Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar! Those are the words that started it all. Six bearded imams are said to have shouted them out while offering evening prayers as they and 141 other passengers waited at the gate for their flight out of Minneapolis International Airport. It was three days before Thanksgiving. Allahu Akbar: God is great.
Initial media reports of the incident did not include the disturbing details about what happened after they boarded US Airways flight 300, but the story quickly went national with provocative headlines: "Six Muslims Ejected from US Air Flight for Praying." Yes, they were praying--but let's be clear about this. The very last human sound on the cockpit voice recorder of United flight 93 before it screamed into the ground at 580 miles per hour is the sound of male voices shouting "Allahu Akbar" in a moment of religious ecstasy.
They, too, were praying. The passengers and crew of flight 93 lost their valiant fight to take back the plane just one hour and 20 minutes after it pushed back from the gate. Until the hijackers stormed the cockpit door, they were just a handful of Middle Eastern-looking men on their way to sunny California. So, yes, let's be exceedingly clear about the whole matter. Some 3,000 men, women and children are dead because the unassuming people on those airplanes did not look at them and see murderers. Or dangerous Arabs. Or fanatical Muslims. They saw a few guys in chinos.
In five years since the 9/11 attacks, U.S. commercial carriers have transported approximately 2.9 billion domestic and international passengers. It is a testament to the flying public, but, most of all, to the flight crews who put those planes into the air and who daily devote themselves to the safety and well-being of their passengers, that they have refused to succumb to ethnic hatred, religious intolerance or irrational fear on those millions of flights. But they have not forgotten the sight of a 200,000-pound aircraft slicing through heavy steel and concrete as easily as a knife through butter. They still remember the voices of men and women in the prime of their lives saying final goodbyes, people who just moments earlier set down their coffee and looked out the window to a beautiful new morning. Today, when travelers and flight crews arrive at the airport, all the overheated rhetoric of the civil rights absolutists, all the empty claims of government career bureaucrats, all the disingenuous promises of the election-focused politicians just fall away. They have families. They have responsibilities. To them, this is not a game or a cause. This is real life.
Given that Islamic terrorists continue their obsession with turning airplanes into weapons of mass destruction, it is nothing short of obscene that these six religious leaders--fresh from attending a conference of the North American Imams Federation, featuring discussions on "Imams and Politics" and "Imams and the Media"--chose to turn that airport into a stage and that airplane into a prop in the service of their need for grievance theater. The reality is, these passengers endured a frightening 3 1/2-hour ordeal, which included a front-to-back sweep of the aircraft with a bomb-sniffing dog, in order to advance the provocative agenda of these imams in, of all the inappropriate places after 9/11, U.S. airports.
"Allahu Akbar" was just the opening act. After boarding, they did not take their assigned seats but dispersed to seats in the first row of first class, in the midcabin exit rows and in the rear--the exact configuration of the 9/11 execution teams. The head of the group, seated closest to the cockpit, and two others asked for a seatbelt extension, kept on board for obese people. A heavy metal buckle at the end of a long strap, it can easily be used as a lethal weapon. The three men rolled them up and placed them on the floor under their seats. And lest this entire incident be written off as simple cultural ignorance, a frightened Arabic-speaking passenger pulled aside a crew member and translated the imams' suspicious conversations, which included angry denunciations of Americans, furious grumblings about U.S. foreign policy, Osama Bin Laden and "killing Saddam."
Read the whole thing. Burlingame notes that "the activist Muslim American Society...demanded an apology" attacking anti-Muslim security politics and the racial profiling of "flying while Muslim."
Burlingame's brother, Charles F. "Chic" Burlingame was piloting American Airlines Flight 77 on September 11, 2001, which crashed into the Pentagon.
As I've said before, Debra Burlingame's a national treasure. See my previous post citing a Burlingame Wall Street Journal essay: "Where is the Ground Zero Memorial?" Also check out Burlingame's interview in the Wall Street Journal from October 2005.