Pitts: Singing on the plane is a leap of faith – and a right
Ilhan Omar was right.
In fact, it’s not even close.
It will come as heresy and apostasy for those who now feign moral outrage over a tweet the Minnesota congresswoman sent on Sunday.
But that is no less true.
In the video Omar shared – little is known about his origin – a man with a guitar stands in the aisle of a crowded plane singing a Christian worship song.
While some passengers sing, others seem annoyed or carefully ignore the uproar. A little boy covers his ears.
All of this prompted Omar, a Muslim born in Somalia, to write: “I think my family and I should have a prayer session the next time I fly. How do you think this will end?
The answer, as any decent, intelligent person well knows, is that in a post-9/11 world, it would end with them being pinned to the ground and glued to their chairs while the pilot phoned the nearest airfield to ask permission for an emergency landing.
Notwithstanding the obvious irrefutability of this point, conservative critics have had fun presenting Omar’s words as an anti-Christian jeremiad.
Fox “News” claimed his tweet expressed “outrage”.
Someone named Vernon Jones, Republican candidate for Congress in Georgia, asked, “Why do you hate Christians?
And someone named Jose Castillo, a Republican looking for a job in Florida, literally told him to go back to Africa.
“If she wants a country where Christians are not allowed” to pray in public, he tweeted, she should “go back to her own country.”
Omar, who arrived in this country as a refugee in 1995, has been an American citizen since 2000. It was an accident of the moment that gave her a front row seat in this nation’s descent into the kind of Islamophobic bigotry that she emphasized and her critics helpfully demonstrated.
But while this episode affirms that so-called conservatism remains a doctrine of hate, it also raises a telling question of rights, of who can do what in the public square.
Get religion out of there for a moment.
Imagine a group of rappers holding a rap battle in the aisle of a transatlantic flight.
Imagine a bickering couple arguing loudly about their infidelity or infertility.
Imagine a troupe of actors performing a scene from Shakespeare.
Imagine, in other words, any scenario in which a group of people are held captive to a disruptive performance that they did not choose and cannot escape.
Do that, and a word suggests itself with crystal clarity.
Rude. That’s what every director would be in these imaginary scenarios. And that’s also what the singers were on that plane.
It testifies to a certain level of social privilege that it doesn’t seem to have occurred to them, that they never questioned whether they had the right to commandeer the public square and take hostages, that they never stopped thinking that there might be atheists, agnostics, buddhists, muslims, wiccans, jews or, for that matter, even other christians on this flight who had no interest in hear them sing.
It is unlikely that the experience brought any of these people to Christ.
If anything, it probably drove some the other way.
Omar’s tweet was on the relatively narrow issue of a double standard against Muslims.
But the bigger issue is the pride that comes with being comfortable in any setting, never having to ask permission.
This is the unfortunate subtext of the worship to which these passengers were forced to sit.
Of course, the singers wanted it as a demonstration of their faith.
But it was also a demonstration of their right.