"If he had been Irish and Catholic, with the same set of circumstances, I believe we would have filed the same case and prosecuted it the same way." So spoke Assistant U.S. Attorney Fred Schattman about Fazal Karim, 37, an illegal Pakistani immigrant living in Houston, Texas, arrested in March 2003 at Dallas/Fort Worth Airpor and convicted in May 2003 for attempting to board an airplane with 32 double-edged razor blades in a coiled belt in a cardboard box in his carry-on bag. Karim faces a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison at his sentencing in August 2003.
In contrast to Schattman, Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations sees in this case an example of Muslim profiling. "If that person had been a Norwegian businessman, he wouldn't be in the trouble Mr. Karim is in." I agree with Hooper.
But I draw the opposite conclusion from him, of course: the Transportation Security Administration should (1) drop the pious pretense that all passengers are treated equally and (2) acknowledge that individuals suspected of harboring sympathy for militant Islamic undergo special scrutiny, tougher questioning, more determined prosecution, and longer punishment. (May 31, 2003)
April 12, 2004 update: Nearly a year later, the same debate continues, now in the aftermath of Karim's sentencing today to a $20,000 fine, 63 months in prison, and then deportation out of the United States. Assistant U.S. Attorney Fred Schattman denied that was targeted because of his Muslim background; "This case was prosecuted because Mr. Karim was a foreign national who was in the country illegally and attempted to evade and test the air security system." In contrast, Karim's defense attorney in the sentencing phase of the case, Marlo Cadeddu, asserted that the government would not have taken the position it did "if Mr. Karim were not Muslim." Just as a year ago, I agree with the latter position.
Jan. 5, 2005 update: What is it about immigrants and double-edged razor blades? The Harrisburg Patriot News reports today that Sajid Tufail Khan, 34, a Middle Easterner resident in St. Louis, Mo., tried to take four double-edged razor blades onto an airplane on Jan. 4 at Harrisburg International Airport. The razors were "artfully concealed" in his carry-on luggage, according to a police report.
Jan. 7, 2005 update: Khan's response? To deny that the blades were his, says Scott Miller, the airport spokesman. Kahn was detained, questioned by the FBI and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, then released with a summary violation for disorderly conduct.
Comment: Note the vast discrepancy between Karim's and Khan's punishments for roughly the same crime of trying to take double-edged razors onto a commercial aircraft – a $20,000 fine, 63 months in prison, and deportation in one case, a summary violation for disorderly conduct in the other. The one major difference is Karim being illegally in the country and Khan a legal resident. Sajid Tufail Khan not being a Norweigian businessman, the vagaries of time and place clearly play a large role in punishments.