This story reeks of the slimiest sort of identity politics:

Six Muslim imams were removed from a US Airways flight at Minneapolis- St. Paul International Airport on Monday and questioned by police for several hours before being released, a leader of the group said.
The six were among passengers who boarded Flight 300, bound for Phoenix, around 6:30 p.m., airport spokesman Pat Hogan said.
A passenger initially raised concerns about the group through a note passed to a flight attendant, according to Andrea Rader, a spokeswoman for US Airways. She said police were called after the captain and airport security workers asked the men to leave the plane and the men refused.
“They took us off the plane, humiliated us in a very disrespectful way,” said Omar Shahin, of Phoenix.
The six Muslim scholars were returning from a conference in Minneapolis of the North American Imams Federation, said Shahin, president of the group. Five of them were from the Phoenix-Tempe area, while one was from Bakersfield, Calif., he said.
Three of them stood and said their normal evening prayers together on the plane, as 1.7 billion Muslims around the world do every day, Shahin said. He attributed any concerns by passengers or crew to ignorance about Islam.

1.7 billion Muslims around the world feel the need to stand up and pray on planes?
Even heard of time place and manner? There’s no right to stand and pray on a plane, or do anything else on a plane in such a way as to upset passengers.
The way CAIR is screaming about anti-Muslim bigotry is very suspicious, and I think this was probably a set up. A very despicable one at that.

“I never felt bad in my life like that,” he said. “I never. Six imams. Six leaders in this country. Six scholars in handcuffs. It’s terrible.”
Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, expressed anger at the detentions.
“CAIR will be filing a complaint with relevant authorities in the morning over the treatment of the imams to determine whether the incident was caused by anti-Muslim hysteria by the passengers and/or the airline crew,” Hooper said. “Because, unfortunately, this is a growing problem of singling out Muslims or people perceived to be Muslims at airports, and it’s one that we’ve been addressing for some time.”

Singling out Muslims? I’m sorry, but no one singled them out. When they stood on the plane in the middle of a flight, they singled themselves out.

Hooper said the meeting drew about 150 imams from all over the country, and that those attending included U.S. Rep.-elect Keith Ellison, D-Minneapolis, who just became the first Muslim elected to Congress. Shahin said they went as far as notifying police and the FBI about their meeting in advance.

Ah, politics.
Democratic Party politics, perhaps?
Who is this Omar Shahin, the leader of the crackpots who provoked passengers by standing in flight? According to this translation of the “Arab Voice,” he’s the head of a Muslim Democratic PAC in Arizona:

Many leaders and community members of the Arabic community were invited to the Arkawi home including representatives from — the multicultural business community, the press, al-Mehdi organization, CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations), the Arizona Islamic Political Action Committee, the Palestine committee, and a number of Arabs who belong to the Democratic party.
Mr. Omar Shahin, the representative for the Muslim Political Action Committee, in the name of his Committee, presented Pederson with its support. This committee is fairly new and was just started only just a few month ago and was started to impact the local elections and in order to meet with Democratic candidates. We should mention that this this committee presented support to candidates who are Democratic up until this time. Other Arabic organizations are also expected to enlighten and educate their representatives about the agenda of the candidates who are running for the local elections and about the proposed changes of Arizona’s constitution (referenda).

There’s more. According to the analysis by the moderate American Forum for Islamic Democracy at the above, Omar Shahin epitomizes the politicized Islamist movement within the Democratic Party:

A perception or an attempt to create one of a ‘Muslim’ voting bloc is the ultimate ideological weapon of the Islamist minority who wield their influence within the demagogy of political Islam. An empowered Islamist lobby propagates all the core maladies of political Islam which AIFD seeks to counter. The profound ideological danger of this toxic mixture of religion and politics in the Muslim community is the same regardless of party affiliations.
The report is on the front page of this month’s local Arab Voice distributed freely and unopposed to those in the Arabic and Muslim local community. Note this paper sits in or near the prayer areas of almost every local mosque, and is also ubiquitous in ethnic stores, and Islamic organizations locally. It remains astonishing that such a toxically partisan and controversial reporting disseminated under the guise of journalism is distributed without competition or balance in the community or any suggestion that the Arabic or Muslim community may not be as politically monolithic as this paper tries to imply. Most reports put out by this publisher, make a subtle but potent collectivist political assumption, as Islamists are want to do. Not only do they present political islam as the norm but their particular version of it as the only one- both are dangerous.
They conveniently ignore the fact that the paper and the organizations still represent only a minority of local Arabs and Muslims.
The core supposition of Islamists is that individuals who share a spiritual religion (of God and not of this world) would naturally share a political ideology (of this world) for a specific candidate or policy.
Additionally, it should be noted that the newly formed Arizona Muslim Political Action Committee noted in this Arabic report and announced in this publishers previous Muslim Voice was fully represented at this fundraiser by none other than a local imam and also ubiquitous Muslim religious leader- Imam Omar Shahin.
Imam Shahin also is known in the local religious community to be the head of the Valley’s Imam Council, the Islamic teacher at a local Islamic parochial school, and also an imam of a local mosque. Yet, this same individual is reported here in Arabic to be also representing a Muslim PAC. One would be hard pressed to find non-Muslim examples of a single clergy who while having multiple congregations also speaks on behalf of religious PACs. Is there anything which typifies the toxic mixture and penetration of religion and politics more? By the way this imam also emceed the recent CAIR-AZ fundraiser.
This report’s association of a number of religious and civil rights organizations in the Arabic and Muslim community with a political candidate fundraiser should cause concern about the establishment of Islamism in local politics and its endemic mixture of islamism and politics. Note the defining issue (Middle East policy) which this report remarks on regarding this candidate’s opponent. Thus, this lobby hijacks an entire religious community for its own focused policy interests and any other policy discussions are simply pandering.

I think the situation is appalling, and I don’t think it speaks well for the Democratic Party.
Unless Democratic leaders distance themselves from these Islamist provocateurs, of course… If they do, I’ll be sure to note it and update this post.
I don’t know whether “provocateur” is too strong a word to describe Shahin, but I think it’s also worth noting that in 2001 he was quoted in the Arizona Republic as saying that his mosque “may have helped” bin Laden, and that the 9/11 terrorists were not Muslims:

Omar Shahin of the Tucson Islamic Center said members of the Tucson mosque may have helped bin Laden in the early 1990s, when he was fighting against the Russians. But that was during the Cold War when U.S. intelligence agencies were encouraging support for bin Laden.
“They (the CIA) called him a ‘freedom fighter,'” Sahin said. “Then they tell us he is involved in terrorist acts, and they stopped supporting him, and we stopped.”
Shahin and Saadeddin expressed doubt that Muslims were responsible for the Sept. 11 attack. They also said they don’t trust much of what the FBI has divulged – including the hijackers’ identities.

No doubt Shahin and his ilk believe that criticism of them is anti-Islamic, or “culturally insensitive.”
Sorry, but religion is not a license to act like a nut on a plane. If some crackpot Christian decided to stand up and pray and wave his arms in the air, I doubt anyone would take seriously a claim that it constituted “anti-Christian persecution” to stop him.
I think this was deliberately provocative behavior by activists.
I’m not surprised.
MORE: This reminds me of the deliberately provocative behavior which was a topic in the blogosphere in 2004. At the time, I was reminded of my own experience on a flight, and my later speculation that the whole thing had been a setup.
ANOTHER MEMORY FLASH: In 1975, I was a passenger on a bus in San Francisco, and another passenger, obviously agitated, stood up and yelled “JESUS CHRIST! ON THE CROSS! SAN FRANCISCO! 1975!” He was ejected, as he should have been. Religion is not a license to intimidate or frighten people. Passengers have a duty to other passengers to behave themselves.
I don’t believe there should be an exception for kooks, provocateurs, or even Democratic PAC activists.
Where does anyone get the idea that it’s OK to act like an asshole on a plane?
Or am I wrong? Is there some new rule that politically-connected “Muslims” have more right to disturb passengers than anyone else? If there is, identity politics has been carried too far.
MORE: Last year there was another incident which struck me as deliberately provocative praying at a football stadium in which George H. W. Bush was a spectator.
Hope it isn’t a trend.
UPDATE: According to ScrappleFace, the airlines have reached an accomodation with Muslims who want to chant public prayers on planes:

“From now on, we devote our former first class sections to the use of our faithful, peaceful Muslim customers,” said an unnamed airline industry spokesman. “Most of the time, when a group of Muslim men suddenly stands up on an airplane chanting ‘Allahu Akbar’, they’re simply praying. Although the memories of 9/11 are still fresh in the minds of many Americans, if we’re going to heal those wounds, we need to move beyond religious intolerance.”
Flight attendants will alter their safety instructions to inform passengers that “seat cushions can be used as prayer mats,” and pilots will make every effort to point planes toward Mecca five times each day.
The industry source added, “We ask our devoted Muslim customers only to remember that all domestic flights are non-smoking, and we’d like to keep them that way.”

Glad the matter has been settled!
UPDATE (11/22/06): While Shahin and his group have announced a boycott, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s report has additional information about other suspicious circumstances:

Witnesses said the men had prayed in the terminal and made critical comments about the Iraq war, according to the police report, and a US Airways manager said three of the men had only one-way tickets and no checked baggage.
An airport police officer and a federal air marshal agreed that the combination of circumstances was suspicious, and eventually asked the men to leave the plane, the police report said.
“There were a number of things that gave the flight crew pause,” airport spokesman Patrick Hogan said.

I think US Airways did the right thing, and quite frankly, I feel more confident about flying.
UPDATE (12/03/06): Richard Miniter (via Glenn Reynolds) has very convincing proof these “flying imams” were agents provocateur who acted like terrorists. Not only did they deliberately frighten passengers and crew, but they lied about being handcuffed. I guess my speculations proved right.