On nation’s airlines, Islamophobia flies free

Here’s an idea. If you’re uncomfortable with someone speaking Arabic on an airplane, maybe you should get off.

But the long pattern of passengers being thrown off airplanes continued when a college student was tossed off a Southwest Airlines flight in California, the New York Times reports.

Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, an Iraqi refugee and senior at the University of California Berkley, called his uncle to tell him about a speech he attended featuring United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

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.”

“We regret any less than positive experience a customer has onboard our aircraft,” the company said in a statement. “Southwest neither condones nor tolerates discrimination of any kind.”

Clearly not true.

Three agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrived and brought him into a private room where they questioned him, he said. They asked about his mother, who lives with him and his younger brother in Oakland. They also asked about his father, Khalid Makhzoomi, a former Iraqi diplomat who was jailed in Abu Ghraib prison by Saddam Hussein and later killed by the dictator’s regime, according to Mr. Makhzoomi. His family came to the United States in 2010.

“My family and I have been through a lot and this is just another one of the experiences I have had,” he told the Times. “Human dignity is the most valuable thing in the world, not money. If they apologized, maybe it would teach them to treat people equally.”

Makhzoomi flew Delta to his destination.

  • Al

    “Here’s an idea. If you’re uncomfortable with someone speaking Arabic on an airplane, maybe you should get off.” Yes. Thank you.

  • Angry Jonny

    Let’s look on the bright side; at least he didn’t get smashed in the face with a beer mug.

    • To be fair, he wasn’t speaking Swahili.

    • Rob

      Excuse me for finding your poor attempt at humor just that – poor.

      • Angry Jonny

        Oh, wah.

  • krisbrowne42

    Sadly our culture of fear around foreign speakers is by no means new… Before and during WWI, German language newspapers were targeted for vandalism, and we know what happened to Japanese Americans during WWII… Ignorance and Fear seem to be timeless American qualities.

    • >>and we know what happened to Japanese Americans during WWII<<

      Italian-Americans and German-Americans were also sent to internment camps during WW2.

      /Not to take away from the Japanese-American internment

      • lindblomeagles

        Why stop there? From 1865 to 1964 Blacks couldn’t ride on the same airplane with whites, and had to hit the back seat on buses from Plessy vs. Ferguson to Rosa Parks.

        • My comment was addressing the internment of American citizens during WW2, not of the many other disgraceful acts of those in power in the U.S.

  • Rex Schultrich

    With the fear of foreigners swirling through the political diatribe (it’s not discourse) this year, don’t look for tolerance to make a resurgence anytime soon.

    My grandfather emigrated to the US as a young man at the turn of the 20th century. They stopped speaking German out of fear during WWI. My father, a US born citizen was visited by the FBI numerous times during WWII, simply because of his name.

  • Jack Ungerleider

    I hope Mr. Makhzoomi engages in that other time honored tradition in the US and contacts a lawyer looking to file a suit against Southwest.

    • Jim in RF

      Why don’t these people get sued (or do they)?

      • Jack Ungerleider

        I don’t know. The likelihood is that if Mr. Makzoomi sues Southwest Airlines, they will settle and get the case files sealed as part of the settlement so we’ll never know if they admit that they engaged in illegal profiling of one of their customers.

  • crystals

    And then we wonder why some Muslims – albeit a small percentage – hate us.

  • Mike Worcester

    //The man introduced himself in Arabic and then switched to English to ask, “Why were you speaking Arabic in the plane?”

    Because last time I checked, simply speaking a foreign language is not a crime?

  • lindblomeagles

    For the past three weeks I rode next to an East African Islamic immigrant to and from work. At no time did I feel threatened or proselytized too. The person’s only concerns were making my ride enjoyable and getting us there on time, for which I am very grateful. The person spoke only of seeing a daughter graduate from high school, and could not understand the politics waged inside the person’s country of origin. I laughed a lot at the person’s jokes and wondered most evenings why I as an American first look to the outside of a person instead of looking for people’s hearts first.