Khairuldeen Makhzoomi was simply calling his family members on a flight home from Los Angeles when he was forced off the aircraft for speaking Arabic.
Student and Iraqi refugee Khairuldeen Makhzoomi was minding his own business, excitedly sharing his experience at an academic conference with his family on his flight home. Next thing he knows, Southwest Airlines removed him from the aircraft, simply because he was speaking Arabic while onboard.
Makhzoomi arrived with his family in 2010 where they settled in Oakland, California. Since their arrival, he has gained admission to the University of California, Berkeley, where he is currently a senior. He was travelling from Los Angeles to Oakland on April 6th, returning home from an event that involved the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, who spoke and provided the opportunity for Makhzoomi to ask about the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
According to Makhzoomi, his excitement for what transpired at the event led him to call some of his family members still in Iraq, to discuss how the event had inspired him to become a high-profile figure someday. As the flight was about to take off, Makhzoomi told his uncle that he would call after he landed, ending the conversation with the Arabic phrase of “Inshallah”, or “God willing”.
A fellow passenger reportedly turned to stare at him, then proceeded to contact an airplane official, relaying that she had overheard Makhzoomi making potentially dangerous comments. The Arabic-speaking Southwest Airlines official, said to be of Middle Eastern or South Asian ethnicity, immediately escorted the young man off the plane.
The New York Times reported that the official and Makhzoomi exchanged heated words, with the student saying “This is what Islamophobia got this country into,” and the official growing extremely upset, resulting in Makhzoomi being removed from the plane. He was escorted back to the terminal, where law enforcement officers searched him in front of a crowd, complete with police dogs.
FBI agents further questioned him, asking his and his family’s history before revealing that the passenger who had reported him claimed he had used a “martyrdom” word in Arabic, which is often associated with jihadists; thus, she thought him likely to attack.
After much deliberation – and insistence on Makhzoomi’s part that he was simply reveling in the excitement of the conference with his fellow family members – officials determined he was of no threat and he was allowed to book another flight home.
Makhzoomi’s case is one of at least six cases of Muslims being pulled off flights for similar reasons; this fact is troubling considering the stigma has attached to those who practice Islam. Despite Makhzoomi’s declaration that he will not press charges and an expressed wish for an apology from the airline, Southwest Airlines has failed to issue a statement or an acknowledgement of what transpired.
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