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Air Travel + Muslims = Paranoid Epic Fail

How appropriate that this should have happened at Reagan National Airport, this reminder that Americans are still reflexively, hysterically afraid of Muslims who say anything less reassuring than, "Gosh, I just love America!  Golly gee, Americans are swell!"

Officials ordered nine Muslim passengers, including three young children, off an AirTran flight headed to Orlando from Reagan National Airport yesterday afternoon after two other passengers overheard what they thought was a suspicious remark.

Members of the party, all but one of them U.S.-born citizens who were headed to a religious retreat in Florida, were subsequently cleared for travel by FBI agents who characterized the incident as a misunderstanding, an airport official said. But the passengers said AirTran refused to rebook them, and they had to pay for seats on another carrier secured with help from the FBI.

Kashif Irfan, one of the removed passengers, said the incident began about 1 p.m. after his brother, Atif, and his brother’s wife wondered aloud about the safest place to sit on an airplane.

"My brother and his wife were discussing some aspect of airport security," Irfan said. "The only thing my brother said was, ‘Wow, the jets are right next to my window.’ I think they were remarking about safety."

I don’t know who I’m more disgusted with: AirTran, or the fearful twits who were so freaked out by this exchange that they just had to report it to the flight attendants.  Look, this was pretty obviously a family group.  With three women and three little kids (2, 4, and 7).  Since when is suicide bombing a family activity?  Or hijacking?  Who would seriously try to hijack a plane with toddlers in tow? ("Not now, honey, Mommy’s taking hostages.")  And in what conceivable Jihad Family Robinson scenario would suicide bombers or hijackers be speculating (in English, no less) about what the safest part of the plane is?

Yes, AirTran eventually apologized (rather half-assedly), but that does not undo this dispiriting triumph of hysteria over common sense.  Apparently at no time did anyone think or say anything like, "Ordinary passengers worry about airplane safety all the time, but why would terrorists?  And why would they be worrying about it in English?"  They just heard Muslims speculating about the vague possibility of an accident, and immediately went into full-on crazy freakout OMG TERROR mode.

This is the culture of fear that Dubya and the Republicans have created and lovingly nurtured over the last seven-plus years.  It’s not going away anytime soon, and the real terrorists couldn’t be happier.

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