In a growing list of victims of paranoid, or perhaps bigoted, flight attendants, two American Muslim women were asked to leave an American Airlines plane after discussing a lack of food and water when their flight was delayed on the tarmac — for five hours.
A flight attendant said the two women made him feel “unsafe.”
Niala Mohammad, a journalist for the U.S. government-funded news agency Voice of America, and her federal government employee friend, whom the Independent reported wished to remain anonymous, were traveling from Miami to Washington when they were asked to leave the plane.
Mohammad explained their American Airlines flight had remained on the ground in Miami for five hours, but the crew refused to allow passengers to purchase food or beverages.
A white male passenger seated behind the pair began discussing the issue and the lengthy delay with the journalist’s friend.
But Mohammad says a male flight attendant approached her friend and said:
“If you have a problem, you can get off the plane.”
As the Independent reported, the flight attendant “also accused her of ‘instigating’ objections from other passengers and allegedly threatened to remove her from the plane.”
Because the airline employee was not wearing an identification badge and refused to give the women his name, they took his picture to try to identify him later. But they were told doing so would be considered a federal offense, and a female flight attendant asked that they delete the picture.
A representative from American Airlines customer relations boarded the plane and asked the two women to follow her off — and were met by police officers and armed air marshals. Authorities told Mohammad and her friend a male flight attendant felt ‘threatened’ by them — but the man with whom the journalist’s friend had discussed the delay was not similarly asked to disembark.
“For being such a ‘threat’ to an AA attendant,” Mohammad wrote, “it’s telling that the Miami-Dade police officers joked with us and posed for this picture with the ‘pretty harmless’ airplane menaces.”
— Niala Khalil (@nialakhalil) August 3, 2016
Though they were offered vouchers of $200 credit and $24 for food each, the incident and the not-at-all minor detail that the man they spoke with did not suffer the same consequences, left Mohammad suspicious something else was at play.
Unsurprisingly, American Airlines insists the incident had nothing to do with the women’s religion, noting they had reportedly been asked several times to refrain from taking the male flight attendant’s picture — which is against airline policy.
“This was a case of non-compliance,” company spokeswoman Alexis Aran Coello told the Independent. “At no moment did discrimination come up, according to the passenger relations representative who was there. She told me they were very calm, very nice, they weren’t upset. They didn’t even say they were being kicked off because they were Muslim. Those words never came out of their mouths. It’s only now that she’s saying this was an issue.”
Perhaps the spokeswoman missed the point: bigotry and discrimination doesn’t have to be, and often is not, overt; but that doesn’t make it any less an issue or cause for concern — not to mention any less tangible. It’s entirely likely that because the women did nothing truly wrong, neither felt causing a scene would change their predicament or treatment by the airline’s staff.
In fact, the recent spate of flight attendants and passengers feeling ‘threatened’ by people’s religion marks a startlingly indicative trend that hasn’t been widely discussed. Thanks to the Department of Homeland Security’s If You See Something, Say Something propaganda campaign, a cultural shift has occurred with alarming repercussions.
If ‘neighbors’ — acquaintances, people in public spaces, etc. — feel comfortable enough to report people to authorities based on scant, if any, evidence of so-called wrongdoing, they will also be comfortable doing so in the event of any future authoritarian crackdowns.
Make no mistake, Islamophobia is the goal of terrorists and authoritarians alike.
Without donning a ubiquitous tinfoil hat, consider how the acceptability of a tattletale culture creates de facto government agents of anyone willing to report anyone else based solely on ambiguous fear — the exact tactic Nazis used in the rise of fascism in the 1930s.
As for being booted from their flight, Mohammad said, “Although we were encouraged to document the incident to AA customer relations, we still experienced insult and embarrassment as two minority Muslim-American women.”