This incident has been widely reported as an incidence of “Islamophobia,” as an ignorant non-Muslim passenger heard Khairuldeen Makhzoomi speaking Arabic and saying “inshallah” and jumped to the conclusion that he must be a terrorist. But in reality, the passenger who heard Makhzoomi speaking to his uncle speaks Arabic, and thus knew everything that he was saying, and thought it was threatening. But by now this story has gone around the world; this salient detail will not.
“Southwest said its crew’s response followed company protocol and federal law, which requires ‘potential threats to civil aviation’ be investigated and reported to law enforcement.” But if those who are wringing their hands over Southwest’s “Islamophobia” get their way, potential threats to civil aviation when they come from Muslims will not be reported.
A Southwest Airlines passenger who overheard a college student’s conversation also spoke Arabic and perceived the comments to be threatening, according to a new Southwest Airlines statement released Monday afternoon.
The new detail sheds light on the removal of 26-year-old Khairuldeen Makhzoomi from an Oakland-bound flight earlier this month. His removal from Flight 4620 gained national attention over the weekend following a story published in The Daily Californian newspaper.
Makhzoomi, an Iraqi refugee and senior at the University of California Berkeley, was removed from an April 6 flight from Los Angeles to Oakland after another passenger told crew she overheard “potentially threatening comments.” Makhzoomi’s comments came during a conversation with his uncle.
Southwest said its crew’s response followed company protocol and federal law, which requires “potential threats to civil aviation” be investigated and reported to law enforcement.
One new detail revealed in the statement is that the woman who overheard Makhzoomi’s comments, which came during a phone conversation with his uncle, also spoke Arabic.
“It was the content of the passenger’s conversation, not the language used, that prompted the report leading to our investigation,” Southwest said in its statement. “Once the report was made, an Arabic-speaking Southwest Manager at LAX participated in the decision to request the passenger leave the aircraft and continue the conversation in the gate area.”
Makhzoomi told The Daily Californian he said goodbye to his uncle by saying “inshallah”, which translates to “if God is willing.” Makhzoomi said he had called his uncle to tell him about a dinner he had attended in Los Angeles the previous day that featured Ban Ki-moon, secretary-general of the United Nations.
After the conversation, Makhzoomi was removed from the plane, searched in front of a crowd of onlookers and questioned by law enforcement agents, including the FBI, according to a report in The New York Times. An FBI spokeswoman later confirmed that agents responded to the airport but no threat was found.
Makhzoomi’s ticket was refunded by Southwest and he caught a later flight on Delta Air Lines.
Makhzoomi told The Times he’s not planning to pursue legal action but would like an apology from the company.
Although Southwest’s statement from Monday doesn’t include an apology, it does indicate the airline has tried to contact Makhzoomi without any success.
“We would like the opportunity to speak with Mr. Makhzoomi further about his experience and have reached out to him several times,” the airline said.
There have been at least six cases so far this year of Muslims being removed from flights, according to The Times, including a Muslim passenger who was removed from a Southwest flight in Chicago last week.
Read the full text of Southwest’s latest statement below:
Statement: Flight 4620 from Los Angeles (LAX) to Oakland (OAK) on April 6
A passenger onboard flight 4620 requested that our Crew investigate what were perceived to be threatening comments made by another passenger onboard. Both passengers involved in the situation spoke a shared language, Arabic. Our Crew responded by following protocol, as required by federal law, to investigate and report to law enforcement agencies any potential threat to civil aviation. It was the content of the passenger’s conversation, not the language used, that prompted the report leading to our investigation. Once the report was made, an Arabic-speaking Southwest Manager at LAX participated in the decision to request the passenger leave the aircraft and continue the conversation in the gate area. We provided the passenger an immediate refund of his unused ticket. Federal law enforcement agents became involved and conducted their own investigation. We would like the opportunity to speak with Mr. Makhzoomi further about his experience and have reached out to him several times.
We welcome onboard more than a hundred millions Customers each year; and we aim safely to transport each, while maintaining the comfort of all. Safety is our always first focus, and our Employees are trained to make decisions to safeguard the security of our Crews and Customers on every flight. We would not remove a passenger from a flight without a collaborative decision rooted in established procedures. Southwest neither condones nor tolerates discrimination of any kind. Our Company could not survive if we practiced or believed otherwise. In fact, a cursory view of our workforce, as well as our expansive, multi-cultural Customer base is a reliable indicator that we exalt and appreciate diversity.