Anti-Muslim Racial Profiling On Planes Must Stop

Excerpt from: CREDO Action

Someone like me shouldn’t have to be worried about getting kicked off a plane for scribbling down a math equation on a piece of paper. But if a fellow passenger on a U.S. airline decides I look suspicious because of the color of my skin, that’s exactly what might happen. In fact it already has.

Last week, Guido Menzio, a decorated Ivy League economist was removed from an American Airlines flight because his seatmate expressed concerns after seeing him writing in a notebook before take-off. Menzio, who has “dark, curly hair, olive skin and an exotic foreign accent,” was taken off the plane for questioning.1 His suspicious scribblings? Math equations. His nationality? Italian.

This is just the latest instance of the unlawful, bigoted profiling of airline passengers whose skin color, dress, actions or speech make airline passengers or staff think they are Muslim. It’s an extreme, but all-too-common consequence of the racism, xenophobia and fear that politicians and pundits have stoked since the 9/11 terror attacks. As the Republican party gets ready to fully endorse Donald Trump’s platform of xenophobia and bigotry, we cannot let the U.S. airline industry legitimize this kind of racial profiling fueled by hate against Muslims. It’s time to push back.

Under our current laws, an airline “may not subject a person in air transportation to discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, or ancestry.”2 The Department of Transportation is authorized to prevent and seek redress for acts of discrimination.3 Given the increasing frequency of, and seemingly arbitrary grounds for, the removal of Muslims and passengers who others perceive to be Muslim from U.S. domestic airlines, it’s clear that the Department of Transportation (DOT) needs to act.

In addition to Mr. Menzio’s case, here are some other recent examples:

Khairuldeen Makhzoom, a student at the University of California at Berkeley, was kicked off a Southwest Airlines flight after a fellow passenger complained about his use of Arabic. An Arabic-speaking Southwest employee allegedly asked him: “Why would you speak in Arabic on the airplane? It’s dangerous. You know the environment around the airport. You understand what’s going on in this country.” Makhzoom was then searched publicly while a crowd in the airport terminal watched and was interrogated by the FBI.4

  • Hakima Abdulle, who was wearing a hijab, was removed from a Southwest Airlines flight after a flight attendant told her she could not switch seats with another passenger. The flight attendant later said she “did not feel comfortable” with Abdulle.5
  • Three Muslim passengers and one Sikh passenger were removed from an American Airlines flight after the captain and crew reportedly “‘felt uneasy and uncomfortable with their presence on the flight and as such, refused to fly unless they were removed from the flight.’”6

This clear pattern of discriminatory treatment, based on racial profiling, painfully highlights the way that internalized bias and bigotry against Muslims leads too many Americans to perceive Muslims as a threat. It also makes clear that airline staff are not adequately equipped to respond to their own, or others’ bias, in a way that protects the rights of passengers who are being racially profiled. Instead, the bias leads to further discrimination. The Department of Transportation must take action now.

Our allies at Muslim Advocates and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund just sent a letter to the DOT asking them to take four concrete steps to prevent future incidents of profiling.7 They urge the DOT to:

  • Fully investigate and publicly report on investigation findings regarding all alleged instances of racial and religious profiling involving Muslim passengers;
  • Require air carriers to take remedial action if they are found to have profiled passengers on the basis of their race or religion;
  • Implement regulations requiring airlines to provide personnel with training on anti-racism and implicit bias, and to implement strong anti-discrimination policies concerning racial and religious profiling; and,
  • Track and publish monthly summaries of the discrimination complaints filed against U.S. airlines and the action taken by the Department in response.

The more of us who add our voices, the more powerful that message will be.

Tell the Department of Transportation:
“Use your authority to immediately investigate and stop the bigoted and paranoid racial profiling that is leading to discriminatory treatment of passengers on U.S. airlines.”

Go to the link below to sign the petition:

Thanks for standing up against anti-Muslim bigotry today,

Murshed Zaheed, Political Director
CREDO Action from Working Assets


Catherine Rampell, “Ivy League economist ethnically profiled, interrogated for doing math on American Airlines flight, Washington Post, May 7, 2016.
49 US Code 40127: Prohibitions on discrimination
“Muslim Advocates and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund Pen Letter to US Department of Transportation Urging Immediate Action to Prevent Profiling of Airline Passengers,” May 11, 2016.
Liam Stack, “College Student Is Removed from Flight After Speaking Arabic on Plane, N.Y. Times, April 17, 2016.
Hugh Morris, “Muslim Women Removed from Plane After Staring at Flight Attendant,” The Telegraph, March 9, 2016.
Laura Ly, “3 Muslims, Sikh Kicked Off Flight Because of Their Looks, Lawsuit Says,” CNN, January 18, 2016.
“Muslim Advocates and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund Pen Letter to US Department of Transportation Urging Immediate Action to Prevent Profiling of Airline Passengers,” May 11, 2016.

© 2016 CREDO. All rights reserved.


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