Berkeley Student Removed From Plane After Speaking Arabic

Southwest_Air_LogoWe have another shocking case involving a passenger who was removed from a flight because his presence made other passengers nervous.
The student, Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, a senior at the University of California, Berkeley, was merely speaking in Arabic to his uncle in Iraq and recounting an exciting speech that he attended by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. After his call, he was told that he was making passengers nervous by speaking in Arabic and removed from the flight.

The 26-year-old college student is an Iraqi refugee and said that he noticed a woman glaring at him on the Southwest flight. The woman went to the flight crew and an Arabic-speaking Southwest Airlines employee reportedly asked him “Why were you speaking Arabic in the plane?”

Southwest gave a non-answer to media inquiries, saying “we regret any less than positive experience a customer has onboard our aircraft. Southwest neither condones nor tolerates discrimination of any kind.” Well, if this account is true, it would seem like that is a tolerance of such discrimination if a single passenger can throw another passenger off the plane because she does not feel comfortable with a passenger speaking Arabic.

Worst yet, according to Makhzoomi, he was brought into the terminal and searched in front of a crowd of onlookers while half a dozen police officers, including one with a dog, stood watch. He was then interrogated into a room by three agents. He said that the passenger reported that he was speaking about martyrdom in Arabic, using a phrase often associated with jihadists. The FBI then cleared him to take another flight.

Obviously, it is unlikely that a real terrorist would chat away at the gate in Arabic about martyrdom as he waited to take off. Moreover, unless this woman spoke Arabic, it is not clear what word she believed is used by terrorists or her ability to make such a determination. Yet, she was able to have the student tossed from the flight.

My greatest concern is the lack of any cognizable or consistent standard in such cases. We have seen passengers refuse to allow a plane to take off while praying in the aisles without being removed from a flight. Yet, a call in Arabic seems enough if this account is accurate. There seems a legitimate question of equal treatment and due process for Muslim and Arab passengers in such cases.

What do you think?

50 thoughts on “Berkeley Student Removed From Plane After Speaking Arabic

  1. Here are the lyrics to Fifty Ways To lose Your Airline:

    The problem is all inside your head she said to me
    The answer is easy if you take it logically
    I’d like to help you in your struggle to be free
    There must be fifty ways to leave your airline.

    She said it’s really not my habit to intrude
    Furthermore, I hope my meaning won’t be lost or misconstrued
    But I’ll repeat myself at the risk of being crude
    There must be fifty ways to leave your airline
    Fifty ways to leave your airline.

    You just slip out the back, Jack
    Make a new plan, Stan
    You don’t need to be coy, Roy
    Just get yourself free
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    She said it grieves me so to see you in such pain
    I wish there was something I could do to make you smile again
    I said I appreciate that and would you please explain
    About the fifty ways

    She said why don’t we both just sleep on it tonight
    And I believe in the morning you’ll begin to see the light
    And then she kissed me and I realized she probably was right
    There must be fifty ways to leave your airline
    Fifty ways to leave Southwest Air.

    You just slip out the back, Jack
    Make a new plan, Stan
    You don’t need to be coy, Roy
    Just get yourself free
    Hop on the bus, Gus
    You don’t need to discuss much
    Just drop off the key, Lee
    And get yourself free.

  2. (Based only on the post here…)

    Perpetually scared people are tedious and they aren’t making us safer. And, the politicians/bureaucrats who enable and encourage this braindead mindset of constant fear are worthless, IMO. Whatever vague “safety” accrues at the cost of becoming a nation of cowards isn’t worth it. Here’s a better motto: If you see something that isn’t a direct threat and you have no idea what it actually means, then shut the hell up until you actually know something. On top of the outrage to the passengers kicked off of planes like this guy was, I don’t need my flights delayed every time some passenger fears of something s/he doesn’t understand.

    BTW, what Southwest doesn’t seem to realize is that they are undermining their goal of having passengers believe the flights are safe. Either 1) Southwest’s/TSA’s screening should have already pointed out the baddies and this guy had done nothing to indicate he was a threat, so they should have told the nervous passenger to calm down or she could be put on a later flight. Or 2) they are admitting that the Southwest/TSA screening lets dangerous people through and, except that this guy was dumb enough to say something in public that caught him out, he might have taken down the plane. Basically, by taking the second route, they are saying that their security procedures are worthless because all a real terrorist has to do is keep his mouth shut and he can slip through.

    BTW, this guy’s name gets dragged through the mud and there will definitely be people saying, “If he wasn’t a terrorist, he should know better than to be speaking Arabic on a plane!” Boneheads. But, what about the passenger that reported him? Shouldn’t her name have been released so that people can judge her to be, at the very least, a Chicken Little, or possibly a bigot or whatever? I am not even advocating that, but it’s a poor system of incentives if the person who causes someone else to get kicked off of a flight gets to do so with no negative consequences, whereas her target gets booted from a flight, interrogated by the government, and so on. This is a new version of swatting. The terrorists behind the Paris and Brussels were probably fluent in French or English. Could they have been thrown off the plane for that? Who’s next?

  3. freedomfan, the airlines do not control TSA screening.
    The TSA is a government agency.

    And yes,you should be aware that TSA screening lets dangerous people through.
    It has been known to be ineffectual for quite some time.

    It is safety theater and a jobs program for the unskilled, nothing more.
    Don’t blame Southwest for TSA’s failures.

  4. KCFleming, I know that TSA is a government agency and not run by Southwest. And, I agree that what TSA does is ineffectual security theater. (At least, mostly. Some of the changes that have been made behind the scenes in terms of luggage screening etc. may actually be worthwhile.) My point was that it’s typically airline policy to try and convince customers that what the airlines and TSA does to catch potential terrorists is effective and that this can rightly be taken by their customers as an indication that it is not.

    And, I also agree that Southwest isn’t responsible for the fact that TSA is an epic fail. But, it’s a government epic fail, so whenever it’s shown to be a failure, we can expect to hear calls for more of it, not less. Airport screening would be more effective and far less intrusive and annoying if it were handled by the airlines. But, then politicians wouldn’t be able to claim that they were keeping us safe.

    But, Southwest is responsible for part of what happened on this flight. If they thought the woman complaining was serious, they should have asked the other passenger why he was speaking Arabic on his phone. When he said, “I was talking to my uncle, who doesn’t speak much English”, they should have concluded that they had no actual evidence of any wrongdoing and that should have been the end of it for him (at least as far as he had to deal with – if they wanted to keep an eye on him or ask the sky marshal* to do so, then fine). They could have told the woman that they have no reason to think he was up to anything suspicious and, if she was still worried, offered her a spot on a later flight. I think Southwest bears some responsibility for not taking a more moderated approach.

    (* And even that is questionable. Nowadays, people need to be aware that reporting someone to the government is effectively unleashing all manner of overreaction on them and that such reporting isn’t to be done casually or “as a precaution.” We are moving past the stage where a reasonable person can say, “I just turned someone over to [whatever agency] and I didn’t know that they might take things too far after that.”)

  5. When I was flying for the airlines as captain, I had a similar situation, but it did not involve an Arabic speaker or any minority. A woman passenger had seen something she thought was suspicious about one passenger who was putting his luggage in the overhead. Thankfully this was a white male who did not complain about being asked to come off the airplane with his carry-on. We did a secondary screening, and found nothing. I let him back on board and apologized and explained the situation and thanked him for his co-operation. Then I told the F/As to give him free drinks as thanks.

    We ask ALL passengers to speak up and tell us if they see or hear anything out of line, NO MATTER WHAT! That is our best defense, and we MUST encourage such things since I cannot be everywhere and observe everything on my aircraft. Thus the woman was quite correct in reporting this guy, but the airline screwed up by being so obnoxious about the screening. The blame is also on the poor guys part as well by being so stupid and insensitive. I have no sympathy for some outlandish Muslims who seek to be as obnoxious as possible to trigger such things. They are deservedly kicked off if they refuse to take their seats and follow the instructions of the crew. The fact is that the captain is the SOLE authority as to who or what gets on board his/her aircraft, and this cannot nor should be challenged.

  6. I have to take extreme exception to any divulging of the reporting passengers info. I take friends up in small aircraft, and as a matter of routine, I tell my passengers to SPEAK UP if they see anything like another plane or ANYTHING that looks amiss. Most of the time when they do speak up it is nothing, but I make it a POINT to PRAISE THEM for speaking up because the next time it might be something serious. Just because they got it wrong once or many times, I STILL want to know, and the same holds true for passengers who report such things.

    In this instance, there is plenty of blame to go around for all concerned. The FBI seems to have done a good job in interviewing and clearing the guy and got him going again. I do think that the TSA went for overkill in this case, but in my case, I had no problem with them and they did a good job in searching and clearing my questionable passenger. So while this guy was inconvenienced, he is partially to blame by not thinking about what he was doing. To answer Prof Turley’s question as to the criterion for inspecting passengers, there is no possible iron clad procedure since we ask for the nebulous feelings of others. This of necessity is subjective and cannot be codified. All that we can do is to conduct a secondary search to make sure nothing was missed, and if nothing is found, then the passenger reboards. Simple. The TSA went too far in taking him out of the jetway and subjecting him to search in front of the whole world. So apart from a slight delay and embarrassment, no damage was done. I am more concerned with claims of discrimination being granted with no basis or trying to excuse bad behavior on the part of passengers.

  7. Given that those voicing their opinions regarding this singular incident–and, yes, that includes me–don’t have any clue as to what actually transpired here and don’t have any clue as to what this “innocuous” Iraqi refugee was actually saying to his purported “uncle” over the telephone, including what the reporting passenger actually heard and/or understood him to say, it’s quite a leap to try to judge and/or condemn what transpired. I was happy to read that those responsible erred, if, in fact, it was an error, on the side of safety and security. We will never know, with any degree of certainty, what was, or wasn’t, thwarted, due to his removal from that plane. Never. We will never know what, if anything, was averted that particular day by his prompt removal from that aircraft. You can’t have it both ways–you just can’t. Either you want people to speak up with regard to suspicions that they have or you don’t. While I don’t want innocent people targeted, I really, really don’t want planes blown out of the sky by madmen who have sworn, repeatedly, to instill terror into the hearts of infidels and murder them. An inconvenient truth. Why do those commenting here automatically assume that the “student” was being truthful with his explanation as to what occurred? I, for one, do not. Why? Well, after the FBI concluded with its interview, the unfairly targeted “student” wasn’t immediately put on another flight to continue on with his journey. Perhaps there were no other flight? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Allowing him to immediately continue on with his flight plans would’ve been a telltale sign that he was of no further concern to the FBI. That didn’t occur. I suspect that it didn’t occur for a reason. Yes, he was eventually cleared to fly, but not until the next day. Think about it.

  8. No, Southwest did absolutely the right thing. Let’s look at the facts, as presented by JT:

    “The student, Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, a senior at the University of California, Berkeley, was merely speaking in Arabic to his uncle in Iraq and recounting an exciting speech that he attended by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. After his call, he was told that he was making passengers nervous by speaking in Arabic and removed from the flight.”

    1. The individual’s name is Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, which reveals immediately that he is a devoted member of the cult founded by the unctuous, vile, pedophile pervert and mass murderer. That’s strike 1.

    2. He’s senior at the University of California, Berkeley. That instantly classifies him as a far leftist, and, consequently, an enemy of civilization. That’s strike 2.

    3. He was speaking Arabic. Again, this confirms that he is a devoted member of the cult founded by the unctuous, vile, pedophile pervert and mass murderer. That’s strike 3, so he’s out. But let’s continue anyway.

    4. He attended a speech by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, and, even worse, he liked it. That again confirms that he’s an extreme leftist and an enemy of civilization. Game set and match. Throw the dirtball out on his ass.

    These are exactly the kind of creatures that need to be expelled from the US permanently. Let them live with their own despicable ilk.

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