Prude Cabbies and the Clash of Civilizations

So it seems that roughly three quarters of the taxi drivers in Minneapolis are Somali Muslims. For some time, many of these drivers have been refusing to take fares from the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport who are carrying alcohol, on grounds that transporting booze violates Muslim religious principles. (This is not a small number of passengers, given duty free booze purchases; about three passengers a day are refused service). This tends to back things up in the taxi line, so the airport authority started negotiating with local Muslim community leaders for a way around the problem. The solution they came up with would have allowed those cabbies who have moral qualms about carrying booze-toting fares to turn on a special green light while waiting in line at the airport, so that, as the AP put it, "the airport workers who hook up travelers with taxis can steer alcohol-carrying fares to cabs that will take them." Business would proceed as usual. But when the airport authority announced the new system, they were overwhelmed with e-mails and phone calls opposing the deal, and complaining that the airport was caving to a pernicious and arbitrary religious fundamentalism. They cancelled the proposed green light program.

I mention this because it seems like the kind of everyday conflict between strict Muslim religiousity and a secular culture that is already happening in Europe and is likely only to happen more frequently in the United States as the Muslim population in this country continues to grow. The counterterrorism writer Daveed Gartenstein-Ross suggests that we ought to develop a standard that permits religious exemptions that are "costless" to the rest of us — such as permitting observent Muslim police officers to wear beards even when their department has rules prohibiting facial hair. But this kind of standard seems like it would be difficult to police. Since a very large percentage of the cabdrivers in Minneapolis would have turned on their lights, a fare arriving with a (perfectly legal) bottle of booze late at night might plausibly have to wait a long time for a cab willing to take him. It seems a better standard is needed.