I have become drearily familiar with stories of Muslims getting kicked off flights because other passengers were frightened by the way they dressed, spoke, looked, or otherwise acted in ways that Real Merkins don’t. These stories are becoming so common that I have not even bothered to comment on them. But one thing that struck me recently is how often Southwest Airlines is involved in these peremptory bootings of Muslims.
In the past we have had reports like this one and this one about Muslim or Arabic-speaking passengers being kinked off flights because of complaints by other passengers who were frightened by people who were different from them.
Now we have the case of a Somali headscarf-wearing woman who was kicked off a flight after she asked a fellow passenger whether they could exchange seats and the other person agreed. Note that this airline does not assign seats at all but has an open seating policy where people select seats on a first-come basis.
Then there was a University of California, Berkeley student who was not only kicked off his flight but refused to be allowed on another Southwest flight and then be harassed by security and the FBI afterwards. His offense? He had signed off a phone conversation by saying ‘inshallah’ and a fellow passenger overhead him and reported him to the flight crew.
If you have spent any time at all in an Arabic speaking country you will be familiar with the phrase “inshallah’. It is used routinely in conversations and roughly means ‘god willing’. It is used especially when referring to something one hopes or expects to happen in the future and it will be dropped into conversations that take place in English too, such as “Let’s meet next Tuesday, inshallah”. It originates in the idea that all future plans will materialize only if god wants them to.
It is also used as a sign off for conversations, the Arabic equivalent of ‘goodbye’. For many people it is now merely a reflexive statement devoid of any religious content. In that it is similar to the word ‘goodbye’ which also has religious roots that many are now ignorant of. It is a contraction of ‘god be with ye’ but nowadays few of us say it with any religious intent.
Southwest is an airline that prides itself on being different, more causal and free-wheeling, more passenger-friendly than others. What these stories reveal is that they lack good sense on dealing with fearful passengers and airline crew members and are easily persuaded to act in a discriminatory manner.