by Michael Roberts
by Michael Roberts: Michael
Going Back to Work
readers, I hope, will recall the incident
last month in Memphis in which the crew of a commercial flight
bound for Charlotte, N.C. refused to fly until two passengers were
removed from the aircraft. The passengers were Muslim scholars attempting
to travel to an Islamic conference focused this year on the topic
of Islamophobia and discrimination against Muslims in the U.S.
Those are still
pretty much the only hard facts that have been released to the public
as of this writing – plenty to incite the typical torrent of speculation,
commentary, blathering idiotic bigotry, hurt feelings, and late
night comedy routines. Yeah, it’s great fun, but let’s be honest
and fair: so far, unless we’re tangibly connected to the event in
some official way, none of us has enough information to draw upon
in order to frame a meaningful conclusion or comment on the situation.
It would be
especially imprudent and unprofessional for me, as a pilot, to indict
the crew based on the data currently available. The media and other
rumor mills have reported that the flight pushed off the gate and
then returned because the crew was unwilling to continue with the
two men on board. That no sound justification has been publicly
given for this does not necessarily indicate that such justification
does not exist. The pilots (or, as the media usually call them,
the pilot) would have been sealed up on the flight deck in
front of a locked, reinforced, terrorist-proof door when they made
the decision to return to the gate. Whatever prompted their decision
presumably happened in the cabin on the other side of that door
as they were taxiing out to the runway. Pilots must rely on the
cabin crew to keep them apprised of what’s going on back there and
make the best decisions they can based on that information. The
public has been told nothing about any communications along such
lines. So, for now at least, we don’t know what we don’t know.
It has also
been reported that Delta agents spoke with the flight crew for over
half an hour when they returned to the gate and even apologized
to the two men when the pilots insisted upon ejecting them from
the flight. On the surface, this might cast an understandable cloud
of doubt over the crew’s actions. But I speak from personal experience
and a solid familiarity with the stories of numerous colleagues
when I say – difficult as it may be to fathom – that unsuspecting
pilots are often met with considerable resistance when they decide
to remove a threatening or problematic passenger from their plane.
Many crews have made the mistake of contacting the airline and asking
for a gate agent or supervisor to handle a belligerent drunk, an
unstable lunatic threatening violence when asked to turn his phone
off or buckle his seat belt, or some other superstar who just has
to ruin it for everybody. I was shocked myself when I discovered
that some airline support agents, managers, etc. seem completely
deaf to the sound of a pilot’s voice calling for the removal of
a threatening passenger or asking for police assistance, etc. They’ll
go back and talk with the individual in question themselves, then
return and say something like, "Okay, I got her to turn her
phone off. She says she hasn’t slept and she’s going to her father’s
funeral and she’s really upset but she’s sorry and it won’t happen
again. Just don’t serve her any more alcohol and I think she’ll
Then we say,
"Yeah but, um, she broke the flight attendant’s nose."
I know," they mutter, shuffling their feet a bit and trying
to muster a sympathetic expression. "But I don’t think we’ll
be able to find you another one in time to avoid a late departure."
Then, to the bleeding victim, they say, "Hold pressure right
there, like this. Keep your head tilted back. It doesn’t look that
bad. You can hold up till you get to Guadalajara, right? Put some
ice on it at the hotel tonight – you’ll be fine…"
I’m embellishing the case a little. The point is pilots can
have a hard time finding someone to take an unruly passenger off
their hands. Very few of us, I hope, will give in once the decision
has been made, but it’s a big deal to deny service to a paying customer
and a big responsibility (and potential liability) to those involved.
Such cases are the exception and not the rule, of course. Still,
it happens a lot more than one would expect in a terror-stricken,
post-9/11 world. Besides, absent the ideal solution of a legitimate,
professional security division, this kind of situation is really
outside the airline’s scope of operational expertise. Fellow pilots,
here’s my advice if you need real help in the overly regulated and
litigious chaos of the system in which we work – forget the company
and call the control tower directly for law enforcement assistance.
They’ll send the fuzz right out without questioning your judgment
or prerogative as Pilot-in-Command. Remove the threat now. Sort
out the details, ideological conundrums, and conflicts of interest
So, not to
belabor the point, the bottom line is there may be a lot more to
this story in Memphis than any of us has been told so far. Anyway,
enough of that – there’s something else I’d like to discuss.
really think was going to keep it to myself, did you?)
the facts, known and unknown, the word on the street is the Captain
– presumed by many accounts to be the angry conservative Christian
redneck type – booted the two men off the plane for no better reason
than his personal contempt of the peculiar way they were dressed,
which clearly identified them as Muslims and hence a de facto terrorist
threat. Other versions indicate that it was not the Captain, but
some of the passengers who were uncomfortable flying with the two
men on board. The Captain supposedly felt that the mass consternation
resulting from the clerics’ disruptive presence constituted a legitimate
breach of safety sufficient to have them removed to calm the turbulent
atmosphere in the cabin.
I say without
hesitation that if such rumors prove true, it would indeed
be a classic example of your standard, garden variety ignorant discrimination.
If it is as it appears in the public eye, the Captain at
the very least exhibited a foolish, costly, and hurtful lapse of
judgment. He stands a good chance of losing his job, but the pilots
union will get it back for him after some rehabilitative sensitivity
training. Everyone else at the airline will also be subjected to
this reeducation. The company will settle with the two men out of
court under undisclosed terms and the public will never know exactly
what happened. By then few will remember or care that much about
the story anyway. Life goes on.
who knows what really happened?
If we turn
our attention to the public chatter surrounding the event, however,
many things are laid bare in stark detail – not about the thing
with the two Muslims in Memphis, but about people in general. It’s
a grim and painful picture, and all too predictable and commonplace.
This is the real story in my opinion and few, if any, are giving
it the attention it warrants.
I refer to
the perspectives revealed in comments like the following, drawn
mostly from across the Internet and conversations in airports, hotel
lounges, and radio talk shows:
the pilot! It is about time…
him. One more event showing that we have had enough. That pilot
has every right to fear for his ship and the people on the flight
when ragheads are on board…
I hope more
will follow his example. The more we can do to let these savages
know they are not welcome the better…
If it walks
like a duck, talks like a duck…it's a terrorist…
pilot) just realized he is the Infidel they want to kill….
should be standard procedure at every airline...
Do you think
they cavity searched the 80 year old lady in front of them in line
and groped the 4 year old girl behind them while telling Ali Baba
to have a nice flight ?…
religion should be destroyed. The question is just the order in
which that happens…
we will have to ban Islam from free societies, but until then, enjoy
watching innocent people being blown to smithereens…
All it takes is one brave pilot to say ‘NOPE’ not with you guys
on board for more pilots to follow in his footsteps… I will walk
off the next flight I take if there are overt Muslims on it… Guess
it comes down to using common sense and protecting yourself, like
the Founding Fathers had in mind…
If you can’t
smoke on flights anymore because it endangers other passengers,
then it only makes sense that Muslims shouldn’t be allowed on flights
for the same reason…
that removing a Muslim is ALWAYS with reason....they are MUSLIM!...
unmitigated statement of ignorance, bigotry and hate. And I'll bet
you're a professing "Christian" aren't you?
What a mess.
What a heartbreaking, shameful spectacle! And what hypocrisy! I,
too, am constantly encountering people who congratulate me along
similar lines for refusing to be scanned or frisked, then rattle
on about how the politicians and bureaucrats are, "Just too
chickenshit and politically correct to pull all the Muslims and
Arabs out of line."
not about political correctness – a chickenshit doctrine, to be
sure. It’s about the ambitious assault of state power against the
freedom and essential dignity of every human being who sets foot
in an airport terminal. And it’s already spilling out of the airports
into the streets, by the way. What’s worse, while many of these
same blowhards deride and call for the utter humiliation and violation
of the bearded Imam’s basic rights, they willingly present their
own bodies, their wives, and their children like chattel to the
degrading perversions of an abusive government. (Yes, willingly
– grumbling about it doesn’t make their actions any less voluntary).
So then, we have evolved into a culture that will happily trample
the natural rights and liberty of others while simultaneously abdicating
our own without the slightest hint of honorable resistance.
I can’t speak for the crew of the flight in Memphis. But I, for
one, am ashamed to be praised in this way by the adherents of such
despicable principles. Where a tenable threat exists, our highest
priority is always to protect our passengers (and ourselves). But
liberty and justice for all hardly constitutes a credible danger
to anyone except the tyrants who would lord it over the rest of
us and who are themselves the greatest legitimate threat. And, if
it isn’t clear, I’m not talking about radical Islamic fundamentalists.
We’ve got our own domestic breed of despotism springing up right
here at home. Our tyrant may be a clean-shaven white man in a western
suit, or a mulatto, or a woman (I’m not naming any names, but her
initials are Janet Napolitano).
At any rate,
whoever the real terrorists are, they seem to be winning. It’s evident
that fear has become the dominant trait, baked into our national
character, manifest in our xenophobic bigotry as well as our truckling
predilection to bow the knee rather than incur the cost and discomfort
of resisting the blatantly delusive designs of the police state.
A quiet kind of terror rips through the hearts and minds of Americans,
snatching away virtue, compassion, integrity, faith, and love. It
isn’t just about Muslims on airliners; it’s the buzz on the street,
the force that drives us on through daily life and enslaves us –
rather, compels us to dutifully enslave ourselves to every false
shepherd – to the unjust magistrate, the employer, the charlatan
preacher on television, the lender, all promising to deliver us
from evil and give us our daily bread.
of fear produces in us – indeed, in the soul of entire nations and
generations – the vilest forms of bitterness and contempt, the darkest
extremes of human nature: cruelty, hatred, and violence. This is
the path along which all the horrors of history were brought to
pass. It’s the path we’re on right now, yet knowing this is not
enough to turn us aside. We march on. We curse and condemn. And,
in the manner with which we judge one another, so are we being judged.
This is hardly
some imaginative new sociological theory I just made up. Neither
is what I describe a uniquely American phenomenon. It’s just people
doing what people do and have always done. Human beings have been
maligning one another, kicking each other off trains, planes, and
automobiles, enslaving, slaughtering, and setting each other on
fire for as long as anyone can remember. It’s wicked and it sucks
and it never stops. Despite the irrefutable testimony of recorded
history reflecting our ugliness and all it teaches us about ourselves
and our kind, we still haven’t managed to rise above our consummate
state of depravity – not even a little bit. Nor can we since, to
the degree that we’ve advanced in understanding, technology, and
global unification, so we have advanced the instruments of our humiliation
and totalitarian oppression. On the other hand, we’ll find no lasting
relief in avoiding understanding, shunning technology, or in the
narrowness of nationalist exceptionalism. We can’t just turn around
and work our way back to paradise. We’ve been fruitful and multiplied.
We’ve filled the earth and subdued it. Now here we all are spinning
around on this rock – far more together than separate when viewed
from above. And the truth we would do well to face is that man is
not basically good. No, in a nutshell, man is basically screwed.
our self-righteous efforts to overcome our own savage condition
will never succeed. How can we protect ourselves from ourselves
by degrading and abusing ourselves? But isn’t this how we function
when we violate the basic dignity of others and, on that account,
ourselves by imposing our answers to the problem of evil in the
world on each other by force? Whether it’s at the hands of Islamic
fundamentalists, the Department of Homeland Security, an airline
pilot, or SEAL Team Six, the use of violence or threats of violence
and other coercive means to arbitrarily control the affairs and
prerogatives of others can do nothing to restrain our common affliction.
On the contrary, our affliction is never more conspicuous than when
we cower under or aspire to rule over one other. Man is unfit to
rule himself, much less his fellow man. Neither is the greater part
of humankind intrinsically worthy to rule over the lesser part.
True liberty isn’t the result of good government conquering evil
by force. Freedom is not a grant of the state and to treat it as
such by subjugating ourselves to the state is a logical absurdity.
Indeed, a free society first requires a free people to build, sustain,
and defend it against the state’s inherent lust for power.
Then what is
true freedom, and where does it come from? Whatever is the answer,
finding it would not entitle us to foist it on each other by compulsion
or intimidation (civilized people sometimes call this legislation
or regulation). To do so would belie the authenticity of our wisdom
and add another exhibit to the body of evidence against us. Sadly,
no party is more guilty in this regard than the Christian church.
Following the publicity surrounding this story, I feel obliged to
respond in some way to the unfortunate sentiments expressed by numerous
Christians and reprove my fellow disciples for the heinous part
many have played in the broader scene of anti-Islamic persecution
and statist idolatry in this age of terror. For me, the discussion
can move no further forward without fully acknowledging this painful
As a student
and ardent worshipper of Christ, I’m persuaded that he alone is
the great liberator of humankind held captive under the universal
tyranny of death. Many Christians, however, seem to have forgotten
that our freedom is not bought with the worthless blood of our enemies,
but that of the sinless Master himself, who loved his enemies (all
of us) until it killed him. He has released us from bondage at the
auction block of human
capital, delivering us from the rule of fear – fear of death,
loss, punishment, suffering and oppression in all its endless forms.
This rule is most perfectly realized in the state, which derives
its power from the legitimized use of deadly force to apply human
solutions to human problems. In this we see that the state is fundamentally
opposed to the way of Christ as the ultimate hope for true freedom
and peace on earth. His is the way of absolute dependence upon God,
apart from any rule of law enforced by human strength exerted in
existence depends upon (and receives) the affirmation of popular
consent, the state is the principal agent of human rebellion against
the Creator. People have a congenital inclination to contrive and
manufacture something they can set in motion to look after their
every need and desire. The problem with these lifeless artifacts
is they must be maintained. They are completely incapable of sustaining
their own existence and can’t function without the constant care
and feeding of their creators. The state is the epitome of such
idolatry. Those who depend on it are in truth depending upon their
own feeble strength, offered up and wasted in sacrificial toil and
futility. When Christians engage under the auspices of the state
to resist evil by force, they deny the higher power of God’s love
by which our Lord endured all hostility to establish an eternal
kingdom that is not of this world.
Did the pilots
in Memphis throw the clerics off their plane in Jesus’s name? I
don’t know. But droves of self-identified Christians have come out
in support of the decision on the basis of the same limited information
that has provoked so much outrage on the other side. The not-so-subtle
implication is that Muslims are the embodiment of evil on earth
and must therefore be suppressed by all means without regard for
their civil rights, let alone the teaching and example of Christ
outside the faith, let me say plainly that Jesus commands us only
to love and pursue peace with you. He gives us no license and certainly
no mandate to deny your innate dignity, to harass, or deprive you
of the basic rights and freedom conferred personally by God to all
mankind. It’s not for us to inhibit the freedom of movement or other
means by which others engage in their daily business. Nor is it
our place to control access to the marketplace and starve dissenters
into submission. Rather, if our enemy is hungry we’re told to feed
him and, if he’s thirsty, give him something to drink. If we are
robbed, it’s our privilege to freely give even more – just as the
Creator gives good things to ungrateful and evil people like us.
The yoke he places on us is easy, and the load we bear is light.
Our God has not saddled us with the hopeless mission of driving
evil off the face of the earth by violence and cruelty against unbelievers.
will say, Islam is different and not properly understood. Muslim
fundamentalists want to convert, enslave, or destroy us all! If
this is true, and if we choose none of the above, the question is
not whether we ought to resist, but what sort of resistance will
truly deliver us and not simply feed our addiction to terror and
strife. Christ teaches us to overcome evil with good, to love our
enemies. This is not to say that we kowtow in passive obedience
in the face of tyranny and injustice. Rather, we resist in the same
love with which we have been irresistibly loved; we drive out fear
and are not ruled by it. If our enemy slaps us with his left hand,
we stand fast and offer him the opportunity to wield the right one
also against our peaceable friendship and so bear witness to his
own guilt and shame before God and everyone. By this he is ultimately
and utterly defeated, condemned by any reasonable standard of justice
and altogether disqualified to bear the crown of victory and authority.
That we do
these things imperfectly – or not at all – and so often engage in
the same kinds of coercive devices described above in bending the
will of others to suit our world view reveals a couple of important
points. First, if our escape from the untamed barrens of hatred,
fear, destruction, and the judgment of God himself depends on our
ability or even our willingness to behave well, then Christians
are as basically screwed as everyone else. Second, a lot of people
calling themselves Christian simply don’t get that and are still
trying to be good which, they believe, entails forcing everyone
else to be good too. Jesus didn’t truck much with people like that
in his day, to say the least.
The love of
Christ isn’t a soft, squishy, amorphous ointment of politically
correct weakness that makes us grovel in the face of intimidation.
Neither is it a heartless crusade against the heathen doers of iniquity,
idol worshippers, homosexuals, Democrats, or swarthy airline passengers
wearing funny man-dresses. And please understand that I’m not trying
here to proselytize or even persuade anyone of the truth of Scripture
or the supremacy of Christ (but feel free to contact me if you want
to have that discussion). My goal has been to correct the distortion
of the biblical Jesus in the words and actions of many who claim
to follow him and bring to light what is true about the content
of the Bible and Christ’s teaching so everyone will be better able
to judge whether any of it is true at all.
those who genuinely love and follow Christ, if the words of our
Teacher aren’t clear enough, let’s abide by his example in rejecting
all aspiration and allegiance to the violent powers of the earth.
We must refuse to prop up the lifeless idols that bind the soul
in darkness and affirm that he alone is worthy to rule over us as
we gladly submit to his perfect law of fearless love.
note: Now that I've broken the seal, it seems like as good a time
as any to move forward with something I’ve been mulling over for
a while (years, in fact). If you’ve read all the way through to
this point, you may be also interested in checking it out at ChristianAnarchist.org.
S. Roberts [send him
mail] is a pilot for ExpressJet Airlines. His website is FedUpFlyers.org.
© 2011 FedUpFlyers.org