Perhaps Morning Has Broken on a new era in fighting the war on terror -- one in which the Bush Administration finally comes to grips with the fact that our enemy is radical Islam, and enables law enforcement to look for terrorists in all the right places.
It's just a shame it has taken three years to stare down political correctness.
Why the reason for my optimism? The diversion of the flight carrying Yusuf Islam, a.k.a Cat Stevens. The handling of this situation represents a reversal of the way in which similar cases were regarded by our government in the aftermath of 9/11.
Up until now, our government has been levying fines against airlines doing what it just did to Yusuf Islam. Specifically, the government fined American, United, Continental, and Delta Airlines, millions of dollars for instances in which those airlines exercised their lawful discretion to remove passengers whom the pilot believed were "inimical to safety."
Here's hoping the recent events represent an acknowledgment that those fines were wrong, and that political correctness will no longer compromise airline safety.
Yusuf Islam's flight was diverted to Maine when it was determined that he was on a "no-fly" list. Presumably this is due to his alleged financial connection with Hamas, and support of sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, who was convicted for his role in the first bombing of the World Trade Center. (The former conductor of the Peace Train was also known to have supported the Ayatollah's death sentence for Salman Rushdie.)
Commenting on Yusuf Islam, Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge has said that if "that name appears on a watch list that says you're not to fly on airplanes, for whatever reason, the individual at the port of entry…is responsible to make sure that information is acted upon, and that's precisely what we did."
Which is the correct response. But which is totally at odds with the way the Administration punished the airlines for their handling of prior instances despite even more compelling facts.
CONSIDER ONE OF THE eleven cited instances that caused American Airlines to pay $1.5 million for Kumbaya training at the behest of Norman Mineta's Department of Transportation.
On November 3, 2001, a 32-year-old naturalized American citizen of Jordanian birth was refused entry while trying to board a plane from Boston to Los Angeles. In the government's complaint filed against American, it stated that he was denied boarding after responding to a page and reporting to an American counter. There, he was greeted by an American employee and a U.S. marshal. He was told that the pilot had denied him boarding on that flight. The passenger informed the American employee that he had a "secret level" security clearance from the U.S. Department of Defense because he worked for a missile contractor. He was nevertheless told he was being denied passage. ("I was calmly contesting the pilot's decision when a state trooper arrived and asked me to move along and to deal with him. I was humiliated to be confronted by a state trooper in full view of the crowded boarding area.") The passenger missed his flight, but was upgraded to First Class on a later flight that day.
But American's answer suggested that there was more to the story in the eyes of the pilot at the time. American said "at least one other passenger had reported what appeared to be his suspicious behavior to an American gate agent." Additionally, American said "the Federal Air Marshal advised the pilot-in-command that the passenger had been acting suspiciously and had created some kind of disturbance and that his name was similar to a name on the federal watch list."
In other words, here is what was known to the pilot as he was preparing for takeoff: 1) it was two months removed from the worst act of terrorism ever initiated against the United States; 2) that terrorism victimized his employer and colleagues -- men doing exactly what he was now doing when their airplanes were used as weapons; 3) the point of origin of two of the 9/11 flights was Boston's Logan Airport, where he now sat; 4) the destination for three of the 9/11 flights was Los Angeles, which is exactly where he was headed; 6) the hijackers on 9/11 were, to a person, young Arab males, like this gent; 7) there was at least one passenger who is ill at ease with this particular passenger and reported that he was acting in a suspicious manner; 8) the Federal Air Marshal had advised that the passenger at issue has been acting suspiciously and has created some kind of disturbance; 9) this passenger had a name similar to one on the federal watch list, and 10) yes, let's not be afraid to say it, he was a 30ish Arab male like the 19 on 9/11.
Norman Mineta thinks that flight should have departed on schedule! Instead, when the American pilot correctly requested that this passenger be questioned further, the government called it discrimination.
Which is why last week brought good news. Perhaps we've opened a new chapter in the war on terror. One in which we face the fact that the 9/11 hijackers had their race, religion, ethnicity, gender and appearance in common, and consequently, we'll permit a heightened level of scrutiny when individuals present themselves with those characteristics.
Unpleasant? Yes. But, oh baby, it's a Wild World.
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