Muslim Laptops?

Muslim man has his bag checked at the airport.

Muslim man has his bag checked at the airport. Photo courtesy of France 24.

With its new ban, the Transportation Safety Administration has adapted to the Trump Administration too easily. “Intelligence showing that the Islamic State is developing a bomb hidden in portable electronics spurred the United States and Britain on Tuesday to bar passengers from airports in a total of 10 Muslim-majority countries from carrying laptop computers, iPads and other devices larger than a cellphone aboard direct inbound flights, two senior American counter terrorism officials said,” according to the New York Times.

We need to take a long breath and think about what is happening. Laptop computers and tablet readers might pose a danger to air travel. But singling out ten Muslim-majority Middle East nations is not our way, and is not logical.

TSA flight safety rules, until now, have been religiously and geographically neutral. Rules limiting items allowed on airplanes have been the same for outbound and inbound flights, wherever their origin or destination. Domestic flights and international flights follow the same rules. Our government has gone to pains to avoid the appearance of profiling people—much less entire nations—based on ethnic or religious markers.

Suppose a terrorist organization goes to the trouble of recruiting and training a person for a suicide mission, preparing that person to make it through security unflappable, creating a bomb hidden in a laptop computer or other device, and sending that person on an international flight. Why assume that this substantial project is going to be launched only from an airport in one of the banned nations? Would the ban be overcome by the terrorists, by simply taking a short flight to Athens or Rome with the device in a checked bag, and from there a flight to Britain or to the U.S.?

The Trump Administration would surely respond that we have been too delicate in our efforts to preserve American values while working to protect American lives and property. But we are on a slippery slope.

Our Constitution protects our right of travel, both domestically and internationally. Congress can regulate that travel. But in doing so, Congress and the Administration are absolutely banned from giving a religious preference or burdening a religion. Federal courts dealing with the Administration’s two efforts to ban travel from Muslim nations, the first on January 27 and the second on March 6, have recognized the problem and have blocked those presidential orders.

We cannot accept action of our government, however well-intentioned, that infringes on that religious protection. It is the proverbial camel’s nose under the tent, and whatever minority is the target, we as Jews need to recognize and call it out. The religiously skewed laptop ban is a lot more dangerous than those laptops!


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