Friday, January 2, 2009

By now, you may have read about the family of 8 who were kicked off a flight to Orlando yesterday after arousing the suspicions of a couple of other passengers who overhead some snippets of the family's conversation. The shocking, attention-gaining topic was one I know I've had, even on planes before, and one I think most of us have engaged in at some time or another: what's the safest place to be sitting on the plane in case of an accident.

Read more about the incident here and here.

For having the nerve to engage in conversation on a plane, the family was removed from the plane, interviewed by the FBI, and unable to fly on the airline (AirTran) even after being cleared of any wrong-doing. I've been reading a lot of comments and blog posts suggesting that the family should have known better than to discuss airplane safety on an airplane. Of course they would get kicked off for talking that way, they say. (Digression: wouldn't actual terrorists intent on destroying an airplane NOT engage in this kind of conversation so as not to draw attention to themselves? But logic didn't really enter into this incident.) I've even read some comments suggesting that the family was looking to draw attention to themselves, was hoping for their 15 minutes of fame and a basis for a law suit. Let's be honest, though. This conversation wouldn't have drawn any attention had the family not had dark skin and worn Muslim garb (I believe the women were wearing head scarves). My mother and I could have this exact conversation and no one would even notice.

In the past few months, I have heard many people say one thing we have to acknowledge about the Bush presidency is that it has kept us safe from terrorist attack. I disagree with that premise and I think this case highlights what the real legacy of the Bush administration will be on terrorism. The administration has succeeded in fostering a culture of fear that leads to neighbors eavesdropping on neighbors and to innocent American citizens being pulled off planes. This is not safety. Not if every Muslim American or American of middle-eastern descent has to monitor public conversations so as not to risk being misconstrued and reported to the FBI.


Language Lover said...

Aaaarrrggghh. I hadn't heard about this incident, but right after your first sentence I knew we were going to be talking about a dark-skinned group of people.

Sigh. Are we really safer, or do we just feel safer? And is that feeling justified, given how much animosity we've created around the world?

S said...

This wouldn't even be an incident if the family in question hadn't been dark-skinned. My dad and I could have had this exact conversation with no eyebrows being raised at all.

And, no, this doesn't make me safer, or even feel safer. I don't want to live in a country where a big family can be rounded up off an airplane like this.

At least the FBI was nice and respectful and helped the family rebook on a different airline after AirTran wouldn't fly them.

Barb said...

Everyone feels "better safe than sorry" --when faced with even the hint of possibility that their plane might go down.

This is unfortunate, but people ARE nervous about flying --and it's not Bush's culture of fear --it's 9/11 --PERIOD. And all the other terrorist acts around the world that have created a "culture of fear."

Yes, racial/ethnic profiling is unfortunate but there is science behind it!

If anything, the Bush administration has made us feel safer on airplanes again than we were feeling right after 9/11. But until 9/11 is much farther behind us, people will feel nervous flying --and will be watchful for people who could fit the appearance profile of terrorists while talking about plane crashes. It was watchful passengers who noticed the shoe bomber's efforts.

Language Lover said...

There is "science" behind racial/ethnic profiling? Please, tell me what science this is. Because I don't know of any "science" that proves dark-skinned people are more likely to be terrorists. If you're going by a feeling that you have based on how mainstream media does its reporting, that's one thing. But please don't insult scientists by claiming that our methods can be used to justify discriminatory behavior.

Language Lover said...

Oh yeah, and who exactly is "everyone" who feels better safe than sorry? Somehow, I doubt your "everyone" includes these dark-skinned people who have to live daily with the possibility that someone will feel unnecessarily threatened by the way they look and react accordingly.

S said...

Barb, I don't agree that "better safe than sorry" should rule. That's the same philosophy that led to the US placing tens of thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of Americans and legal residents in camps during World War II.

9/11 alone is not responsible for people feeling unsafe on planes. How we have choose to respond to it also affects how we now feel 7 years later. I believe the Bush administration has encouraged us all to remain fearful to a degree that we would more willingly go along with things like the Patriot Act and wiretapping. I don't believe any of this has made us safer and the culture of fear has made us unfairly suspicious of everyone who "looks" like a terrorist, aka Arabic or Muslim.

I, like LL, don't believe racial profiling is science; I just think it's racist.

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