Saturday, February 18, 2006

Southwest Airlines keeps screening Omar Ahmad

The letter below is reflective of disturbing trends in civil liberties violations taking place ever since 9/11 happened. These trends are humiliating for the individuals in question and also show how people are being treated in "the land of opportunity".
Brought to my attention by Naeem Mohaiemen from Shobak - the CNN of the left!

A Letter To Southwest Airlines
A frequent Southwest Airlines flyer questions their "match list" for Muslim-sounding names (including his) only to find out there's no federal policy to use one.

By Omar Ahmad, February 16, 2006

To: Gary Kelly, CEO & Vice Chairman, Southwest Airlines Co.

Mr. Kelly,

I have flown Southwest Airlines for years. Your schedule, pricing and general performance make you a valuable asset to the business traveler.

That said, Southwest's implementation of name-matching is one of the most absurd, xenophobic things any airline has attempted to do with a straight face. To be clear, I am an elite flyer for United, American, Alaska, Delta, and USAir. After 9/11, I was pulled aside by each airline and asked questions, additional checks of my ID were done and then I was noted as a "screened" passenger. From then on I enjoyed the use of automated kiosks and less hassle. Sure, I still get pulled "randomly" - but then there is Southwest.

Since 9/11, I have not been able to use your kiosks. I thought the issue was my arrival time at the airport - until the day I showed up with plenty of time. I queried the agent about this and was told my name was on a "match list." Upon asking about the procedures other airlines used, and mentioning the use of my frequent flyer number, etc. it was described I would have to pulled over EVERY TIME flying Southwest.

Every time? I wondered about the 4th amendment for a few moments. So then, I started a little experiment: I would monitor my flights with Southwest for the next year to see if you ignore the normal procedures of every other airline in the industry in favor of vigilante checking. Result: Yup!

Now, to give credit where due - most ticket agents have been very friendly. After the 20-30 minutes it takes for them to go through their procedures, they have often have helped me get through the lines at security to try to make a flight. One actually called me on my cell phone to make certain I made it OK and explained how she was confused by Southwest's stance. She went on to tell me the "home office" said there was a policy to check every time.

Calls to DOJ, FAA and TSA soon followed, in order to see what federal mandate existed to explain this wacked-out policy being used by Southwest. You can imagine my surprise when all parties told me the enforcement of the rules using the "name match" is up to the individual airlines.

So Mr. Kelly - it appears you don't like my name. I didn't choose it, my parents gave it to me. I won't change it on your behalf to make you feel "safer." Candidly, my name is the "John Smith" of the Muslim world. You seem to like my money and are happy to entice me frequent flier points - but you want to treat me with suspicion and single me out upon entering an airport.

I suppose you'll quote how the world has changed in the face of terrorism. You're right. I'll relate to you my own encounters with white supremacists who issued death threats against me when I ran for office. You want terrorists? They look like clean-cut white boys and have a "Y" in their name. Don't believe me?

James Earl Ray
Lee Harvey Oswald
Ted Bundy
Gary Mark Gilmore
Timothy McVie
Ted Kaczynski
John Wayne Gacy
Danny Rolling
Jefferey Dahmer
Antonly Onoprienko
Paul Charles Denyer
Carlton Gary
Harvey Murray Glatman
Gary Ridgway
Bobby Joe Long
Connie Lynch (former Grand Wizard of the KKK in Florida)
Beverley Allitt
Donald Harvey
Dylan Klebold (and Eric Harris)
Andras Pandy
Patrick Kearney
Randy Kraft
Mack Ray Edwards
Ray and Faye Copeland
Gary & Thaddeus Lewington
Bobby Frank Cherry
Martin Bryant
Archibald "Mad Dog" Beattie McCafferty
And for the airline industry in particular: "DB Sweeney"

Candidly, one could look at your name and the list above and draw some interesting conclusions. But we will likely agree such a thought would be ludicrous. Stopping all white men with "y's" in their name would be preposterous - wouldn't it?

Mr. Kelly, this policy stinks of something most good folks in Texas know not to step in. From where I sit, Southwest's Kafkaesque policy is racist, outright idiotic, and does nothing to enhance security for the traveling public.

I would like to believe you are simply unaware some knuckleheads have decreed a reprehensible policy for your airline. I hope in bringing this matter to your attention, you will explain what steps you will be taking to correct this blight on your airline.

Omar Ahmad is a Silicon Valley-based technology entrepreneur.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Another perspective on the Danish cartoon "crisis"

I had the good fortune of attending the Foreign Policy Association's Annual Financial Services Dinner the other night, and was seated next to a scholar on Europe who taught at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, Dr. Irene Finel-Honigman. It was a great evening. US Trust and UBS were being awarded for their social responsibility and I was volunteering with the FPA, an organization i've come to love and especially like the team of people I have the opportunity to work with.

In any case, I just had to have Dr. Honigman's perspective on the Danish cartoon "crisis". I would have called it a fiasco, if it hadn't turned so violent. What could have been resolved through debate and discussion, can now only be waited for to die down on its own; Almost like a fire in the forest.

Dr. Honigman quoted from a scholar she recently saw on PBS's Charlie Rose. She basically paraphrased it for me by saying: "The Muslim world is only giving credence to the stereotype that surrounds their reactions to such incidents. By resorting to violence, they are losing the seat at the negotiating table."

I thought this was a beautiful thought. It was so true. Whenever such incidents occur, the Muslim world reacts violently. This automatically gives "the West" the chance to refer to Muslims as "barbaric, savage, inhumane". Then the media jumps at the opportunity and has a field day depicting images of fire and anger. This is exactly what happened when the Abu Ghraib photos were published, when people of Middle Eastern descent rioted in France and Australia and it is happening now, as I type this.

The fact is, the moderate voice of Muslims has been drowned out because it's not what sells papers and increases ratings. Watching people set fire to buildings and flags, though, does just that. The extremist elements in Muslim societies are now holding us hostage. For us, dialogue, debate and discussion are the precious processes we hold so dear to our hearts because it is what builds a society in the long run.

How easy it is to destruct and destroy. How hard it is to speak and be heard.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

NY Event: National Day of Solidarity with Muslim, Arab and South Asian Immigrants

The Queens Museum of Art and 3rd i NY present
in its New York Premiere


Screening and Discussion for The National Day of Solidarity with Muslim, Arab and South Asian Immigrants

Saturday, February 18th, 2006, 2–5 pm
Queens Museum of Art
NYC Building, Flushing Meadows Park
Corona, NY 11368-3398
Tel. 718.592.9700 x222


Directions: 7 Train to Willets Point/Shea Stadium and follow the yellow signs on a ten-minute walk through the park to the museum, which is located next to the Unisphere. Driving directions.

Join us for the NY Premiere screening of the feature film Yasmin, followed by discussion with members of Families for Freedom, Disappeared in America, and Not in Our Name who advocate against the roundups, sweeps, and indefinite detentions of Muslims, Arabs and South Asians.

The Museum's hours are: Wednesday–Friday: 10:00 am–5:00 pm; Saturday–Sunday: 12:00 p.m.–5:00 p.m. Admission to the Museum is by suggested donation: $5 for adults, $2.50 for seniors, students and children, and free for member and children under 5.

Public Events at the Queens Museum of Art are supported by funds from NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, The Independence Community Foundation, The Institute of Museum & Library Services, and the Ford Foundation.

About the Film

Dir: Kenny Glenaan
UK, 2004, 87mins

Scripted by Simon Beaufoy (The Full Monty, The Darkest Light) after months of research and workshops with the Muslim community in the North of England, Yasmin's story explores what it means to be Asian, Muslim and British. Having rebelled against her Pakistani upbringing as a teenager, sparky, confident Yasmin (Archie Panjabi of Bend it Like Beckham) has grown adept at juggling her Westernised working and social life with her more traditional culture at home. But after the attacks of 9/11 she finds herself ostracised at work, and increasingly subject to overt Islamphobia. When her husband is snatched by the police and held without charge, she finds herself forced to re-evaluate her faith, her culture and her relationships. The harsh realities of prejudice and discrimination in a climate of poverty and fear are never trivialised, but are treated with a refreshing degree of humour, irony and understatement.

Monday, February 13, 2006

The Muhammad cartoons: Our faith in letting it all hang out


DELRAY BEACH, Florida If you want to understand what is and isn't at stake in the Danish cartoon furor, just listen to the man who started it all, Flemming Rose, the culture editor of the newspaper Jyllands-Posten. Rose told Time magazine that he asked 40 Danish cartoonists to "depict Muhammad as they see him," after he noticed that journalists, historians and even museum directors were wary of presenting the Muslim religion in an unfavorable light, or in any light at all.

"To me," he said, this "spoke to the problem of self-censorship and freedom of speech." The publication of the cartoons, he insisted, "was not directed at Muslims" at all. Rather, the intention was "to put the issue of self-censorship on the agenda and have a debate about it."

I believe him. And not only do I believe that he has nothing against Muhammad or the doctrines of Islam, I believe that he has no interest (positive or negative) in them at all, except as the possible occasions of controversy.

This is what it means today to put self-censorship "on the agenda": the particular object of that censorship - be it opinions about a religion, a movie, the furniture in a friend's house, your wife's new dress, whatever - is a matter of indifference. What is important is not the content of what is expressed but that it be expressed. What is important is that you let it all hang out.

Rose may think of himself, as most journalists do, as being neutral with respect to religion - he is not speaking as a Jew or a Christian or an atheist - but in fact he is an adherent of the religion of letting it all hang out, the religion we call liberalism.

The first tenet of the liberal religion is that everything (at least in the realm of expression and ideas) is to be permitted, but nothing is to be taken seriously. This is managed by the familiar distinction - implied in the First Amendment's religion clause - between the public and private spheres. It is in the private sphere - the personal spaces of the heart, the home and the house of worship - that one's religious views are allowed full sway and dictate behavior.

But in the public sphere, the argument goes, one's religious views must be put forward with diffidence and circumspection. You can still have them and express them - that's what separates us from theocracies and tyrannies - but they should be worn lightly. Not only must there be no effort to make them into the laws of the land, but they should not be urged on others in ways that make them uncomfortable. What religious beliefs are owed - and this is a word that appears again and again in the recent debate - is "respect"; nothing less, nothing more.

The thing about respect is that it doesn't cost you anything; its generosity is barely skin-deep and is in fact a form of condescension: I respect you; now don't bother me.

This is, increasingly, what happens to strongly held faiths in the liberal state. Such beliefs are equally and indifferently authorized as ideas people are perfectly free to believe, but they are equally and indifferently disallowed as ideas that might serve as a basis for action or public policy.

Strongly held faiths are exhibits in liberalism's museum; we appreciate them, and we congratulate ourselves for affording them a space, but should one of them ask of us more than we are prepared to give - ask for deference rather than mere respect - it will be met with the barrage of platitudinous arguments that for the last week have filled the pages of newspapers.

One of those arguments goes this way: It is hypocritical for Muslims to protest cartoons caricaturing Muhammad when cartoons vilifying the symbols of Christianity and Judaism are found everywhere in many Arab countries. After all, what's the difference? The difference is that those who publish such cartoons in Arab countries believe in their content; they believe that Jews and Christians follow false religions and are proper objects of hatred and obloquy.

But I would bet that the editors who have run the cartoons do not believe that Muslims are evil infidels who must either be converted or vanquished. They do not publish the offending cartoons in an effort to further some religious or political vision; they do it gratuitously, almost accidentally. Concerned only to stand up for an abstract principle - free speech - they seize on whatever content happens to come their way and use it as an example of what the principle should be protecting. The fact that for others the content may be life itself is beside their point.

This is itself a morality - the morality of a withdrawal from morality in any strong, insistent form. It is certainly different from the morality of those for whom the Danish cartoons are blasphemy and monstrously evil. And the difference, I think, is to the credit of the Muslim protesters and to the discredit of the liberal editors.

The argument from reciprocity - you do it to us, so how can you complain if we do it to you? - will have force only if the moral equivalence of "us" and "you" is presupposed. But the relativizing of ideologies and religions belongs to the liberal theology, and would hardly be persuasive to a Muslim.

This is why calls for "dialogue," issued so frequently of late by the pundits with an unbearable smugness - you can just see them thinking, "What's wrong with these people?" - are unlikely to fall on receptive ears.

The belief in the therapeutic and redemptive force of dialogue depends on the assumption (central to liberalism's theology) that, after all, no idea is worth fighting over to the death and that we can always reach a position of accommodation if only we will sit down and talk it out.

But a firm adherent of a comprehensive religion doesn't want dialogue about his beliefs; he wants those beliefs to prevail. Dialogue is not a tenet in his creed, and invoking it is unlikely to do anything but persuade him that you have missed the point - as, indeed, you are pledged to do, so long as liberalism is the name of your faith.

(Stanley Fish is a law professor at Florida International University.)

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Trends in the Representation of Women in National Parliaments

My friends over at the Global Policy Forum are doing some wonderful research on all sorts of issues responsible, global citizens should be interested in.
This study on female politicians also looks quite revealing. Consider the situation of Pakistan, from where I am originally from. As a percentage, females only represented a few percent. By 2004, the number had grown to over 20%. That's quite an achievement.
Overall, the indicators look good.