The Criminalization of Race: Airline Edition

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Staff Editorial

26-year-old U.C. Berkeley student Khairuldeen Makhzoomi was recently removed from a Southwest flight for speaking Arabic on the phone. He called his uncle right before the plane took off to tell him about a dinner he attended at the Los Angeles World Affairs Council and was able to ask Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon a question about the Islamic State. He also mentioned that chicken was the main entree.

A woman seated near him abruptly left the plane when he finished his phone call and suddenly a Southwest official and a few security officers removed him from the plane. Makhzoomi was searched by security officers in front of onlookers in a terminal and then taken to a private room to be questioned by the FBI. It was there he found out that the passenger nearby him reported that she heard Makhzoomi use the Arabic word for “martyrdom”. He was released when authorities decided he was not a threat. Southwest told him they would not fly him anymore, but refunded his ticket.

Khairuldeen Makhzoomi thinks what happened to him was a clear case of Islamophobia. He said, “This is what Islamophobia has gotten this country into. Anyone can report you.” Makhzoomi said, “All I need is an apology to say, ‘We are sorry we singled you out, because of one person who felt threatened.’”

In the past Southwest has also shown to discriminatory behavior against members of the LGBT community as was the case with “L Word” actress Leisha Hailey’s removal off of a Southwest Airlines flight after she was allegedly kissing her partner in 2011. Sadly, fifty years ago some people would have applauded Southwest for their ‘policy’ against Muslims and homosexuals, but what’s even worse is that there are people nowadays who would only support them for these practices and who make sure to write ‘Highly Satisfied’ when filling out a customer satisfaction survey.

Islamophobia is not new in America. Muslims being escorted off of airplanes for nonthreatening reasons is not unheard of either. On April 13th, a Somali woman who was wearing a hijab was escorted off another Southwest flight for wanting to trade seats with someone. An Arab American family of five was kicked off an American Airlines flight. Just this year there have been six cases of Muslims being forced to leave the planes they’d boarded due to questionable justification.

Rational conflict resolution is following federal protocol of investigation, but so should holding the passenger reporting their concerns accountable. In the case of Makhzoomi, despite being cleared by the FBI, Southwest made no move to acknowledge the fact that behaving the way they did was an inconvenience and inconsiderate of his dignity as a human being. Arabic being demonized as a language associated with Islamic terrorism is not only ignorant, but short-sighted. Studies show that behavioral profiling is much more successful than racial profiling, especially in issues of airport security. With terrorist groups like Daesh (also known as ISIS) recruiting not only in Arabic speaking countries, but also Europe and North America, it does not make sense to perpetuate this fear of those who are Arab and speak their native language.

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