Muslim student removed from Southwest Airlines flight ‘for speaking Arabic’

© Lucy Nicholson
A university student who came to the US as an Iraqi refugee says he was removed from a Southwest Airlines flight after a fellow passenger became alarmed that he was speaking Arabic.

Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, a student at the University of California, Berkeley, said he called his uncle while waiting for his plane to take off from Los Angeles International Airport earlier this month. He wanted to tell him about a speech he had attended by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

“I was very excited about the event, so I called my uncle to tell him about it,” the 26-year-old told The New York Times.

Makhzoomi told his uncle that he had asked a question about Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) at the event, and used the phrase “inshallah” (God willing) at the end of the conversation.

He said the woman sitting in front of him on the plane then began staring at him.

“That is when I thought, 'Oh, I hope she is not reporting me’,” he said.

An Arabic-speaking Southwest employee then reportedly approached Makhzoomi, escorted him off the plane, and asked him why he had been speaking Arabic.

Makhzoomi responded by saying “this is what Islamophobia got this country into.” At that point, the Southwest employee reportedly became angry, and Makhzoomi was told he could not reboard the plane, which was bound for Oakland, California.

The FBI in Los Angeles said in a statement that it had investigated the situation by request, and found that no further action was necessary.

The 26-year-old was released following questioning, and was able to book a flight on another airline. He arrived home eight hours later than planned.

“My family and I have been through a lot, and this is just another one of the experiences I have had,” Makhzoomi said. “Human dignity is the most valuable thing in the world, not money. If they apologized, maybe it would teach them to treat people equally.”

Southwest Airlines said it has not received a direct complaint from Makhzoomi, and that he has not responded to several attempts to reach him.

The airline said it cannot give specific comments on the situation before talking to Makhzoomi, but said it regrets any less-than-positive experience by a customer and that it “neither condones nor tolerates discrimination of any kind.” However, it stated that its primary focus is on safety, adding that its crew members followed protocol.

The incident comes less than a year after a Muslim woman was refused an unopened can of soda on a United Airlines flight, with the flight attendant believing she would use it as a weapon.