Most of us utilize situational awareness to modify our behavior as we navigate our way through life. The way I interact with my niece’s 4-year-old son is different from the way I act when I’m watching a football game with friends or talking to the parish priest.
Then there are people like Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, an Iraqi UC–Berkeley student who was tossed off a Southwest Airlines flight in Los Angeles after his behavior made another passenger nervous.
Makhzoomi was waiting for his flight to take off when he called his uncle in Iraq and spoke to him in Arabic. Another passenger, who understood Arabic, became uneasy when she heard him say “God willing,” a common phrase in the culture.
She alerted authorities, who removed him from the flight and questioned him. He wasn’t detained, but Southwest cancelled his ticket and refunded his money, forcing him to arrive back in Berkeley eight hours late.
Makhzoomi was angry and publicly demanded an apology because he was singled out for “flying while Muslim.” Neither Southwest nor the authorities seem inclined to offer such an apology.
He does have a point. Nobody who’s obeying the law should be singled out for special attention just because he’s an Arab, but Makhzoomi also needs to be more sensitive to the context in which the action was taken.
Since he’s smart enough to attend Berkeley, he probable knows that all of the 9/11 hijackers were Muslims, that other Muslims like the so-called “shoe bomber” have tried to bring down airliners since then, and that Muslims residing in America have tried to link up with ISIS and other terrorist groups to commit jihad.
Then there are the flames of paranoia being fanned by Donald Trump. Given that background, Makhzoomi should have realized it’s a good idea for an Arab to avoid raising suspicion when in or near an airport or an airplane. Sitting in a plane speaking Arabic on a cell phone is not a good way to ameliorate suspicion.