First, it started with a first-person account of a « white woman’s scary encounter with swarthy scary Ay-rabs »: It seems that 14 scary swarthy men did mighty suspicious things on a flight to L.A. The incident apparently was scary enough that she thinks we should chuck civil liberties out the window (as evidenced in the very first paragraph of her story:

‘On June 29, 2004, at 12:28 p.m., I flew on Northwest Airlines flight #327 from Detroit to Los Angeles with my husband and our young son. Also on our flight were 14 Middle Eastern men between the ages of approximately 20 and 50 years old. What I experienced during that flight has caused me to question whether the United States of America can realistically uphold the civil liberties of every individual, even non-citizens, and protect its citizens from terrorist threats.’

Women’s Wall Street Journal

It’s quite a tale (and goes on and on and on for pages). And if it happened the way she describes, well, it’s a matter for concern, of course.

But she completely undermines her credibility by turning the report into a right-wing polemic/agitprop piece, quoting Ann Coulter, of all people, which alone pops up red flags all over the place.

Fortunately, there are a few (very few) people left in journalism willing to do a little investigating, and the National Review Online’s « Clinton W. Taylor did a follow-up »:

‘Columnist and blogger Michelle Malkin confirmed some of the details of Jacobsen’s story with the Federal Air Marshal’s service, but the identity of the band remained the subject of much speculation. … Nour Mehana (a.k.a. Noor Mehanna, or Nour Mhanna, plus various permutations of those spellings) is, in fact, Syrian. He performs both “new-agey” hits and old sentimental Middle Eastern classics in a style called Tarab. In this catchy ten-minute video of Mehana on stage, (scroll down; the name is rendered Noor Mhanan this time ) you can see he has a rather large backup band helping him out. (The resolution is low, but Jacobsen might recognize some of the band members Mehanna is interacting with.) Followers of news from Iraq may have heard about the U.S. tour of the “Iraqi Elvis.” Well, Mehana comes across not as an angry jihadi, but rather more like the Syrian Wayne Newton. …

‘Anyway, this is good news. Nour Mehana’s band might have acted like jerks on the plane, but it appears safe to say they were not casing Northwest Airlines for a suicidal assault, and we can quit worrying about this being a “dry run” or an aborted attack. And if Jacobsen was wondering why one man in a dark suit and sunglasses sat in first class while everyone else flew coach, well, it seems pretty clear that this was the Big Mehana himself.’

Taylor then strikes a more moderate tone, with which I pretty much agree, and notes where the true concern should be:

‘Liberals will likely decry the suspicion and interrogation the musicians faced on Flight 327. And the principled Right will regret that that was necessary. If the band’s English wasn’t very good they might not have understood the instructions. But a polite word and some helpful gestures earlier on, rather than a guilty PC silence, might have saved them some embarrassment. In any case, the police-state parallels fade quickly: In a real police state, like, oh, Syria, you are not even allowed inside the country with an Israeli stamp in your passport. June 29 was no ordinary day in the skies. That day, Department of Homeland Security officials issued an “unusually specific internal warning,” urging customs officials to watch out for Pakistanis with physical signs of rough training in the al Qaeda training camps. The warning specifically mentioned Detroit and Los Angeles’s LAX airports, the origin and terminus of NWA flight 327.

‘That means that our air-traffic system was expecting trouble. But rather than land the plane in Las Vegas or Omaha, it was allowed to continue on to Los Angeles without interruption, as if everything were hunky-dory on board. It certainly wasn’t. If this had been the real thing, and the musicians had instead been terrorists, nothing was stopping them from taking control of the plane or assembling a bomb in the restroom. Given the information they were working with at the time, almost everyone should have reacted differently than they did. Jacobsen’s fear was quite natural under these circumstances, and she has done us a service by pointing out some egregious shortfalls in our airline security. Danke Schoen, Darling. Let’s hope the right people are listening.’

National Review Online

The story has been all over the ‘blogosphere, and « some wags are having fun with it »:

’… although now pretty much discredited, Annie has managed to be on at least a couple cable news shows, several talk radio programs, has been mentioned in the NY Times, and has become something of a hero to the whiny right. She will probably be invited to address Congress, and will end up getting a book deal out of all this. So, I figure it’s time to tell MY scary air travel stories, in the hopes that I too can cash in. … About ten years ago I was traveling for work. One flight (an inter-European one) was on a small prop plane that held about 20 people; most of the other passengers were Arabic men wearing traditional Arabic attire. They had Saudi diplomatic passports. They all seemed to know each other, and spoke amongst themselves. In ARABIC! Instead of a ham sandwich and an apple, they were giving a snack which accorded with Islamic dietary laws. But I saw one of the men reading a Playboy on the flight. Since this violated his religious beliefs, Allah could have punished him (and everybody else) by making the plane crash. While we didn’t actually have any trouble on the flight, I was really scared, if it will get me on TV.’

World O’ Crap

Funny stuff. But I pretty much agree with Taylor. We don’t need racial profiling and the wholesale scrapping of civil liberties like Jacobsen calls for, nor do we need to be completely clueless either. We need to be alert and focus on and challenge behavior, whether it’s by an 80-year-old white grandma or 14 Arabs. The debate over race is just a distraction.

After all, who committed the second-worst terrorist attack on American soil? A white male rightwing extremist. And who was planning a massive terrorist attack within the last year? A couple of white rightwing extremists.

It’s the behavior, stupid.