An Iraqi college student was removed from a Southwest Airlines flight “after another passenger became alarmed when she heard him speaking Arabic,” The New York Times reported, marking the sixth time a Muslim was removed from a flight in 2016. The student remarked “‘This is what Islamophobia got this country into,’” spotlighting how years of anti-Muslim rhetoric from right-wing media can have real-life consequences for Muslims worldwide.
Conservative media have repeatedly exploited tragedies to baselessly stoke anti-Muslim fears for years. They've called for racially profiling Muslims, using discriminatory and unconstitutional stop-and-frisk police tactics, surveilling Muslim neighborhoods, mosques, and individual people based on appearance, and banning Muslim immigration into the U.S.
An April 17 New York Times article reported that “a college student who came to the United States as an Iraqi refugee,” was removed from his flight after another passenger “became alarmed when she heard him speaking Arabic.” Executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ San Francisco Bay Area office condemned the incident, saying, ‘’We are concerned that Muslims are facing more and more scrutiny and baseless harassment when they are attempting to travel.’” From the Times’ report:
A college student who came to the United States as an Iraqi refugee was removed from a Southwest Airlines flight in California earlier this month after another passenger became alarmed when she heard him speaking Arabic.
The student, Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, a senior at the University of California, Berkeley, was taken off a flight from Los Angeles International Airport to Oakland on April 6 after he called an uncle in Baghdad to tell him about an event he attended that included a speech by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
“I was very excited about the event so I called my uncle to tell him about it,” he said.
He told his uncle about the chicken dinner they were served and the moment when he got to stand up and ask the secretary general a question about the Islamic State, he said. But the conversation seemed troubling to a nearby passenger, who told the crew she overheard him making “potentially threatening comments,” the airline said in a statement.
Mr. Makhzoomi, 26, knew something was wrong as soon as he finished his phone call and saw that a woman sitting in front of him had turned around in her seat to stare at him, he said. She headed for the airplane door soon after he told his uncle that he would call again when he landed, and qualified it with a common phrase in Arabic, “inshallah,” meaning “god willing.”
“That is when I thought, ‘Oh, I hope she is not reporting me,’ because it was so weird,” Mr. Makhzoomi said.
That is exactly what happened. An Arabic-speaking Southwest Airlines employee of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent came to his seat and escorted him off the plane a few minutes after his call ended, he said. The man introduced himself in Arabic and then switched to English to ask, “Why were you speaking Arabic in the plane?”
Mr. Makhzoomi said he was afraid, and that the employee spoke to him “like I was an animal.”
“I said to him, ‘This is what Islamophobia got this country into,’ and that made him so angry. That is when he told me I could not go back on the plane.”
Zahra Billoo, the executive director of the San Francisco Bay Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said there had been at least six cases of Muslims being pulled off flights so far this year. The conduct of Southwest Airlines was of particular concern, she said, after another Muslim passenger was removed from a flight in Chicago last week.
“We are concerned that Muslims are facing more and more scrutiny and baseless harassment when they are attempting to travel,” Ms. Billoo said.