Our VoiceCulture

Muslim Americans Wronged by Airline and Passengers

Jill Garvey • Jan 03, 2009

A family of nine traveling to Florida on New Year’s had a very unpleasant holiday. The family was benignly discussing the safest place to sit on a plane when fellow passengers became “suspicious”. The family, including three children, was escorted from the plane by federal marshals and questioned extensively. Once it became clear to the FBI agents interviewing them that they were in fact just a regular family traveling on holiday, they were cleared to fly. AirTran refused to rebook them on another flight however. The family had to buy tickets on a different airline.

I’ve heard the “safest place to sit” conversation at least a dozen times on airplanes over the years. I know several people who have to sit in particular places on planes, either through superstition or some silly belief that one can actually survive a plane wreck. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve had run of the mill conversations about the safety of planes. So I can only imagine that the “suspicious passengers” had to be just plain stupid or, more likely, racist.

It’s one thing to have a few ignorant bumpkins on a plane, it’s whole other when officials at AirTran, who should be well-equipped to deflect these types of situations, feed the frenzy by acting on such ridiculous complaints. Come to think of it, since AirTran doesn’t seem to want to take the heat on this one, maybe the complaining passengers should come forward and offer a personal apology. Maybe if all the busybodies out there had to actually show the face attached to the pointing finger, they would be less likely to concern themselves with the Muslim family sitting behind them.

Of course when other people have conversations about the safest places to sit on planes they are probably not dark-skinned Muslim men with beards and women with headscarves. These people must not have the same conversations as other Americans without facing hours of interrogation.

Seven years ago it was horrifying to see the way Arabs, Muslims, Sikhs and basically anyone who fit the description of “Middle Eastern terrorist” suffered at the hands of our government and our citizens. It was rationed away as hysterical fear in light of the 9/11 attacks. Today it is shameful that this type of blatant racial discrimination is still occurring, and the excuses are long gone.

The fact is the Arab, Muslim and Sikh communities in the U.S. have worked very hard to teach patience and understanding both internally and externally, especially when it comes to air travel. These instances of racial profiling are unacceptable and need to stop. It’s time the rest of us worked hard for tolerance too.

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