Arwa Mahdawi writes: The skies are no longer a very friendly place to fly if you’re brown or “maybe-Muslim”. A few days ago, an Iraq-born researcher at UC Berkeley was removed from a Southwest Airlines plane for speaking Arabic. A passenger heard the guy end a phone call with “inshallah” and decided it must mean “this plane full of infidels is going down”. In reality inshallah (which translates as “God willing”) is a versatile Arabic phrase that can be used to mean everything from “hopefully” to “never going to happen” to “I’ve stopped listening now, kthanxbye.”
This isn’t the first time someone has raised suspicions simply by speaking Arabic – the world’s fifth most-spoken language – on a plane. Fearmongering around terrorism has ignited a vicious vigilantism in air travel. The 17th century had the Salem witch trials; the 1950s had McCarthyism; today we’ve got Mile High Hysteria.
Last November, for example, two Palestinian-Americans were blocked from boarding a Southwest flight after another passenger heard them speaking Arabic and felt “uncomfortable”. Shortly after that incident, Spirit Airlines kicked four passengers of Middle Eastern descent off a flight because one of them was making calls in another language.
You don’t even need to be speaking Arabic to raise suspicions among “concerned citizens”, you simply need to be doing something a little “terroristy”. Like not being white. Last month, Laolu Opebiyi, a (Christian) Brit of Nigerian descent was removed from an easyJet plane after another passenger saw the word “prayer” in his Whatsapp messages. [Continue reading…]