Commentary: Security based on appearance or religion is false security

Here's how irrational and absurd it was for an Atlantic Southeast Airlines pilot to, if true, eject from his plane two imams - dressed in traditional Muslim garb - based on their appearance.

None of the terrorists who hijacked planes and killed thousands on U.S. soil on Sept. 11, 2001, were dressed in traditional Muslim garb. Neither was Richard Reid, a self-professed al-Qaida member who tried to detonate explosives in his shoes while on a flight from Paris to Miami in December of 2001. Neither was the alleged Christmas Day bomber on a 2009 Detroit flight who reportedly tried to light explosives sewn in his underwear.

You really can't detect a terrorist by appearance. Neither can you detect one by religion. Remember the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, carried out by U.S. militia movement sympathizer Timothy McVeigh? Or the Centennial Park bombing in Atlanta in 1996, the work of white supremacist Eric Rudolph? Or the anti-Semitic man who opened fire in the U.S. Holocaust Museum in 2009?

As President Barack Obama has noted before and reiterated just hours after Navy SEALs killed 9-11 mastermind Osama bin Laden last week, Islam is not synonymous with terrorists. "Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; in fact, he slaughtered many Muslims," Obama said.

That fact eludes too many. The result is what reportedly happened Friday when Muslim clergy were headed to Charlotte from Memphis for a conference. The two went through security - more than once - and were cleared by the Transportation Safety Administration. But the imams said Atlantic Southeast Airlines, a connector for Delta Airlines, kicked them off the plane, saying their presence might upset some passengers.

If true, that was wrong. Pilots have the right and responsibility to do what's necessary to keep passengers safe. But this appears to be no security issue. The TSA had already thoroughly vetted the two for the flight. Kicking them off the plane was pandering to prejudice. It's unacceptable.

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