A University of California, Berkeley student who came to the US as an Iraqi refugee was removed from a Southwest Airlines flight after he spoke in Arabic, reports New York Times.
The college senior, Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, 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, reports New York Times.
“I was very excited about the event so I called my uncle to tell him about it,” he said.
Another passenger became alarmed when she heard him speaking Arabic.
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.
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,” reports New York Times.
“That is when I thought, ‘Oh, I hope she is not reporting me,’ because it was so weird,” 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?”
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 plane.”
Zahra Billoo, the executive director of the San Francisco Bay Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, 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.
“We are concerned that Muslims are facing more and more scrutiny and baseless harassment when they are attempting to travel,” The New York Times quoted Billoo as saying.
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 Makhzoomi, were unsuccessful.
According to the New York Times, 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.