Okay, so. This should be obvious by now, and no one should have to point out that “Hey, this isn’t about a simple can of diet coke, people! This is about a larger issue that actually has violent and lethal consequences for many who are subjected to it!” But apparently, it’s not that obvious, and, let alone the media, even United Airlines is being all “we did try to accommodate her request for a diet soda, but there was some confusion and misunderstanding.” Confusion and misunderstanding my Muslim foot.
Many people on Twitter and Facebook have sworn not to fly United again until they redress this issue and acknowledge the bigotry involved here. (Then again, let’s face it: Most people in America are racist and are probably delighted to hear that “Muslims” won’t be flying United, and so United just might become their primary airline choice.) There’s also the hashtag #UnitedforTahera. But beloved CNN starts its article about the issue with the following statement: “A simple request for an unopened can of Diet Coke on a United Airlines flight left Tahera Ahmad in tears.” That’s right, CNN – a girl started crying because she wasn’t being granted her request for an unopened can of diet soda. What can I say – we women are silly and emotional like this, blowing things out of proportion.
The Daily Dot’s headline reads: “United Airlines faces criticism after Muslim woman is denied an unopened can of soda.”
Now, I understand that legally, people can’t accept what Tahera has gone through and expressed, so I get terms like “alleged” or “she claims,” etc., but this is Islamophobia, and the term Islamophobia should not be in quotes in this conversation. Like, Metro titles its piece on the matter as: “People are boycotting United Airlines following an ‘Islamophobic’ incident.” Huffpost, too, has the word “Islamophobic” in quotes – why?
Islamophobia, “Parking Disputes,” and “Beverage Requests”
United’s response to the ordeal is as follows:
For the emptieth time, this isn’t about diet cokes or beverage requests. This reductiveresponse to Islamophobia is like what we saw with the Chapel Hill execution-style murders when the media refused to see the larger problem and reality – and calling it a “parking dispute”! Nothing but anti-Muslim/anti-Islam bigotry of a white man caused the heinous murders of the Chapel Hill shootings.
Here are some recent cases of Islamophobic violence in the U.S. alone:
– a rally right outside of a Phenox mosque where people wore shits with the message “Fu** Islam!” on May 29 (but fortunately, it was countered by Muslim supporters!)
– a Houston, TX mosque was set on fire on February 13
– the attack on a Muslim family at a Kroger in Deerborn, MI (February 12)
– a whole bunch of articles were written in response to the Islamophobic Chapel Hill murders, including this one
– a number of attacks that took place in August 2012
– Wikipedia even has a “Flying while Muslim” entry
For more on Islamophobia, here’s a website run by CAIR (a Muslim-American organization) they call an “Islamophobia monitor.”
So, a brief note to United (and the media):
Stop trivializing a person’s experience with bigotry. What happened with Tahera Ahmad wasn’t about a can of soda. She didn’t cry because she wasn’t served a can of coke the way she wanted it. She was treated unfairly; the flight attendant made her Islamophobia against Tahera very clear by claiming that “unopened cans might be used as a weapon on the plane” (and didn’t say the same to the man next to Tahera who did receive an unopened can of beer from the same flight attendant); the policy invoked by the flight attendant was not put in practice the same way with another passenger because he was visibly not Muslim; and another passenger starting calling out hate comments, and no one (presumably the flight attendants were nearby?) responded to shut him up. Tahera Ahmad was suspected as a potential terrorist–because she is visibly Muslim, at least as her hijab showed–and the word “weapon” was used by the flight attendant for no reason other than to hint to her being a Muslim and thus a potential terrorist. So what happened was actually an expression of hate and prejudice against a Muslim individual who was outwardly “other,” outwardly Muslim. And we all know that Muslims and “Muslim-looking” people make the best targets of hate, which we justify as acceptable because they are terrorists, potential terrorists, relatives of (potential) terrorists, and/or belong to the same skin color and/or religion of some terrorists.
What makes you (United’s) response to the incident unacceptable and wrong is that you pretend the whole case is about a beverage. The correct, more appropriate, more responsible response would have been to first acknowledge that what she went through was unacceptable and you will do everything in your power to correct this in the future — and apologize for what happened – instead of making it seem like she cried over an opened can of coke. (I know, I know – such an admission to prejudice would get you in trouble, and you can’t risk that, but whatever; it’s still irresponsible to deny the hate against a Muslim individual here.) This would not necessarily be required of you if we were not living in a society that is constantly targeting non-white people, a society thriving on racial profiling, a society where Muslim-bashing/Islamophobia is a lucrative business.
Given the reality of Islamophobia, hate, discrimination against people marked as “other” on a daily basis, you owe it to anyone who has been victimized by you to treat them with respect and recognize the harm you have caused them – and others like them, or others for whom living with hate is a reality.
Again, just stating the obvious here that what Tahera Ahmad went through wasn’t about a can of coke. It was and is about the denial of Islamophobia in the U.S., of multiple forms of discrimination against people based on their religion, choice of clothing, skin color, and other markers of difference that need to be celebrated as contributing to diversity.