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Shi'a Pundit

Devoted to the viewpoint of Islam of Muhammad SAW and Amir ul-Mumineen, Ali ibn Abi Talib SA, in the Shi'a Fatimi Ismaili Dawoodi Bohra tradition.

July 20, 2004

suspicious things I've done in an airplane.

In response to this, this, and this, which have triggered accusations of hoax, reasonable explanations and debunkings, I thought I should write about some of the things I have done on airplanes for some perspective.

For reference, I am about 5'8", dark black hair and untrimmed beard length about three to four inches. I weigh about 160lbs and have brown skin. I am of Indian descent but am frequently mistaken for Arab. I often wear religious headdress when traveling (a white cotton cap with gold trim).

Here's some of the things I have done on an airplane, and why:

- Speaking a foreign language in hushed tones with other similar males

My language is a variant of Gujarati, with many Arabic vocabulary words. I consider it rude to talk loudly on a plane, since people are sleeping, and prefer to talkin my language with my friends or family if we are discussing personal things because in my experience, people eavesdrop in close quarters.

- getting up frequently to visit the bathroom

Due to rapid dehydration, I drink a lot on planes, mostly water and ginger ale. Also I go to the bathroom to wash in preparation for prayer, which I do in the rear of the aircraft near the stewardess area (with their permission). I prefer praying on a plane to praying in the terminal because I usually get stared at intensely and it's discomfitting; the rear of the plane affords more privacy and with zero exceptions, the plane crew has always been understanding and helpful.

- taking pictures of the plane

I love taking photos from the window seat, I've got thousands of prints taken of geography and cities. I have taken photos of the actual plane interior as well, mainly family shots (like my daughter sleeping) or just for memory's sake (I took photos of my first trip on a 777 because the interior is like an office building, beautiful, roomy, softly lit, etc). I also have taken video of the Flight Information displays which show your current location and geography.

- made strange signals and gestures to other people in my group

Usually, shouting across the aisles is not conducive to communication. In groups, many times I use gestures to save myself the trouble of extricating myself from my wedged-in seat position and navigate about the cabin obstacle course of food carts, children, guys waiting to use the bathroom etc.

- not been friendly to other passengers

Especially when traveling alone, I sometimes don't feel like socializing. The more cramped the quarters, the more others are in my personal space, and coach class always makes me less inclined to share. I'd rather be in my shell than have to interact with other people, and do my own thing.

The bottom line is that I'm an American, but I'm also ethnically Indian, and religiously Bohra, and that means that there are lots of cultural things I do that won't make always sense to someone of whiter, Christian persuasion. Like travel to do a pilgrimage in a war zone. Just the logistics of praying on time make me behave in oft-bizarre ways.

The bottom line though is that the threat of a hijacking scares me too. I travel with my family, including my toddler, and it's her safety, not mine, that I fear for (especially now that a hijacking is a fatal event for the passengers rather than just an inconvenience). But there's a legitimate threshold for suspicion, and there are legitimate authorities and professionals to handle those assessments. If the threshold gets lowered, or assessed by amateurs, then the number of false positives will overwhelem the ability of those professionals to find (let alone cope with) the true threat. Chicken Little ain't just a movie, it's a parable which is very relevant and bears remembering.

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Nahj-ul Balagha

About Shi'a Pundit

Shi'a Pundit was launched in 2002 during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. The blog focuses on issues pertaining to Shi'a Islam in the west and in the Islamic world. The author is a member of the Dawoodi Bohra Muslim community. Bohras adhere to the Shi'a Fatimi tradition of Islam, headed by the 52nd Dai al-Mutlaq, Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin (TUS).

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