UPDATE: Todd Petruna lied, not just about what happened on the flight, but about being ON the flight at all!

This hilarious email, about what supposedly transpired on AirTran Flight 297 last month, is currently making the rounds amongst right-wing conservatives:

11 Muslim men got on the plane in full attire… In the back of the plane at this time, 2 younger Muslims, one in the back, isle, and one in front of him, window, began to show footage of a porno they had taped the night before, and were very loud about it. Now….they are only permitted to do this prior to Jihad. If a Muslim man goes into a strip club, he has to view the woman via mirror with his back to her. (don’t ask me….I don’t make the rules, but I’ve studied). The 3rd stewardess informed them that they were not to have electronic devices on at this time. To which one of the men said “shut up infidel dog!”


This is where I had had enough! I got up and started to the back where I heard a voice behind me from another Texan twice my size say “I got your back.” I grabbed the man who had been on the phone by the arm and said “you WILL go sit down or you Will be thrown from this plane!” As I “led” him around me to take his seat, the fellow Texan grabbed him by the back of his neck and his waist and headed out with him. I then grabbed the 2nd man and said, “You WILL do the same!” He protested but adrenaline was flowing now and he was going to go. As I escorted him forward the plane doors open and 3 TSA agents and 4 police officers entered. Me and my new Texan friend were told to cease and desist for they had this under control.

There’s more in this vein, all written by a Tedd Petruna, who clearly has been watching too many Bruce Willis movies. In fact, the sterotyping (“full muslim attire”… “infidel dog!”) is so hilariously inept that it reads very much like a Hollywood script. A bad one. It reminds me of the scene from the Arnold Schwarzenegger film True Lies where The Muslim Villain* is borne aloft with a nuclear warhead literally between his legs, cackling maniacally. Meanwhile our Hero Tedd is the one who sees through the deception, takes decisive action, and saves the day.

The rightwing blogs are making this out to be a “dry run” hijacking, and even manage to get their licks in at Obama while salivating over the thought that there could still be terrorists out there just begging for a solid Texan foot in their ass. Todd Beamer, the actual hero of the actually-hijacked Flight 93, is clearly their fantasy inspiration, though these keyboard crusaders have as much in common with Beamer as Danny DeVito did to Arnold Schwarzenegger in Twins.

The actual news report of the incident tells a much simpler story.

An AirTran spokesman said a man traveling with a group Tuesday afternoon refused to turn his cell phone off before takeoff. But the woman sitting behind the man said it wasn’t a phone at all, and feels the entire incident was the result of poor communication.

“He was not talking on a cell phone, it was a camera,” said Nancy Deveikis of Marietta. “He was looking at pictures.” … A flight attendant asked the man twice to turn off the device, Deveikis said. But it was clear the man did not speak English, she said. Although the man was traveling with others, the rest of the group was seated throughout the plane.

When the man did not respond to the flight attendant, she took the camera from him, Deveikis said. Deveikis, who presented ajc.com with her boarding pass for the flight, said she watched the exchange from directly behind the man in seat 28A and the female flight attendant.

(…) The whole incident, which scared other passengers who weren’t clear what was happening, could have easily been avoided.

“Just one flight attendant snowed everyone into believing she had an irate passenger,” Deveikis said.

And in a statement to the Houston media, Air Tran representatives said, “A number of the allegations included in the article posted by Mr. Petruna conflict with the statements obtained by the flight crew.”

The hilarity aside, the whole incident really does demonstrate that there is a significant burden of suspicion and discrimination against anyone who even superficially may evoke terrorist stereotypes. We should remember that Raed Jarrar was detained by JetBlue Airlines simply for wearing a t-shirt with Arabic lettering on it (the phrase, “we will not be silent”. Get yours here.). As these incidents show, it’s impossible to accomodate the paranoid fantasies of people like Petruna – I’ve been patient about the indignities that I have personally suffered in the name of security, but given that it is impossible for a brown person NOT to act suspiciously on an airplane at some point, we need to start confronting these attitudes and latent racism instead of just hoping it will go away. It will only get worse.

Related: The official debunking page at Snopes.com. Also see my previous post about the resolution of the Raed Jarrar case, in which JetBlue was ordered to pay restitution of $240,000. Jet Blue still refuses to admit any wrongdoing and (in a direct message sent to me from their corporate Twitter account @JetBlue) says “We continue to deny, outright, every critical aspect of Mr. Jarrar’s version of events. JetBlue believes diversity adds great strength to our company, diversity among our crewmembers as well as our customers.”

And Talk Islam has plenty more about “flying while muslim” worth checking out.

Image credit: Snopes.com discussion forum. (NOTE: Photo removed after complaint by Robert Spencer)

* regrettably named Aziz, and memorably played by Art Malik, who would probably prefer his performance be forgettable instead.

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