Planes are scary if you aren’t an engineer or a pilot. They have always made me nervous because I don’t understand the first thing about aerodynamics. But now United Airlines has given Muslims a whole new reason to be afraid of flying.
Last week, a Muslim chaplain named Tahera Ahmad took to Facebook to let the world know about the discrimination she experienced — all over a can of Diet Coke. Ms. Ahmad requested a can of Diet Coke while on Shuttle America Flight 3504 and was presented with a can that was already opened. For sanitary reasons, she asked if an unopened can could be provided. This request was denied and the flight attendant claimed she was “unauthorized to give unopened cans to people because they might us it as a weapon on the plane.” That same flight attendant later gave a man sitting close to Ms. Ahmad an unopened can of beer. When Ms. Ahmad pointed out that this was unfair, not one of her fellow plane passengers came to her aid. In fact, one man took it upon himself to curse at Ms. Ahmad and reaffirm his belief that she would have used the unopened can as a weapon.
There are so many things wrong in this story that it’s quite impossible to know what’s most upsetting. To add insult to injury, Ms. Ahmad is listed as a Premier frequent flyer with United Airlines. Not only did a UA employee feel emboldened enough to discriminate against a passenger, this person discriminated against a loyal passenger. That’s like setting fire to money in the bank.
Islamophobia is not new, but the levels to which people are willing to go to show their hate in ignorance is astounding. We’re talking about a can of soda. Something so incredibly benign. Is this what it’s come down to? Soda cans!
Shortly after the incident, a UA spokesperson released a statement claiming how much UA supports diversity and that they were following up with Ms. Ahmad to further investigate. This nicety is not enough. Islamophobia in the United States has gone unchecked for far too long and now it’s risen to new heights. Now, not even a well meaning academic who has had iftar with President Obama is safe from this kind of mistreatment. Are we not all at an even greater risk now? Here it’s a can of soda and public shaming. What comes after that?
Injustice can no longer be met by silence and an attempt to educate the masses. It has to be met with tactical response. Until United Airlines properly solves the ill will that their own staff have caused it would be unthinkable for anyone who considers themselves #UnitedforTahera to give them business. Let them be aware that these things will not simply go unanswered and that we have more waiting for them than a hugely successful Twitter campaign. Ms. Ahmad paid her air fare the same as everyone else and should have been treated with the same kindness that UA claims to give to all their customers.
Muslims are not going to quietly be the punching bags of masses.