The new age of Islamic Travel

Recently there have been a couple of incidents reflecting the hazards of being and Islamic traveller.  First Jarrar is told to change his shirt because of its Arabic script.  Second a Northwest Airlines flight is diverted because of 12 "unruly" Muslim passengers.

I quite liked this analysis in Salon about this situation.  May Allah help us all and may our fellow non-Muslim passengars have compassion and mercy on us:


Re: Passenger vigilantism

The Raed Jarrar case is especially troubling because it makes so
little sense. Not only did security at JFK assume that Jarrar was
potentially dangerous because of his shirt, they also assumed that
making him remove the shirt would do away with the danger. When
he finally agreed to put on a different one, they let him board the
aircraft. The shirt was not considered a sign of some hidden threat; it
was considered dangerous in and of itself. The only possible logic here
is that security staff wanted to reassure anxious passengers. In that
case, those passengers were effectively given veto power over what
clothing a co-traveler might wear, regardless of whether that person
was dangerous. There needs to be a simple rule that once a passenger
has cleared security, and is not being disorderly by reasonable
standards, then that person gets to fly. If other customers have a
problem with his shirt, or language, or skin color, then they can wait for the next flight or take a bus.

— Satadru Sen, New York, N.Y.

Author’s note: A version of the above letter originally
appeared online with other reader responses to my Sept. 8 column. I’m
including it here because it makes a salient point that I should have
made myself. Meanwhile, the consensus on many blogs and message boards
seems to be that although Raed Jarrar was in no way dangerous, it was
nonetheless important that he remove his T-shirt for the benefit of
passengers disturbed by the Arabic script. I couldn’t disagree more,
and if that many Americans require such infantile coddling to feel
safe, we’re in worse shape than I thought.

Re: Passenger vigilantism II

To add some nuance to the incident in which several passengers were
removed from a Northwest flight preparing to depart from Amsterdam to
Mumbai, a majority of the passengers, not just the 12 men taken away in
handcuffs, were South Asian. The men were variously "Urdu speaking,"
"bearded," or "dressed in salwar-kameezes" — all signifiers of
Indian/Pakistani Muslims. This makes it the first incident of
aggressive profiling by and of South Asian passengers. This doesn’t
surprise me in the least, given the rampant anti-Muslim prejudice among
middle-class Indians, especially expatriates. The BBC carried a report
on the reactions of the 12 detainees and their families. It’s clear
they were 1) Muslim and 2) not exactly middle class. They were
returning from a trade fair loaded up with electronic goodies, and they
were loud. Class, as much as race or religion, is a critical factor
here. Those who were taken off the plane belong to a new class of
small-business people who work the "export-import" trade between South
Asia and outside markets. They typically have minimal English-language
skills, they don’t dress all that well, and their manners are not what
you and I might consider sophisticated. They don’t know, or always
follow, the niceties of air travel. They behave like they’re on a
country bus, which is the form of transportation they would have taken
a few years ago. They’re annoying as co-passengers, but they’re not
terrorists. Air marshals and crew need to better recognize these

— Name withheld