It looks like Congress is going to move swiftly to protect airline passengers who see something suspicious and report it to authorities. It is acting in the wake of a lawsuit brought by a group of imams who were removed from a U.S. Airways flight in Minneapolis after passengers complained the imams were behaving in a suspicious manner. The lawsuit, backed by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, was brought not only against the airline and the airport authorities but also against un-named "John Doe" defendants who had alerted authorities to the imams' behavior. The lawsuit, an astonishing assault on Americans' ability to protect themselves in a time of war (though it would be just as illogical in a time of peace), was spotted immediately by the editors of powerlineblog.com, Michelle Malkin, and other sentinels of the World Wide Web, and legislation began immediately. These columns discussed it in "Flyer Beware."
The lawsuit brought by the imams is going to go down as a memorable moment in the national debate over the war here at home. It brought an offer from a moderate Muslim group, American Islamic Forum for Democracy, to defend the John Doe passengers, who also gained an offer of defense from the Becket Fund, which is concerned with religious liberty. The imams, according to a report March 31 in the Washington Times, amended their lawsuit in a way that would supposedly narrow the scope of the John Does it is proceeding against to only those who acted out of racist intent. Of course, to find out about intent one has to litigate, so the amendment to the lawsuit was cold comfort to the passengers to tried to do the right and responsible thing on that U.S. Airways flight.
Passage of the John Doe protection measure through the House gained a big boost from Rep. Peter King. When he offered his amendment to protect the John Does, it ignited some brief opposition from the Democrats before the measure was sent back to committee for incorporation into the transportation bill. Debra Burlingame has a nifty description in yesterday's New York Post.
The fact is that in America everyone from President Bush on has sought, since the outbreak of this war, to make it clear that our enemy is not moderate Islam but an extremist faction within Islam that has levied war against us. It is clear that this war is going to test all our institutions, including the institution of tort law and the courts. It is going to require maximum alertness and common sense on the part of the Congress and the press, both the traditional press and the World Wide Web. If a law to protect the John Does is signed soon, it will be a signal that common sense is not yet a casualty.