What’s Next: Muslim-Only Lines At Airports?
The public whispers and the right wing’s open talk of Muslim-only airport lines are fueling even greater racial division, fear and hysteria.
Are Muslim-only lines at airports next? The thought is offensive, disgusting, and blatantly unconstitutional. But it’s hardly far-fetched.
Three years before suspected Nigerian airline terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was hauled off a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit with a powder and liquid explosive device stuffed in his underwear, British Department of Transportation officials openly discussed corralling men of South Asian or Middle Eastern appearance at airports for intense questioning, checks and searches. The plan outraged Muslim leaders and British officials backed off the systematic profiling of Muslims.
However, single men of South Asian and Middle Eastern appearance were still subject to intense checks and searches. Britain was not alone. France and the Netherlands had already imposed de facto profiling of Muslim-appearing young men and families at airports since the September 2001 terror attacks. Polls showed that a substantial majority of Europeans agreed that racial profiling was not repugnant if it made airline travel safer and thwarted a possible terror attack.
The clamor for a racial crackdown was first heard in the United States after the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1996. Then President Bill Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno had the good sense not rush to judgment and scapegoat Muslims. The swift arrest of Timothy McVeigh squelched the building mob hysteria against them. But it didn’t squelch public suspicions that all Muslims were potential terrorists. The federal building bombing propelled Clinton’s 1996 Anti-terrorism Act through Congress. Civil rights and civil liberties groups had waged a protracted battle against the bill. The law gave the FBI broad power to infiltrate groups, quash fundraising by foreigners, monitor airline travel, and seize hotel records and trash due process by permitting the admission of secret evidence to expel immigrants. The implication was that present and future attacks would likely be launched by those with an Arab name and face rather than by men like McVeigh.
President George W. Bush, as Clinton, took the high ground after the 9/11 attack. He did not reflexively finger-point Muslims. The Bush administration publicly assured that profiling was reprehensible and violated legal and constitutional principles, and that it would not be done. But the attack stirred tremors among Muslims that they would routinely be targeted, subject to search and surveillance, and profiled at airports.