A college student and Iraqi refugee was kicked off a Southwest Airlines flight this week, reportedly for speaking Arabic during a phone call.
According to the Daily Californian, UC Berkeley senior Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, who fled Iraq in 2002, was overheard by another passenger saying goodbye to his uncle on the phone, using the phrase phrase “inshallah,” which translates to “if God is willing.” The woman, who has not been identified, reportedly thought he had said the word “shahid,” meaning martyr, which is associated with jihad. From the Daily Californian:
When Makhzoomi hung up, he noticed a female passenger looking at him. Once he made eye contact with her, she got up and left her seat.
“She kept staring at me and I didn’t know what was wrong,” he said. “Then I realized what was happening and I just was thinking ‘I hope she’s not reporting me.’”
Makhzoomi was quickly removed from the plane by security, searched by officers with dogs, and told that he would not be allowed to re-board the flight. According to NBC, he alleges that the incident was fueled by Islamophobia, and that all he wants now is an apology. Southwest has not given him one.
It’s not the first time the company has been accused of racial profiling against Muslims—last year, Muslim passengers were kicked off at least two flights.
Update: A spokesperson for Southwest sent Gawker a statement regarding the incident:
“Prior to the departure of Flight 4620, our Crew made the decision to investigate a report of potentially threatening comments overheard onboard our aircraft. A group of our Employees including the flight Crew made the decision to deny boarding of a Customer, as we worked to review the situation. We understand local law enforcement spoke with that passenger as the aircraft departed the gate. To respect the privacy of those involved, we will not publicly share any further specifics of the event. We prefer to communicate directly with our Customers to address concerns and feedback regarding their travel experience.”