegas on Sept. 11, 2002. The behavior of three passengers on that flight was not that much more suspicious than that of the Swingin’ Syrians on Flight 327.
Flight 979 had matching shaving kits; Flight 327 had a McDonald’s bag. Flight 979 happened on the anniversary of 9/11; during Flight 327, DHS had issued an “unusually specific internal warning” that mentioned potential terrorist activity in both Detroit and LAX. But on Flight 979, the men were challenged by flight attendants. When they refused to obey, the plane landed in Little Rock and the men were arrested for “interfering with a flight crew in furtherance of their duty.”
Had Nour Mehana’s band been ordered to sit down but failed to comply, they might be spending the next 20 years serenading the fashion show in Leavenworth. But the confrontation and order never came, and the plane continued to its destination. Whatever you think of the decisions the two flight crews made, it seems clear that they were faced with two similar scenarios, but made very different choices. Why the change in policy? What intervened?
Lawsuits and pressure, especially from the ACLU, and fines from the Department of Transportation.
A few days after the September 11 attacks, Northwest expelled three Middle Eastern men from a flight in Salt Lake City. The Utah Attorney General’s office publicly condemned the violation of civil rights and extracted an apology from Northwest, and one of the men sued the airline. On Christmas Day of 2001, Northwest ejected a Pakistani immigrant named Harris Khan from a boarded aircraft in Minneapolis. They had to apologize, pay a monetary settlement, and reeducate the pilot in civil-liberties sensitivity. Another “Flying while Arab” case involved Arshad Chowdury, who also sued Northwest Airlines for discrimination with the help of the ACLU.
Perhaps Northwest’s culture has changed in response to these suits, although a former Northwest employee who worked in Customer Relations (and preferred to remain anonymous) also fingered Department of Transportation sanctions as another likely cause: “Northwest was gun-shy of being slapped with a bunch of fines by the DOT if we were too stern with customer complaints — especially with militant minorities like Middle Eastern folks…So I felt that it was necessary to kowtow to customers of any stripe who would complain to the Dept. of Transportation so as to avoid fines. Once that kind of bad politics seeps into an organization or event, everyone feels that they are on notice to handle certain kinds of passengers with ‘kid gloves.’”
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