Alleging discrimination where none occurred is a dangerous and damaging game. That’s why it’s so important to find out the facts.
By now it feels like everyone must have watched YouTube personality Adam Saleh being ejected from a Delta Airlines flight. His video of being escorted off a plane has been viewed over 31m times on Facebook. Saleh, whose YouTube channel has over two million subscribers, claimed in the video that he was being removed from the flight because other passengers felt “uncomfortable” with him speaking Arabic to his mother over the phone.
Delta has since issued a statement justifying their action by explaining that Saleh and his friend “sought to disrupt the cabin with provocative behavior, including shouting.” Meanwhile, Saleh wrote on Twitter that he and his friend are “pranksters, and it sounds like the boy who cried wolf but today you can clearly see its [sic] as real as it gets.” So, the statements solve nothing.
If the allegation of being thrown off a plane for speaking Arabic is true, then Saleh is right to be outraged. We must all be outraged at such blatant bigotry.
But pardon me for being skeptical.
First of all, this is the same guy who released a video in 2014 titled “Racial Profiling Experiment”, which showed the NYPD as flat-footedly anti-Muslim and was later revealed to be a hoax, doing no favors for those of us in the battle against real racial profiling.
And Saleh’s more recent antics include a video of him squeezing into a piece of luggage and flying in the baggage hold from Melbourne to Sydney, Australia. But that stunt was also faked. Security footage shows Saleh walking like a regular, two-legged, ticket-bearing passenger straight onto his flight.
Saleh, who calls himself a “professional idiot”, is a publicity hound, and that’s fine for him. While I freely admit that I don’t get this type of entertainment, a lot of people seem to enjoy his prankish, MTV-style antics. But because this is his public persona, we are justified in considering the possibility that his latest video could be another stunt.
For one thing, we don’t know see what transpired before he began filming this incident. And while we do see others passengers waving and heckling him with goodbyes, we don’t know what the cause of their anger is besides Saleh’s assertion that it’s racism. We have only Saleh’s word at this point, and he may not be a completely trustworthy source. Meanwhile, alleging discrimination where none occurred is a dangerous and damaging game. Just ask Yasmin Seweid.
Seweid is a college student who told New York City police that three drunk men attacked her on the subway, screaming “Donald Trump” and attempting to rip off her hijab while no one came to her defense. Police later discovered that Seweid had fabricated the story due to a troubled family life, and the 18-year-old has now been charged with filing a false report.
The lesson from all of this is not that Islamophobia is false. On the contrary. The handful of fabricated stories of Islamophobia are convincing only because Islamophobia is real, recognized tangible, and dangerous.
Consider these documented cases. NYPD officer Aml Elsokary and her teenage son were harassed and threatened by a man who called her “Isis” and threatened to cut her throat. Another man threw hot coffee in the face of a Muslim woman, hit her and called her a “terrorist” in a midtown Manhattan Dunkin Donuts. A Muslim transit worker in hijab was pushed down the stairs of Grand Central Terminal.
These examples are only from New York City and only from the last couple of weeks. Physical assaults on Muslims in the United States have reached levels not seen since the 9/11 attacks of 2001, according to the FBI, which reported that anti-Muslim hate crimes surged 67% in 2015. And Saleh’s story of airline harassment rings true because airlines do have a troubled history of removing passengers merely for speaking Arabic.
It is precisely because Islamophobia exists that it can be exploited for either private reasons or public gain. And while our due diligence is required to assess each instance, we must also remain focused on the real issue here.
If Adam Saleh’s story of discrimination is true, then we must hold the airline accountable as a way to combat Islamophobia. And if Saleh’s story is false, then we must hold him accountable while continuing to battle Islamophobia. Either way, the fight against bigotry remains the same.