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. An Islamic terrorist would not reveal themselves until it was too late. If this student had been a terrorist this woman would have likely had her bag placed in the overhead bin by him. See something, say something? Late night activity in a garage with cars coming and going is something. Talking in some other language is what people do.

    This woman should have at a minimum been required to join him off the flight to explain what she heard.

  2. Roger J: Moreover most of the Arabic speakers in Dearborn are Shiites.

  3. I’m glad Dearborn (Michigan) does not have its own airport. Half the city speaks Arabic. Planes would never take off.

  4. The Germanwings airliner co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, the one who crashed the plane and murdered 144 people, presented many red flags with his known history of depression, and like many other modern mass murderers he had been taking powerful antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs which are known to cause bizarre and dangerous side effects. Yet, he didn’t speak Arabic.

  5. Speaking in your native language isn’t part of free speech people pretend to so adamantly defend, apparently.

  6. To John Ifechukwu,

    The next time a country wants help let’s give them Saudi Arabia’s phone number shall we. Let’s tell all those people who want to go to Germany or the UK, here is a free first class ticket to Saudi Arabia…how many would take it or stay or even be allowed in?

    Yes, Americans can be a lot of things but give me a break a 26 year old man who allegedly was just at a meeting where the Secretary General of the UN was speaking doesn’t know better or couldn’t act with more discretion? Give me a break. There is a part of me that wonders did he do it on purpose to see what would happen…probably not but really.

    As to people praying on planes and holding up a flight, referenced in the Turley comment, we have laws about interfering with the cabin crew. Those people should have been taken off the plane and arrested. There are several stories of orthodox Jewish men creating a scene because they don’t want to sit next to women on flights, same result off the plane and into federal custody. I don’t care what their relgion is.

  7. What gets me is people talking on their cell phones in public. Does the young man not have a home where he can conduct his private phone calls? Can´t he read a book while sitting in a plane? Perhaps have a conversation with the person sitting next to him? I´d rather have someone smoke a cigarette next to me at an outdoor café than gab on the phone. Again, our society has no sense of honor. People think it is cool to play with their little gadgets in public. I rarely take mine with me and don´t answer it in public even if I am expecting a call and it rings. Call back later when you´re alone. The purpose of being in a public place is to interact with others in our society. Seriously, all this tinkering with little electronic toys in public places is an attention-gettting ploy and downright juvenile. Once on a flight, a Spanish man sitting next to me called his mommy to tell her that he was on the plane. Pathetic!!! Another time at an expensive restaurant in Amsterdam a (again Spanish) man gave his secretary instructions on where to file what papers and where she could find documents (in a big stack in the corner of his office – gotta love his sense of organization!) while his daughter and wife rolled their eyes – and this on a Saturday night! People are sick!

  8. The Europeans, when they aren’t being raped, by roving bands of Muslims, or used as target practice, while sitting in cafes and attending concerts, or blown to smithereens by bombs as they pass through their once safe airports, surely aren’t the ones who are laughing. They are the ones who are crying, as they wonder how they could’ve lost their once idyllic cities and countries to barbarians and savages. I doubt that they are the ones whom you claim to be laughing, as Europe circles the drain and gasps for its last breath. If you hear laughter, Jeremy, I suggest you seek help. The laughter is in your head and exists nowhere else.

  9. Americans have become a fearful people.
    Scared of the very world around them.

    Fear AND ignorance – what a combination!

    They have becoming the laughing stock of the world.

  10. We are told over and over again if you see something say something. If you see anything suspicious say something. Now the woman on the plane is being criticized for doing just what we have been told to do.

    As to the young man speaking Arabic on the plane…..excuse me does he have no sense at all? Doesn’t he read the papers or see the news? You may not like it that he was removed from the plane but he was calling Bagdad according to reports and speaking excitedly in Arabic on a plane. Thoughtless at best he was thoughtless. He isn’t a 5 year old! He’s 26. A bit of discretion is warranted by him.

    As to the charge of Islamophobia, fear of Islam is not a phobia. Phobias are irrational fears. As we are seeing all over the world even Muslims are afraid of other Muslims and rightfully so. Muslim migrants aren’t running to Muslim countries; they are running to Western countries where life is better and they will be less likely to be killed or imprisoned because their Islam isn’t as intense or the correct strain of Islam. Their fears are justified.

    As to the actions of the airline staff , they also should have been more discrete but they are bound to investigate the complaint.

  11. Yeah, safety. Fortune interviewed Faith Popcorn in December 2015. Fortune asked her what was the most surprising thing about 2015. She stated “I didn’t think fear would accelerate so quickly, that is what 2016 is going to be about.” She coined the term ‘cocooning’ in the 1990’s. We socialize less and retreat into our homes. We don’t travel as much because we fear. She now describes it as ‘uber-cocooning’. She thinks that the American public will swap privacy for “the privilege of living in a safe bubble”. She has developed a strong track record over the years.

  12. The implication is that she heard, or thought she heard, “Allahu akbar”, which means “God is greater.” Although this is the ubiquitous cry before terrorist attacks around the globe, there are other contexts that it could have been used. Or he could have said something entirely different that sounded similar. “Allah” is used throughout conversations in Arabic. In Persian, it’s “Inshallah”, or “God willing”, that you can’t seem to complete a conversation without.

    It’s possible there could be more to the story. Did she speak Arabic? Did she think she heard “Allahu akbar”, or did she just unreasonably freak out because someone spoke Arabic? It it’s the latter, she wouldn’t be able to function in LA or NYC.

    If a passenger informed the airline that she heard someone say “Allahu akbar”, the company would have to check it out. Which they could have done more discretely than the marching band display at the terminal.

    “He said that the passenger reported that he was speaking about martyrdom in Arabic, using a phrase often associated with jihadists.” If this was the complaint, then the airline would have to check it out. Can you imagine if the plane blew up, and it turned out that there was a complaint that someone was talking about martyrdom while boarding the plane?

    So it’s not that a passenger was speaking Arabic. It’s because someone thought he was talking about martyrdom.

    “Obviously, it is unlikely that a real terrorist would chat away at the gate in Arabic about martyrdom as he waited to take off.” I speak Spanish. Some people will mock others in Spanish right in front of them, assuming they can’t speak the language. I assume this happens in all languages. It absolutely happens to American tourists in France. But it is probably unlikely anyone would outline their plans for mayhem at an airport.

    It appears that this was all a misunderstanding. We definitely don’t want passengers harassed for speaking Arabic. On the other hand, we tear apart airlines and government with “how did you let this happen?” whenever there is an attack. So they checked it out, found out it was much ado about nothing, and put him on another flight. I hope they upgraded him.

    What is really tragic is that the global spread of radical Islamic terrorism has negatively impacted all the good and decent Muslims. I liken it to if a Catholic priest remarks that a woman’s little boy is adorable, she might have the overwhelming urge to deck him and drag her kid away.

    What sounds like the biggest issue is that they were indiscrete and embarrassed the passenger needlessly, when they could have investigated and cleared him quietly and out of the public eye.

  13. If this plane had been blown to bits or had been purposefully crashed into the side of a mountain, this discussion, obviously, would be quite different. We tell our citizens, if you see something, say something. We then, however, promptly proceed to demean, ridicule, castigate and condemn those who do exactly what we, as a society, have encouraged them to do. Insanity. This passenger, I assume, understood Arabic–at least, to some degree–and was alarmed by what she heard. I don’t discount that, as does Turley, in his haste to paint this as an example of some wild-eyed prejudiced woman on steroids. There is no proof that she was, in fact, incorrect in what she overheard, whatsoever, other than this young man’s protestations. Note, she didn’t just state that she heard the young man speaking Arabic. No, no, no. She heard what she believed was a conversation regarding martyrdom and jihad. That’s quite different. She deserves a medal, in my opinion. Who knows what she prevented? She did exactly and precisely what she was supposed to do: inform the authorities and let them take it from there. Why do all of you naive and blind individuals assume that the young Iraqi student was the one telling the truth about the subject matter of the conversation? I don’t. Obviously, Turley does. If the Iraqi refugee said that he was innocent, why, then, by golly, he was innocent. End of discussion. Never mind the warnings about keeping our eyes and ears open. Never mind that talk about terrorists performing dry-runs. Block all of that out. I don’t automatically assume that she overreacted or lied any more than I automatically assume that he was speaking to someone regarding martyrdom and jihad over the telephone. We’re being conditioned, on a daily basis, to comprehend that those brave enough to speak out about troubling and suspicious incidents will certainly incur the wrath and ridicule of society–think, Ahmed the Ticking Time Bomb Pencil Box Boy. God bless this woman for speaking out when she heard, what she thought was, a conversation detailing martyrdom and jihad. I don’t assume, like Turley, that she didn’t succeed in saving the lives of a plane load of passengers on that fateful day. Who knows what she disrupted? We’ll never know, now will we?

  14. Safety? From what please! does this not show how high the sense of entitlement felt by Americans is? does this not show how miserably ignorant many Americans are? Si everyone who speaks Arabic should be disgraced and subjected to inhuman embarrassment from another stupid human being that happens to wield some crazy power over him just because they feel threatened by his language. This level of fallacious reasoning that a person would unashamedly display woulda warranted her to be ridiculed and laughed away by the officials and not be supported by them… well, I hope they get to pay mercilessly for their hopelessly abysmal stupidity

  15. Southwest Airlines will soon be making a payment to him, along with an apology. They screwed up several years ago and should have learned their lesson then. It is clear they have not. However, safety first!!!!

  16. “If you want to keep your Banana Republic, you can keep your Banana Republic.” Also: “The most transparent Presidential Administration in our nation’s history.”

    Barak Obama.

  17. My opinion, formed by what you have stated in the article (and it could change if I had actually witnessed the situation), is that the woman should have been offered the option to take a later flight.

Comments are closed.