Flying While Arab

An American Airlines flight was delayed overnight in San Diego, apparently because a passenger refused to fly with six Arabic-speaking men on board. Turns out, according to the Associated Press, the Iraqi passengers worked for a defense contractor and had been training Marines at Camp Pendleton.

Just read the comments that readers have left about the story – especially on earlier versions that didn’t have the details about the Iraqis, and you’ll get an idea of how incredibly divisive an issue this is.

View A: Damn right! It’s sensible to be afraid of Arabic men on planes. And they should speak English!

View B: That racist idiot disrupted the lives of 125 other passengers and the flight crew.

My view: Whether it’s sensible or not, it’s almost reflexive for American travelers to be afraid of Arab men on planes. There’s no point in denying that, or pretending that we don’t notice or do racial profiling in our heads.

But does anyone really think that Arab men get through security screening in a U.S. airport these days without proving exactly and precisely who they are and what they’re doing?

Here’s what I think travelers are supposed to do. We’re supposed to be alert. We’re supposed to report things we find suspicious to the authorities and let them do their jobs. Then we’re supposed to take a deep breath, summon up our courage – yes, courage – and trust the system as best we can.

If we can’t do that, maybe we’re the ones who need to stay on the ground.

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