Islamophobia hijacks American values, perpetuates terror

Credit: India Price/Online Editor Credit: India Price/Online Editor
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On April 6, a senior from the University of California, Berkeley took a call from his uncle while sitting on the tarmac in a Southwest Airlines flight. As he chatted on the phone, a woman in the seat in front of him got up to get a flight attendant. A few minutes later, a Southwest employee asked the man to leave the plane, and escorted him into the company of police officers where he was questioned, restrained, and prodded by the officers, detection dogs, and FBI agents, causing the man to miss his flight. He was eventually released, but told that he could not fly with Southwest Although he was able to get a refund and book a new flight with Delta Air Lines, he arrived back in Berkeley nine hours after his intended arrival.

The man had not been acting abrasively to the staff or passengers, he was not carrying anything illegal, and was not posing a threat to anyone on the plane. There was only one thing set that him apart from his fellow passengers, which lead to his dismissal from the flight. The student, Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, is Iraqi, and spoke Arabic over the phone.

Islamophobia has become a huge issue in the U.S in the fifteen years since 9/11, and in the wake of acts of terrorism lead by ISIS. The approximately 3.3 million Muslims living in America are constantly being discriminated against, stereotyped, and seen as an “other.” In the case of Makhzoomi, a Southwest employee asked him him “Why would you speak Arabic on a plane? It’s dangerous. You know the environment around the airport. You understand what’s going on in this country.” Just like the way words such as “bomb” are taboo in an airport, it seems like the Arabic language is becoming taboo, despite the fact that more than 950,000 people in this country speak the language fluently. This is characterizing an entire segment of American citizens by the actions of a select few extremists. This is turning a language, a religion, and a culture into something that is seen as a threat to our country.
Islamophobia is not a new thing, and, unfortunately, is being perpetrated not just by everyday citizens, but in our government as well. Under the guise of national security, normal, innocent people are becoming the target of hatred and bigotry. After 9/11, for example, Congress quickly passed legislation that granted broad new powers to federal law enforcement in the U.S. to gather and investigate anyone suspected of terrorism.

The USA Patriot Act, as it was named, was extremely detrimental to the civil liberties of Muslims and Arab Americans, and most of the allegations made under the provisions of the Patriot Act were directed at Muslim Americans or Americans of Arab descent. In the post-9/11 panic and rush to ensure national security, many of these people were detained without reasonable charge, verbally and physically abused, spied on, and even blacklisted from financial institutions.
Now, 15 years later, this type of discrimination is still being perpetrated. People like Makhzoomi are being subjected to racial profiling, forced to apologize for their religion and culture, blatantly targeted by presidential campaigns, and have done nothing to deserve this treatment. It’s not as if we do not know the consequences of this type of hatred. We have seen time and time again the destruction that is caused when we start judging segments of the population as a group. We only need to turn to history to witness tragedies such as the Armenian genocide, the Cambodian genocide, and the atrocities committed against Native Americans, and to understsand the cost in human life of discrimination and senseless hatred in these situations.

The ISIS extremists that have perpetrated the acts of terrorism that we as a country fear are just that — extremists. They do not in any way, shape, or form represent all Muslims, or all people of Arab descent. Muslims and people of Arab descent should not be judged as members of ISIS and should not be discriminated against because they share a religion or an ethnicity. The goal of terrorism is to strike fear in our hearts, and we need to precent that fear from dictating our actions and override our moral compasses.

Yes, this is a simple case of a man being asked to leave an airplane. But it is representative of so much more. Because if Makhzoomi had been Caucasian, or if he had been speaking French, or Spanish, or Chinese, he would not have been asked to leave the flight. He just happened to share a language and an ethnicity with members of a terrorist organization, but also with hundreds of millions of people in the world who have the right to not be judged based on their culture and heritage.