[lg policy] College Student Is Removed From Flight After Speaking Arabic on Plan

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Mon Apr 18 20:47:39 UTC 2016

College Student Is Removed From Flight After Speaking Arabic on Plane

A Southwest Airlines plane at Los Angeles International Airport. Credit
David McNew/Getty Images

A college student who came to the United States as an Iraqi refugee was
removed from a Southwest Airlines flight in California earlier this month
after another passenger became alarmed when she heard him speaking Arabic.

The student, Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, a senior at the University of
California, Berkeley, was taken off a flight from Los Angeles International
Airport to Oakland on April 6 after he called an uncle in Baghdad to tell
him about an event he attended that included a speech by United Nations
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon

“I was very excited about the event so I called my uncle to tell him about
it,” he said.

He told his uncle about the chicken dinner they were served and the moment
when he got to stand up and ask the secretary general a question about the
Islamic State, he said. But the conversation seemed troubling to a nearby
passenger, who told the crew she overheard him making “potentially
threatening comments,” the airline said in a statement.

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

“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.”

“I said to him, ‘This is what Islamophobia got this country into,’ and that
made him so angry. That is when he told me I could not go back on the

Zahra Billoo, the executive director of the San Francisco Bay Area office
of the Council on American-Islamic Relations <http://www.cair.com/>, said
there had been at least six cases of Muslims being pulled off flights so
far this year. The conduct of Southwest Airlines was of particular concern,
she said, after another Muslim passenger was removed
from a flight in Chicago last week.
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“We are concerned that Muslims are facing more and more scrutiny and
baseless harassment when they are attempting to travel,” Ms. Billoo said.

Brandy King, a spokeswoman for Southwest Airlines, said the company was
unable to comment on the conduct of individual employees. Efforts on
Saturday to contact the employee in Los Angeles, whose name was provided by
Mr. Makhzoomi, were unsuccessful.

“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.”

Law enforcement officials arrived shortly after Mr. Makhzoomi accused the
airline employee of anti-Muslim bias, he said. He was brought into the
terminal and searched in front of a crowd of onlookers while half a dozen
police officers, including one with a dog, stood watch.

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.

Mr. Makhzoomi said an F.B.I. agent told him the Southwest Airlines employee
who was upset by the allegation of anti-Muslim bias said a passenger
reported hearing him talk about martyrdom in Arabic, using a phrase often
associated with jihadists. He denied the charge and was allowed to return
to the terminal, he said, where the same Arabic-speaking employee refunded
his ticket.

A spokeswoman for the F.B.I. in Los Angeles, Ari Dekofsky, confirmed that
agents responded to the airport that day but had found there to be no
threat. “We determined that no further action was necessary,” she said on

Mr. Makhzoomi was able to book a new flight on Delta Air Lines and arrived
in Oakland eight hours after he originally planned. He said he has no plans
to pursue legal action against Southwest Airlines but he does want the
company to apologize for the way its employees treated him.

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

from the NYTimes 4/18/16


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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