January 11, 2002


American Airlines vs the Secret Service: Bush is right to be 'madder than heck'

It was Christmas Day, and Walied Shatter, a bodyguard to the President of the United States, couldn't get a flight to Dallas. Not that he didn't have a reservation, or a ticket: both had been made and paid for by his employer, the Secret Service, well in advance. The problem was the pilot: no way was he going to let an armed Arab male on his plane. According to Shatter's lawyer, John Relman, "Pure and simple, this is a case of discrimination. Our client believes he was denied the right to fly because he is an American of Arab descent." Informed of what had happened to his Secret Service bodyguard, George W. Bush said he would be "mad as heck" if the allegation of discrimination turned out to be true – and it wasn't long before the President's conservative supporters turned on him with a vengeance.


First up to bat was one Debbie Schlussel, a conservative columnist, who proclaimed "Three Cheers for Captain X!" Although "he's President Bush's least-favorite pilot," nevertheless "we should all applaud the embattled Captain 'X,' unnamed pilot of American Airlines Flight 363, who refused to allow a suspicious, belligerent, armed passenger to fly on his plane."


To Ms. Schlussel, the matter is very simple: "Shatter was armed. He was visibly an Arab (as were the Sept. 11 hijackers). He was belligerent, appeared nervous, and flight attendants reported to the captain that his behavior 'appeared to be strange'" – as if some of those airline stewardesses should talk! Furthermore, "there were doubts whether his Secret Service ID was legitimate. No terrorist ever used a fake ID before, right." Nothing will satisfy Schlussel: after all, he's "visibly Arab," and that's all she needs to know. Gee, I didn't know they let Jews into the Ku Klux Klan. At any rate, she would look a lot better with a bedsheet over her head.

But of course Shatter was armed – he's a federal agent, a man who was on his way to Texas where he would stand guard over the President of the United States. Why is that so hard for Ms. Schlussel to understand? Her real problem, of course, is Shatter's ethnicity: apparently no Arab-American, whether in the Secret Service, the FBI, the CIA, or the cop on the beat, should be permitted to carry a gun – anywhere, and for any reason. Sure he was "nervous" and "belligerent" – what federal agent wouldn't be if some idiot airline kicked him off a plane for no good reason?


The pilot maintains that some forms Shatter had to fill out were "incomplete," yet this is contradicted by the airline manager who describes forms where some lines are "scratched out" and possibly "altered." Whatever. There was one way to solve the problem: call the Secret Service. Why wasn't this done?


It's amazing how unanimously the conservative pundits have all come out against their own President, screeching and hollering that all "profiling" is good and ludicrously reminding our Commander-in-Chief, "Don't you know there's a war on?" But what none of them mentions is the reason why that phone call was never made, as revealed in the report written by the American airlines manager in charge. This statement, curiously enough, is posted on National Review Online, which is siding with the airline. Disingenuously titled "American Airlines Stands Firm," it contains not only the pilot's whiny self-serving rationale but also a statement from the American Airlines manager on duty at the time, who admits:

"I asked the Captain to request the agent's superiors [sic] name and number. The Captain said that we should not use his information because he could have a friend answering the phone when we called."

Say what?


Let's see if I have this straight: the pilot is telling us that he believed Shatter had it all set up so that anyone who called would believe they were calling Secret Service headquarters, but would actually be talking to some crazed terrorist with a thick Arabic accent. The utter dishonesty of this cock-&-bull story is so embarrassingly obvious that it is hard to believe anyone would seriously utter it. What's even more amazing is that the manager went along with this nonsense, and suggested he call the local police, instead, to what end is not clear. The manager, who was 1,000 miles away from the scene, had basically passed on making a decision, and thrown it back in the pilot's lap.


By that time, the pilot had already confronted Shatter, and the two had gotten into a verbal exchange. "You haven't heard the end of this," the angry victim of this impromptu kangaroo court reportedly told the captain, and he was right. Clearly, at that point, the captain knew he was dealing with a bona fide Secret Service agent -- and that, to him, was intolerable: after all, didn't those Arabs just blow up the World Trade Center? What was he doing in the Secret Service, anyway? Clearly this was and is the unspoken subtext of the American Airlines report, and, also, of AA's vociferous defenders in the Arab-hating neoconservative media.


What really gets me is the accusation that the Secret Service agent was "abusive." Ground control to American Airlines: Look who's talking! Anyone who ever flew American Airlines before 9/11 will instantly understand me: when you think of AA, you think of sullen ticket agents, high prices, and those weird gender-confused stewardesses with the Tammy Faye make-up and the big hair. Talk about abusive – those girls are fierce! Just try asking one of those Amazons for an extra snack, and see what happens.

After being asked for his identification on five separate occasions, humiliated, and made to grovel before the notoriously rude and inept American Airlines personnel, Shatter had finally had it: he told Captain Queeg off, and when he said he was taking this to a "higher authority" he wasn't kidding. Nobody ever deserved a comeuppance more than this bigoted, pigheaded captain and the corporate bureaucrats over at American Airlines: those pompous, strutting, and nearly bankrupt jerks richly deserve the President's stern rebuke. But even worse are those conservative pundits who have gone to the barricades for bigotry.


Debbie Schlussel's case against Shatter is about as convincing as the very bad dye job some mad stylist inflicted on her long mane. Or is that a wig? Whatever it is, it's golden phoniness is symbolic of the brazen lies and cheesy smears that make up so much of her journalistic output. Appearances aside, what are we to think of a "columnist" whose WorldNetDaily logo is emblazoned with the slogan: "Debbie Does Politics"? A deep thinker she ain't, but what's interesting is the almost macabre illogic of her ranting screed. Here is Schlussel citing the sinister "evidence" that supposedly justified kicking Bush's bodyguard off the plane:

"When Shatter's bag was searched like other passengers', The Crusades Through Arab Eyes, by Amin Maalouf – a book that presents the 'Arab side' of the Crusades and laments a lack of Arab unity against the West – appeared."


Here is the confirmation of what the observant reader might have suspected all along: Schlussel is an ill-read ignoramus whose library consists of the Collected Works of Danielle Steele. Maalouf's book is an historical account of the Crusades based on previously inaccessible or undiscovered sources, a work of considerable scholarship which has been translated into many languages, and widely hailed by mainstream reviewers. The public seems to like the book, too, for all 21 reader-written reviews on Amazon.com give it a five star rating and describe it as a "balanced" and fascinating account of events usually seen exclusively through Western eyes.


But none of this matters to Schlussel, who obviously never even heard of the book or its author before this incident, and so must rely on a rather innocuous paraphrase by Harold Bloom. It is enough for her that an organization she wants to smear as "pro-Arab Muslim terrorist" – the respected Washington Report on Middle East Affairs – praised it.

But the joke is on Schlussel. For Maalouf, far from being some wacko Bin Ladenite sitting in a cave, is a Westernized intellectual and a novelist of note living in Paris. He was born into a Catholic Lebanese family and his many novels are lyrical evocations of a benevolent transnationalism which seeks to define Arab identity in terms that would reconcile religion and culture with modernity. He was awarded the Prix de Goncourt, in 1993, for his novel The Rock of Tanios. His most recent novel, Ports of Call, is the beautiful love story of an Arab and a Jewess told against the backdrop of World War II and the underground resistance to the Nazis. This is a Bin Ladenite? Nutball ideologues like Schlussel aren't embarrassed or deterred by their ignorance: indeed, it makes them feel invincible, presenting a barrier no fact can penetrate.


Schlussel owes Maalouf a public apology, but I wouldn't hold my breath. The woman is a harpy whose last vicious attack on a prominent Arab-American – a thoroughly misleading smear job on Rep. Darrell Issa (R-California) – almost ended in the death of its target. Schlussel's column smearing Issa as a supporter of terrorism – because he observed, in a congressional hearing, that Hamas runs an efficient charity organization – could arguably have been a factor in the recent attempt on Issa's life by the pro-Israel fanatic Irv Rubin and some other Jewish Defense League crackpot. Shortly after Schlussel's column came out, Rubin and his confederate were caught trying to bomb Issa's office, as well as a Southern California mosque.


Did she apologize then? Of course not. For this is precisely what Schlussel and the blindly pro-Israel faction of the conservative movement want: to import to our shores the tribal violence that makes life in Israel so miserable. Indeed, any ordinary decent human being would've dropped the Issa vendetta after the bombing attempt, but not Schlussel. She actually brings it up again in this most recent column, writing:

"Interestingly, the two most prominent cases of alleged profiling of Arab-American passengers involve suspicious and belligerent, yet very self-important individuals – Shatter, and before him, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., aka Jihad Darrell. Issa arrived more than an hour late to an international flight with a one-way ticket to Saudi Arabia."


Oh, those dirty rotten Arabs, so "self-important" – well, we know how to treat them in Israel, now don't we Debbie? The pure hate that emanates from Schlussel's poison pen is enough to send one reeling and choking, but I have the sinking feeling that the sheer brazenness of this kind of evil is deliberately meant to be shocking. The ugly racism of some sections of Israeli society is now being injected into American politics, and that kind of poison could be deadly – as Rubin's terrorist escapade showed.


Schlussel's incitements are not an isolated case, unfortunately: the entire neoconservative apparatus is now mobilized behind a post-9/11 campaign that runs directly counter to the President's war aims and strategy, one intent on inciting hatred against all Arabs. Referring to Shatter's interest in Maalouf's book, Schlussel shrieks:

"If President Bush still believes there is no radical Islamic war against the West, he'd better check with his 'profiled' bodyguard."

Ah yes, Bush the secret Arabist, with his sinister Arab bodyguard whispering policy prescriptions in his ear – no wonder this administration is giving that old softie Ariel Sharon such a hard time!


Schlussel's implicitly Kahanist ideology, which avers that Arabs are demonic subhumans and not to be trusted, comes out of the closet when she warns people against getting on a plane with either Walied Shatter or Darrell Issa. Of the latter, she asks: "He's a bigwig, but would you want to fly with Hezbollah's biggest fan in Congress?" Good lord, can you imagine having to sit next to this frothy-mouthed harridan for an entire flight? Be ready to dodge a lot of spittle….


Jay Nordlinger, of National Review, weighs in against the President, too, attacking him for being "PC": the author of NR's regular "Impromptus" column is mainly concerned with extending his condolences to those poor airlines who never took security seriously – and still don't. All those government handouts have made them so blue: "One has to feel a little sorry for the airlines at the moment" on account of their "difficult position."

Of course, any business with a safety record like American Airlines at the moment is bound to be in a bit of difficulty – but who's to blame for that? Apparently the US taxpayers, who are being hit up for even more bailouts by the airline lobby. At any rate, Nordlinger avers that "they erred on the side of caution," and, "well, so what?" The moral of this story is not that the market will rightly condemn American Airlines to extinction, or that some people just can't admit they were wrong, but that "PC is still in its saddle, bossing us around, screwing with our emotions and logic, and falsely accusing."


The implication that it was the President doing the false accusing brought letters of complaint, which Nordlinger conceded, in another column, might be correct, but even so:

"The Secret Service agent, with his lawyer and his publicist and his ethnic mob, is an unbelievably selfish piece of work, isn't he? There's a war on. Our enemies have killed thousands of us, and they're vowing to kill thousands or millions more. So the guy suffered a personal insult; he had to get off the plane, which humiliated him. Big effin' deal: at least he's not dead."

Yeah, think of it that way: the captain could've shot Mr. Shatter down in cold blood – and, you know what? I think Nordlinger (not to mention Ms. Schlussel) would've found a way to justify that, too. That's how sick they are.


Nordlinger's final magisterial words on the subject pretty much sum up how far the current crop of tousle-haired P. J. O'Rourke lookalikes have dragged down National Review: "Screw you, honcho (meaning, the Secret Service agent, not my dear letter writer)." It seems history has at last overtaken the magazine whose founders once vowed it would "stand athwart history yelling 'Stop!'" – and it isn't pretty.


But no one should be all that surprised by this kind of concerted ugliness. After all, it is well-known that mental illness flourishes in wartime. However, the problem is that pundits like Schlussel, Nordlinger, and especially David Horowitz – whose Frontpagemag.com has become a virtual anti-Arab hate-fest – are doing their damnedest to spread their illness far and wide. The President and his supporters need to impose a quarantine on these hawkers of hate.


George W. Bush was not my choice for President. I oppose this war, and many if not most of the foreign policy stances taken by this administration. But I have to admit that the President has personal integrity of a sort that harkens back to an earlier era. He didn't have to travel to a mosque right after the 9/11 attacks and stand with Arab and Muslim Americans. He didn't have to explicitly warn against attacks on Americans or immigrants by other Americans, and he wasn't compelled to go out of his way to defend Walied Shatter. But he did, and for that he deserves a lot of credit, especially from the very people who will never give it to him – the yapping leftists who are marching "against war and racism."


I hope the President is "madder than heck" – a lot madder. And I hope Shatter's lawyers make the corporate poohbahs who run the worst airline in America get down on their knees and crawl. As for the professional haters – and yes, this means you too, Andrew Sullivan – who are objectively helping the Bin Ladenites by demonizing all things Arabic and Muslim, I hope conservatives get wise to their racket and start supporting the President on this issue.

Just think, if only for a moment, of how this looks in the Arab world: there's no doubt Schlussel and Nordlinger have. The whole point of the anti-Islam, anti-Arab propaganda campaign is to further polarize the developing conflict into the US and Israel versus the entire Arab world. If the latter see that not even the President's personal bodyguard is immune from persecution – if he's an Arab, that is – then you can kiss our broad-based anti-terrorist coalition goodbye.


This is precisely what the neoconservative faction of the Right desires most: to isolate the US from its Arab allies, so that we'll only have Israel, India, and Taiwan to rely on in a crunch. And the crunch, they hope, will come sooner rather than later.


It's funny, but it takes a so-called isolationist like me, who opposed this war from the beginning, to warn against the very real and dangerous isolationism of the War Party. For whatever motivates the neocons has nothing to do with America's national interests or even winning the war on terrorism. Bin Laden and his followers would like nothing better than to see World War III start in the Middle East. It seems more and more unlikely that Bush will allow himself to get pushed into it, and this is why we seeing these attacks from his right. After all, the War Party has other options: their champion blusterer, Mad John McCain, went on a taxpayer-funded cruise to the region with Senator Joe Lieberman, and the two of them – always in campaign mode – averred that it was high time we attacked Iraq. Just as if they were conducting their own foreign policy.


How long will it take the War Party to turn against George W. Bush? It's already happening, to a certain extent, and you'll see more of it if the President and his administration don't get with the neocon program – and fast.

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com. He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against US Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard.


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