Unfriendly Skies: American Airlines Accused Of Discriminating Against Muslim And Sikh Passengers

Religion-based discrimination takes many forms in modern America. Often it looks like a county clerk who won’t give a marriage license to a same-sex couple. Other times, it looks like three Muslims and one Sikh getting booted from a flight because they allegedly made passengers and crew “uneasy.”

American Airlines is presently accused of kicking four Brooklyn, N.Y., residents off a flight from Toronto to New York last year for no reason other than their appearance.

The men were part of a group of six friends who had traveled to Canada over the December holidays. They initially booked separate return flights but in what turned out to be a fateful decision, decided at the last minute to travel together. Two of the men paid $75 to change and two paid an extra $70 to upgrade to business class at the last minute. These actions apparently aroused suspicion.

And yet, all six men were allowed to board the plane. Shortly after two of the men, Shan Anand and Faimul Alam switched seats with other passengers so they could be next to each other, two of their friends were asked to leave the plane by a white, female flight attendant, according to their lawsuit.

“I thought it was an evacuation or something, so I didn’t think nothing of it, but then she told me to take my bags, and when I went back into the plane I saw I was the only one standing,” one of the men, a fashion designer who asked to be identified only as W.H., told the New York Daily News.

Alam and Anand alleged that after they switched seats, nearby passengers made racist comments and clutched their children “as if something was going to happen.”

“Then we were asked to get our belongings to get off the aircraft,” Alam, a contractor who owns his own construction business, said.

Perhaps most damning of all for American Airlines is that the remaining two men, one Hispanic and the other Pakistani, fell asleep and were allowed to remain on the flight. But those two alleged that “they were told to ‘just be peaceful,’ making it seem like they were a threat, making other passengers uncomfortable and wanting to get off the flight,” said their attorney, Tahanie Aboushi.

After leaving the plane, the four men were told “the stewardess and the captain felt uneasy with us being on the flight,” W.H. said. “There were inconsistencies of our behavior traveling as a group, because two of us upgraded and two of us didn’t.”

W.H. added: “They didn’t cite any basis of inappropriate or boisterous behavior; their situation wasn’t a security issue or threat,” asserted Aboushi. “It’s the plaintiffs’ position that the reason they were taken off the flight is because this is blatant discrimination.”

The four passengers are asking for a total of $9 million in their lawsuit, which was filed yesterday.

This is what real religious persecution looks like, and it is very ugly if these charges are true. But what is the Religious Right concerned with today? Christians, of course. In a fundraising email sent this morning by the Family Research Council, the group asked its supporters to help “undo the damage done by the growing assaults on religious liberty by the Obama administration” so “that truth will win out and America will once again embrace its Christian heritage.”

Of course, Christians are not threatened in the United States. It’s quite clear, however, that Muslims, Sikhs and other minority groups are facing dehumanizing treatment on a regular basis. And while world events have caused Americans an understandable degree of fear, the answer to it is not to take away civil rights from people simply because they are non-white, non-Christians with beards. After all, if we as a nation fail to treat innocent people as such we will only make ourselves less safe.

It’s also important to remember that real religious liberty isn’t just about the freedom to worship. Sometimes it’s about having the right to live your daily life without being harassed because of your appearance or belief system.