August 13, 2022

Asking For Trouble?

Southwest Airlines airplane
Photo: Dylan Ashe CC by-SA 2.0

On April 6, 2016, Khairuldeen Makhzoomi was removed from Southwest Flight 4620 while waiting to fly to Oakland from Los Angeles. Onboard the plane but before departure, Makhzoomi was speaking to his uncle in Arabic on his phone. He noticed a female passenger staring at him, assuming she was concerned with how loudly he was speaking. When Makhzoomi’s uncle told him to call him after the plane landed in Oakland, Makhzoomi ended the conversation by saying insha’Allah (God willing). At this point the passenger left the plane and shortly thereafter police officers approached Makhzoomi and told him to get off the plane. This was followed by questioning by the F.B.I. as to who he was talking to and what he said about the martyrs. He replied that he didn’t talk about martyrs,  just ending the conversation with his uncle by saying insh’Allah. The questioning ended with an agent telling Makhzoomi that Southwest would not fly him home. Southwest gave him a refund and he booked a flight with Delta that took him to Oakland.
In another of many examples, four U.S. citizens, 3 of South Asian descent and 1 of Arab descent were removed from an American Airlines flight from Toronto to New York. The captain of the aircraft “felt uneasy and uncomfortable with their presence on the flight and as such, refused to fly unless they were removed from the flight”. After they were removed from the aircraft, the four men asked the airline agent if their being dark skinned and having beards had contributed to their removal. The American Airlines agent told them that their appearance “did not help”.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s trademarked “If you see something, say something” slogan is used to describe the campaign aimed at getting people to report suspicious activity to authorities in an effort to thwart terrorism-related crime. Homeland Security states that the “If you see something, say something™”  campaign respects citizens’ privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties by emphasizing behavior, rather than appearance, in identifying suspicious activity and factors such as race, ethnicity and/or religious affiliation are not suspicious.
In both of the above examples it was the physical appearance of these men that led to their removal from their flights. In the first example if it had been a blond, blue eyed man speaking Arabic on a phone, he would not have had a fellow passenger erroneously report him for speaking about martyrs. In the second example, the captain needs to understand that physical appearance does not equal suspicious behavior. These are but two of many examples of people being reported to authorities, not because of suspicious behavior but because of physical appearance or religious affiliation.
These reportings do nothing to make society safer. They only tie up the court system and make litigation lawyers wealthy with the lawsuits brought about by the infringement of peoples’ civil rights and liberties, but most damaging in ways not yet perceived, is the growing resentment felt in minority communities in response to these ongoing incidents of baseless harassment. Resentment of this sort has a way of building until some sort of release is found- public demonstrations, or perhaps violence. Hopefully not, insha’ Allah.

©HeckleMaster™Inc., April 30, 2016 All Rights Reserved


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