Arabic-speaking Khairuldeen Makhzoomi was removed from a Southwest Airlines flight for questioning. After questioning, he was freed to go and caught a later flight home on another airline. He was completely innocent and subjected to an undoubtedly unpleasant interrogation. He claimed Islamophobia.
The media jumped on the story and played it to the hilt. Typical headline: "Muslim Student Kicked Off Southwest Airlines Flight for Speaking Arabic". They cast the event into a broader narrative: "... the latest Muslim customer to be kicked off a U.S. plane."
The blogosphere went nuts. Bad, Americans, bad.... Morons!
Let's take a closer look.
* First, he wasn't "kicked off a flight". A drunk is "kicked off a flight". He was removed for questioning. There's a difference. Hundreds of media headlines perpetuated this inflammatory, factually inaccurate statement.
* Second, evidence indicates he was not removed from the plane for "speaking Arabic" as the headlines blared. Here is Southwest Airline's statement [my bold]:
Statement Regarding Customer Situation on Flight 4620
Flight 4620 from Los Angeles (LAX) to Oakland (OAK) on April 6:
A passenger onboard flight 4620 requested that our Crew investigate what were perceived to be threatening comments made by another passenger onboard. Both passengers involved in the situation spoke a shared language, Arabic. Our Crew responded by following protocol, as required by federal law, to investigate and report to law enforcement agencies any potential threat to civil aviation. It was the content of the passenger's conversation, not the language used, that prompted the report leading to our investigation....This contradicts both the media narrative and a statement by Makhzoomi. A recent NPR article accepts the SWA account as factual.
* Third, during the interrogation Makhzoomi played the Islamophobia card. But, was it "Islamophobia", i.e., a warrantless, irrational prejudice or fear towards Islam? Or was it America's post 9/11 security apparatus functioning as it should based on facts and reason?
Let's start with two obvious points.
// First, not everyone who is removed from a plane for questioning is going to end up being found guilty. Only Canadian Human Rights courts operate like that. Innocents are caught in security nets all the time. That's why there is a filtering process. So, the fact that Makhzoomi was innocent of wrong-doing is not in itself evidence of security staff wrong-doing.
// Second, security in the post-9/11 era is largely concerned with protecting citizens from Muslims who seek to do them harm. That's a fact, and there's no point denying it. For better or worse, terrorism and Islam are closely connected. It is therefore entirely rational in higher-risk contexts to look at Muslims more closely. Given that most if not all of the 9/11 attackers were from the Middle East and spoke Arabic, as have other terrorists, it is also rational to take a closer look at Arabic speakers. That is fact-based and rational, not Islamophobic.
When Makhzoomi said to his interrogators, concerning his interrogation, "This is what Islamophobia got this country into" he was accusing them of wrong-doing. Probably not a good move on his part. Not likely to endear himself to them, and it may have precipitated a hardened response on their part.
Makhzoomi escaped the oppression of Iraq -- an Islamic nation that murdered his father. America welcomed him. Unlike what he might have expected in Iraq, he was not beaten, imprisoned, tortured, or beheaded. If Makhzoomi is looking for a culprit for his "ordeal", I suggest he save his anger for Muslim extremists and terrorists who have ruined a lot of things for everybody, and done much worse than inconveniencing the occasional innocent traveler. American and Western security forces, acting in the light of 9/11 and ongoing threats and atrocities, are trying to ensure the safety of all innocent passengers, Khairuldeen Makhzoom included.
For that, we should be grateful.
As for the blogosphere's knee-jerk howl of Islamophobia, this kind of clamouring leads to a fear of being labelled Islamophobic. Its effect is to silence those who see or hear something. It has already gotten people killed at Fort Hood and San Bernardino.
For this we should be ashamed.
And that's the way the Ball bounces.