Muslims being kicked off planes is nothing new

Published April 20th, 2016 - 10:57 GMT
Makhzoomi was seated on a Southwest Airlines flight when he was escorted from the plane (AFP / Karen Bleier)
Makhzoomi was seated on a Southwest Airlines flight when he was escorted from the plane (AFP / Karen Bleier)

In any Arabic-speaking country, insha’allah is a phrase you’ll hear dozens of time a day.

But for one American student last week, the saying led to him being kicked off a flight.

Khairuldeen Makhzoomi - whose family was granted asylum in the USA after his father was killed by Saddam Hussein’s secret police - said he was in his plane seat and speaking with his uncle about a UN event he attended, when he noticed another woman staring at him. When he uttered the words insha’allah - god willing in Arabic - he said she got up and headed for the front of the plane.

The next thing he knew, Makhzoomi was being escorted from the plane. He was met by three police officers who, he says, accused him of delaying the flight by speaking Arabic. The FBI was also called.

But this isn’t the first time Arabs or Muslims have been kicked off flights in the US. Over the last few months there’ve been numerous instances of people being removed from planes for reasons that appear to be straight from the Islamophobia textbook.

 

1. After he was removed from a flight and interrogated by the FBI, Dr. Bilal Rana penned a moving article describing his experiences in Time magazine. The 36-year-old father of five, who is also the President of the USA’s Ahmadiyya Youth association, described his ordeal as humiliating, and told fellow Americans “I’m not your enemy - I’m your biggest ally”.  


2. The Council for American Islamic Relations called for an investigation earlier this month, when a Somali-American woman wearing a hijab was removed from a Southwest Airlines flight after she asked a passenger to switch seats with her. The woman had wanted to sit next to the window, she reported.


3. Three Muslims and one Sikh man filed a lawsuit this January after they were all escorted from their plane, in Toronto, without explanation. The men say they were singled out because of their appearance: one said he was woken up by a flight attendant and believed that there had been an emergency as he left the flight – only to realise that no other passengers had been removed.


4. Artist and activist Kameelah Rasheed said she was humiliated and ostracised after being pulled from her flight and questioned by FBI officers, as she travelled to Istanbul for a holiday. "I think this happened because I'm Muslim, because I'm travelling to Istanbul, because they have power with no checks and balances, because security means violating people's rights,” she told Al Jazeera.

 

5. “Because it’s my decision” was the reason a Muslim American family were given when, in March, they were kicked off a United Airlines flight leaving from Chicago. The family’s mother, who wears a hijab, asked if it was a “discriminatory decision” before the family left the flight. They later completed their journey on another plane.

 

6. British fliers aren’t safe either. When, on a flight from Vienna to Gatwick,  Iraqi scientist Hasan Dewachi texted his wife to say he was homebound, another passenger noticed that the message was in Arabic. That sparked a security concern. Dewachi was thrown off the flight, and left without a phone at a foreign airport.


7. Pizzeria-owner Maher Khalil and his friend Anas Ayyad were waiting to board a flight from Chicago when they were asked to step aside and questioned by police. The reason? A fellow passenger had heard them speaking Arabic.When the pair were eventually allowed to board the flight, a small box they were carrying still drew suspicion - so Khalil shared the baklava he’d brought with fellow passengers.

 

In the wake of the spate of removals, the Council for American Islamic Relations has released a guide detailing the rights of passengers on flights, which can be found here.  


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