Nowadays anybody who makes bomb jokes in an airport security line or on a plane can expect to be arrested. So why doesn’t a group exercise in terrorism street-theater, which seems to be much more threatening and disruptive than are mere jokes, get the same response? Certainly the perpetrators of this incident have received a lot of public scrutiny and criticism, which they deserve, but they also have received a great deal of valuable publicity at little cost to themselves.
The implicit incentive structure here is not a good one. Politically protected groups should not be granted legal safe harbor to engage in abusive stunts while poor schmucks who say something stupid in an airport security line get the book thrown at them. If we are serious about security we should prosecute the imams — as punishment for disrupting the lives of many people who reasonably perceived them as threatening, as a deterrent against future such behavior and to deter real attacks. On the other hand, if we think it’s more important to be politically correct and not offend anyone, let’s eliminate the whole air-security charade.
I think we should be serious about security and prosecute the imams. Their behavior, unlike that of most jokesters, was clearly intended to provoke and did so convincingly. Unfortunately the official response to the incident makes clear that political correctness is our institutional priority.