An official with Kansas City International Airport apparently has tried intimidation in an effort to eliminate discussion about the recently installed footbaths, after repeated denials they are intended for Muslims to perform their footwashing ritual before their prayers.
“That’s the way I perceived it,” Kevin Peterson told WND in a telephone interview.
Peterson said he shares his name with a union steward for the Air Traffic Controllers Union at Kansas City’s airport, but he is not the same individual. He was sent an e-mail from airport spokesman Joe McBride, who assumed he was writing to the union steward.
“The Indianapolis Star reports that the Indianapolis Airport is installing Muslim foot-washing basins in an upcoming renovation,” Peterson wrote. “The paper says that Muslim footwashing basins are already installed at KCI.
“Are you planning to issue a denial as to the purpose of the KCI basins to the Indianapolis Star?” he asked.
“I assume you are the Kevin Peterson who is the union steward for the air traffic controllers union,” the e-mail signed, electronically, with McBride’s name, said.
“Point number one on the first e-mail suggests that your [sic] are in the control tower near the cab facility. I read your previous e-mail on this topic. Your stance is not in the best interest of the airport and the federal government, your employer,” the e-mail said.
Foot-washing benches at Kansas City International Airport (photo: Phillip Morgan)
“I give you the professional courtesy of not commenting or participating in any news media activity regarding ATC union issues, although I am always asked to comment. I ask that you give us the same courtesy and not try to stir the pot on this topic,” the e-mail continued.
Then at the end, he adds: “If you are not that Kevin Peterson, I apologize for the above commentary. Either way, I welcome your call to discuss the issue.”
WND reported earlier that KCI admitted installing foot-washing benches in a restroom at the airport, but denied they are intended for Muslim cab drivers.
“Recently, a small expansion was made to the building,” McBride told WND at the time. “Included were wash areas used for any wash purpose by any of the users, including filling car wash buckets.”
He insisted the wash benches were not “built for the exclusive use of any ethnic group or culture.” However, the department director in an earlier statement to WND appeared to contradict that claim.
“The majority of our drivers are Muslim, so preventing them from praying at all was not an option, especially in our public terminal restrooms,” said Mark VanLoh, director of the Kansas City Aviation Department. “This was the best solution, and those facilities were added without public money.”
He added that cab drivers paid for construction through a one-dollar per-trip fee.
In October 2005, the KCI Airport Police first solicited advice from other law enforcement regarding “wash bench facilities for those of Islamic faith,” according to internal e-mails obtained by WND. In one e-mail sent to members of the Airport Law Enforcement Agencies Network, or ALEAN, KCI Airport Police brass asked, “If you do have such an area, do you refer to this location as a place for those of Islamic faith to [go to] prepare themselves for worship?”
The KCI Airport Police are responsible for the taxicab drivers and the building they use at the airport to wait on fares. The building contains the restroom with the four new foot-washing benches.
Peterson told WND he had asked about the issue in May, and never got a response. Then when he followed up after the recent Indianapolis report, he got the note from McBride.
He said clearly there’s an “undercurrent” in the note. “It sounded like he was trying to intimidate,” he said. “If he thought I was John Q. Citizen, I either would not have gotten a response, or I would have gotten a more thoughtful response.”
Some 250 taxicab drivers operate at KCI Airport in Missouri, one of the largest airports in the U.S., linking some 10 million passengers between mid-America and other U.S. cities. One internal KCI Airport Police email said “approximately 70% of the drivers are [of] Middle Eastern heritage and practice the Islamic faith.”
Muslims are required to wash their feet and other body parts before praying to Allah five times a day. They often complain that public restroom sinks do not accommodate their needs. Floor-level basins and benches make it easier for them to perform their foot-washing ritual.
Other major airports have dealt with increased demands from Muslim cab drivers. Cabbies at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, for instance, recently caused a stir when they refused to carry passengers possessing alcoholic beverages or accompanied by seeing-eye dogs. Alcohol is forbidden in Islam, and dogs are considered unclean.