In November 1999, two Saudi doctoral students at Arizona State University endured the following experience on an America West flight from Columbus, Ohio, to Phoenix, according to The Baltimore Sun of Nov. 24, 1999: the plane "was evacuated on a runway while [the two] students were handcuffed and questioned for about three hours. The men were accused of jiggling the cockpit door and asking questions the flight attendant found suspicious. The students denied the allegations and were not charged, and the airline later apologized." Actually, America West not only apologized but, in the words of the Columbus Dispatch of Nov. 20, 1999, they flew the last leg of their trip "as VIPs."
The two students subsequently huffed and puffed with indignation ("I believe what has happened is absolutely outrageous" one told the Washington Post of Nov. 21, 1999), then filed a federal lawsuit claiming they were victims of hysteria and discrimination. (That lawsuit was dismissed earlier this month.)
That same Baltimore Sun article went on to quote me in reference to this event:
"It seems well worth it in order to keep would-be terrorists off guard," said Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum, a think tank. He defended the close monitoring of Arab passengers, arguing that "the record shows over the last generation that the great acts of violence are coming from the Middle East."
This comment got me in hot water with some of my Islamist friends. For example, the Khomeinist publication Muslimedia had this to say:
Such gangsterism [as the America West action] gains respectability when self-styled Middle East experts like Daniel Pipes, a staunch zionist, pitch in with their prejudiced comments. Pipes said that the airline was right in acting the way it did because it "keeps terrorists on the run!" What terrorists? How many planes have been hijacked or blown up in the US, by Muslims or anyone else?
We all, of course, can answer these questions now.
On the Sunni side of the fence, the Council on American-Islamic Relations issued an alert titled "Daniel Pipes Says Profiling of Arab Travellers 'Well Worth It.'" Indeed, CAIR was pleased enough with this particular quote of mine to send it out at least another eight times. (For the most recent example, click here.)
I raise this minor incident because a Saudi English-language paper, the Arab News, reports this week that both those Saudi students, Muhammad Al-Qudhaieen and Hamdan Al-Shalawi, happened to be acquaintances of the very same Zakaria Mustapha Soubra whom I discussed in the previous weblog entry. (In brief: he was a Lebanese member of Al Muhajiroun, an Al-Qaeda affiliate in the United Kingdom, an aeronautical safety student in Arizona, and he was just deported from the United States.)
The Arab News also reports that the FBI arrested Al-Qudhaieen on June 13, apparently in connection with the 9/11 attack. Maybe America West knew what it was doing, after all. Maybe my reaction wasn't so wrong after all. (June 27, 2003)
Sept. 4, 2003 update: The Associated Press reports today that Al-Qudhaieen has returned to Saudi Arabia. Presumably, on this trip he did not fly as a VIP.