A rise of discrimination in planes

Islamophobia is quickly raising. The discrimination resulting from it, is omnipresent and can be found in everyday life activities as well. Imagine you’re taking a plane. Maybe you’re going on vacations, you’re visiting relatives or just simply on a business trip. You’re happy you got through the security check without any trouble. You get on the plane and are relieved that the waiting time is over. Soon you’ll be in the air. You’re sitting in your seat ready for take-off. Maybe you’re already thinking about what you will do when you reach your destination. But suddenly you get taken from the plane (which usually leaves without you), put into custody, you’re questioned by policemen, maybe even body searched. Not only is all of that extremely tiring, stressful and humiliating, but you will reach your destination hours later, worrying whoever had to pick you up at the airport. Why? Because someone on the plane thought you were a terrorist and contacted the authorities. You wouldn’t want that to happen to you, would you? Unfortunately this becomes a rather common misadventure in the United States. There are no exact studies or numbers, but there are countless examples of people who experienced this exact situation.

One of the most recent cases, from Mai 2016, is of the Italian economist Guido Menzio. He is a former Ivy League student and heavily decorated in his field. The women sitting next to him, in the plane, felt concerned by his strange “cryptic” scribblings. The fact that he looks middle-eastern and has a foreign accent made the rest. He was escorted out of the plane after the women had contacted the authorities. But Menzio was not using a secret code, he was merely working on a math problem he was going to present at a conference. He was later conduced back to his seat and the plane took off with 2hrs delay for a flight that usually lasts 41minutes. Although he was treated respectfully, he said he was baffled and frustrated by such a “broken system that does not collect information efficiently”.

guido menzio
Guido Menzio (source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk)

Another example is when the 26 year old student Khairuldeen Makhzoomi was taken off his plane too in April 2016. The student from Iraq studies political science at the University or Berkeley and had attended a dinner with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon the day before. When he got into the plane, he was chatting in Arab on the phone with his Uncle from Baghdad. They talked about Ban Ki-Moon but also the Islamic state, sometimes using the common interjection “inch ‘Allah” which means “if god will”. That conversation upset a woman sitting close to him, she heard words like “Daesh”, which is the Arab word for ISIS, and “inch ‘Allah” which she must have confused with “allahu akhbar” (which, even though is often used as a war cry by Muslim extremist, does only mean “god is the greatest”) . She talked to the authorities and Makhzoomi was taken off the plane. Unfortunately he was less lucky than Menzio because he was treated without any form of respect by aggressive agents. When it turned out that he was innocent, he was told that the “Southwest Airlines” company, he had initially booked his flight on, was not going to let him fly in their plane after all. He got a refund and booked a flight with another company. When he finally got home he was in a state of shock and slept for days according to his parents.

khairuldeen makhzoomi.jpg
Khairuldeen Makhzoomi (source: http://www.express.co.uk)

Unfortunately, women are affected by it too. The third example is about a Muslim woman. Hakima Abdulle is from Somalia but currently living in the US. When she took a plane in April 2016 she changed seats with her neighbour during boarding. That made a hostess feel uncomfortable and made Abdulle leave the plane. She then had to take another flight hours later. What’s even worse here is that there have not even suspicions about terrorism. The hostess merely felt uncomfortable by the seat changing. The fact that Abdulle is wearing a Hijab is probably the reason for that feeling and makes it an experience of discrimination.

hakima abdulle.jpeg
Hakima Abdulle (source: http://www.deccanchronicle.com)

There are countless other examples, but fact is that they happen more and more. Fact is also that they happen especially in the US. It is true that if you’re not Caucasian, you will always experience racism and discrimination no matter where in the world. Nevertheless, such denunciations and the unprofessional and arbitrary way the authorities respond to them is something that happens more in the US than any other region. The country has a long history of discrimination, you just have to take a look at the racism Afro-Americans have to face. After those incidents, the flight companies release statements that they don’t tolerate discrimination, which is pretty obvious. They cannot admit it openly out of business reasons, they probably don’t even realize their actions are wrong. Who admits being intolerant? Nevertheless the facts and numerous examples show that in reality there is inequality. The stories of these people make the news for a few days and then slip from our memory. That’s until we’re shocked again by a similar story a some days later. But will there be change? I’m afraid there won’t. The fear of terrorism is too important. Sure, we’re at war against radicals, but we need intelligent security measures. Confiscating a bottle of water at the security check won’t save you, if the terrorists detonate their bomb in the entrance of the airport, like they did in Brussels. In the same way, taking people out of planes arbitrarily to question them just because they switch seats, talk Arabic, scribble funny signs or simply because they look different is not going to help. On the contrary. Hate speech and discrimination plays into the hands of the extremist who preach the incompatibility between the western and oriental civilisation. It makes it easier for them to have “home-grown” radicalization. But the recent election of Sadiq Khan shows that there is still hope to fight racism and discrimination. Maybe one day, the country of freedom will reach that point of tolerance too…

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