Sunday, July 22, 2007

Why do the Democrats want to keep the flying imams flying?

So asks Instapundit, taking up reports that Democrats in Congress are insisting on killing off legislation offered by Rep. Peter King of New York that would offer protection against civil liability for a private citizen reporting in good faith a terrorist threat or concern that turns out to be false - the so called John Doe tipster protection.

(Update. After sustained wrangling, Congressional Democrats finally agreed to leave the tipster protection in the bill. Why they ever would have resisted it is quite beyond me.)

To the argument that there is no reason to offer such protection because the idea that someone might actually get sued is merely theoretical ... well, the infamous imams who, it would appear, deliberately created a (in my view prosecutable) provocation on an airline last year, one seemingly orchestrated with the Islamist front-posing-as-civil-rights organization CAIR, have already initiated a lawsuit against the private citizen who alerted the authorities. There's someone, in other words, who is already the target of an actual lawsuit for a good faith tip. It's not a theoretical possibility at all. CAIR's effort appears to have been aimed in part precisely at causing people around the country - otherwise urged by signs and announcements in every form of mass transit to stay vigilant and report suspicious behavior, to consider carefully that it might lead to personal liability in a lawsuit, even if done in perfectly good faith.

The most stunning part of this is not actually the Congressional Democrats. Their commitment to counterterrorism is modest at best. It is, rather, that the Bush administration - you know, the wicked, torturing, secret detentions, etc., etc., Bush administration - has quite refused to respond to a litigation strategy that is, before our eyes, dismantling a pillar of domestic protection against terrorism - people unsure of what they are seeing, but being willing to report it to the authorities. After all, the counterterrorism experts tell us, it is the accumulation of little reports and bits that people see but which they can't be sure of, put together with what other people have also said with equal uncertainty, that supposedly allows domestic law enforcement and intelligence to locate the real threats. Yet a lawsuit, and the threat of more to come, based on an incident seemingly arranged for the purpose, of radical imams in the United States deliberately provoking airline security, has the ripple effect of undermining that structure of intelligence gathering and reporting. That the Bush administration would not recognize this as a blow aimed at even such modest domestic counterterrorism efforts as this country now makes, and respond, is quite staggering. It is a testament to just how in thrall the Bush administration is to multiculturalism domestically - however it behaves abroad, at home, it coddles the front organizations, all soft and gooey, and refuses to take them on, even as they successfully pursue a strategy of dismantling domestic counterterrorism mechanisms of undeniably (unless you are a Congressional Democrat, it seems) immense importance.

The rule CAIR wants, of course, it would appear is no reporting of suspicious activities at all. Naturally. The rule, however, that Congressional Democrats seem to want is, "Well, sure, report - but better be damn sure it's true, otherwise someone will sue your ass." Which is to say, of course, don't report it. For a while, under Bill Clinton, the Democratic Party seemed like it was beginning to understand the role of incentives in policy. But you really have to believe that terrorism is not an important threat, it seems to me, to think that this is a desirable set of incentives. And for a party that seems intent on bringing counterterrorism home and making it a matter of a defensive, police-oriented, law enforcement driven struggle, it is hard to see how this could possibly make sense. Let's get off offense against terrorism, go on defense within the United States - and then make ordinary people liable - and liable to being publicly labelled as racists, too - when they try to provide the information we the government say we need? It's a pretty powerful statement of just how sigificant a priority - not - Congressional Democrats think terrorism actually is.

I say, let them vote in Congress - and then make sure that ads ensure that pretty much every voter knows how his or her representative voted on the question. It's a leading indicator of priorities, and should be offered to the public that way.

Here at Instapundit (pointing to Powerline):

KEEPING THE FLYING IMAMS airborne. I really don't understand what the Democrats think they're going to accomplish here. It certainly suggests that they don't think major terrorist attacks are imminent, since if that happens and it turns out someone didn't report something, the blowback will be fierce. In that regard, at least, I hope they're right.

Like Professor Reynolds, I find this incomprehensible under any rational security calculation or even partisan political calculation by the Democrats themselves. Do Congressional Democrats really think this is what the American people think? And why wouldn't Republicans be making this a centerpiece of election advertising? Powerline has extended comment, here:

Friday's excellent Investors Business Daily editorial on the Democrats' burial of the John Doe bill warrants attention:

"Democrats are trying to find any technical excuse to keep immunity out of the language of the bill to protect citizens, who in good faith, report suspicious activity to police," said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y. "I don't see how you can have a homeland security bill without protecting people who come forward to report suspicious activity."

Neither do we, and certainly the actions of the six imams last November qualified as suspicious. While at the gate, according to police reports and witnesses, the six made anti-American comments and provocatively chanted "Allah, Allah, Allah." On the plane, they asked for seat-belt extenders with heavy metal buckles, even though none was obviously in need of them, and then dropped them at their feet.

Last time we checked, there was no tenet of Islam that required them to leave their assigned seats shortly before takeoff, a violation of federal rules, and occupy the exit and entry rows of a jet aircraft, a pattern associated with the 9/11 attacks. All six moved — two to front-row first class, two in the middle on an exit row and two in the rear of the cabin.

Was it racism to report these actions? Stereotyping? Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute notes: "A stereotype in this instance is nothing more than a compilation of facts about who has attacked American interests in the past and who, given what we know, is most likely to do so in the future."

The editorial stops short of asking why the Democrats are blocking the John Doe legislation. Recall that the legislation arises in the context of the case of the flying imams. Recall also that the case of the flying imams is a production brought to us by CAIR, the Islamist front group that holds itself out as a civil rights organization. The attorney representing the flying imams in their lawsuit in Minnesota federal district court is an officer of CAIR's New York chapter.

The Democrats' opposition to the John Doe legislation is consistent with the alliance between radical Islam and the American left. It is an alliance that one can see embodied in the person of Minnesota Fifth District Rep. Keith Ellison, America's first Muslim congressman. Ellison had spoken at the conference of the flying imams in suburban Minneapolis over the weekend before the incident giving rise to the case. If the case of the flying imams ever gets off the ground, one incidental benefit would be the illumination that the discovery process might shed on the imams' weekend deliberations.

See also this Rich Lowry column in the New York Post, July 24, 2007, over at RCP, here. To judge by other articles, Lowry understates the extent to which the whole imams incident was orchestrated precisely as a provocation - which the Bush administration, in keeping with its general dangerously soft "multiculturalist" stance toward issues of terrorism domestically, refused to take up despite calls for federal prosecution of the imams. See, for example, Richard Miniter's December 2006 New York Post column, here.

*** From Lowry:

July 24, 2007
New York Post, via RCP

Suing Anti-Terror Tipsters

By Rich Lowry

If you see something, hire a lawyer. Then, perhaps, you can say something.

That would be the new mantra for passenger vigilance -- replacing the ubiquitous "If you see something, say something" -- if Democrats get their way in Congress. They oppose an amendment to the homeland-security bill sponsored by Rep. Peter King (R., N.Y.), that would protect anyone from civil lawsuits who, in good faith, offers a tip about suspicious activity on mass transit.

The case of the "flying imams" prompted King's amendment. On Nov. 20, 2006, six Islamic clerics were removed from a US Airways flight in Minneapolis after passengers complained about behavior they considered suspicious. The imams prayed before boarding the plane, didn't sit in their assigned seats -- arranging themselves in a pattern associated with the 9/11 hijackings -- and asked for seatbelt extenders. Authorities questioned and eventually cleared them.

Twenty-first century America wouldn't be a boon to grievance-mongers of all varieties if such an incident didn't occasion a lawsuit. With the help of the Muslim pressure group the Council of American-Islamic Relations, the imams filed a discrimination suit against US Airways and the passengers who alerted the airline to their worries. The imams allege a "conspiracy to discriminate" against them that was "intentional, malicious, willful, wanton and callous."

This conspiracy was launched in the boarding area by "an older couple who was sitting behind them and purposely turning around to watch" them as they prayed. Then, the older gentlemen made a cell-phone call, and "while observing the Plaintiffs discreetly, he kept talking into his cellular phone." We are supposed to believe that this man was just waiting to stumble upon a few Muslims whom he could arbitrarily inform on for no purpose other than denying them their rights under the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Obviously this wouldn't have happened if the men weren't Muslim, but fears of Islamic terrorism necessarily focus on Muslims. If the perpetrators of 9/11 and the Madrid, London, and Bali bombings had been Episcopalian, a group of strange-acting priests traveling in their vestments would warrant an extra measure of suspicion. This is not discrimination, but a common-sense reaction to the facts of life.

A good-faith response from the flying imams would have been to say, "We don't like it, but we understand." Instead they seek damages for their "fear, anxiety to fly, humiliation, embarrassment, mental pain, suffering, inconvenience and financial injury." Their agenda -- and that of CAIR -- is to make everyone ignore the association of Islam with terror that has been forged by jihadists, and to punish anyone who acts on knowledge reinforced in headlines every day.

Because we can't have police everywhere, civilian tips are indispensable. A video-store clerk alerted authorities to the Fort Dix plot after he saw a tape of men in Muslim attire firing guns -- but not before he wondered, "Should I call someone or is that being racist?" Debra Burlingame points out that an airline employee who checked in two of the 9/11 passengers didn't ask for a special search of them because "I was worried about being accused of being 'racist.'"

If the King amendment doesn't make it into law, people in such agonizing situations will have to worry not just about being called racist, but about being sued if their suspicions prove unfounded. The King amendment garnered 304 votes in the House and 57 in the Senate, but a majority of Democrats voted against it in both houses, and now key Democrats are trying to keep it out of a House-Senate conference committee.

The Democrats oppose fighting al Qaeda in Iraq, oppose key provisions of the Patriot Act, oppose President Bush's electronic-surveillance program, oppose Guantanamo Bay, oppose the aggressive interrogation of terrorism suspects, and now they oppose lawsuit-free passenger vigilance. If only they took the terror threat as seriously as that man who may have to defend his cell-phone call in court.

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