Mosque in Oman
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Is Flying While Muslim the New Driving While Black?

“I ’m afraid that ‘Flying While Muslim’ is the new ‘Driving While Black.’ These things will keep happening until the ‘white male passenger’ types decide that unfair treatment of minorities must stop.”

This is part of this comment posted by Raleighlaura, who is a reader of Point Me to the Plane and was responding to this article pertaining to two Muslim women who were supposedly “kicked off” of an airplane which operated as American Airlines flight 2239 from Miami to Washington, D.C. because a member of the flight crew felt “unsafe” traveling with them, causing the flight to be delayed for several hours — and that is one of only several unfortunate incidents which have occurred this past week.

“A flight crew member had complained to the pilot that she was uncomfortable with the Muslim couple in the second row of economy class”, according to this article written by Mark Curnutte for The Cincinnati Enquirer pertaining to a Muslim couple who felt humiliated after being removed from an airplane operated by Delta Air Lines. “The woman was wearing a head scarf and using a phone, and the man was sweating, she allegedly told the pilot.”

Reading a book pertaining to Syria is apparently what caused Faizah Shaheen — who works for the National Health Service in the United Kingdom to prevent teenage mental health patients from becoming radicalized and was returning from her honeymoon in Turkey — to be detained and questioned for at least 15 minutes under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 after a member of the flight crew aboard an airplane operated by Thomson Airways reported her for “suspicious behaviour”, according to this article written by Liam O’Hare and Ted Jeory for Independent.

Is Flying While Muslim the New Driving While Black?

“Police abuse against people of color is a legacy of African American enslavement, repression, and legal inequality”, according to this special report written by David A. Harris of the American Civil Liberties Union. “Indeed, during hearings of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (‘The Kerner Commission’) in the fall of 1967 where more than 130 witnesses testified about the events leading up to the urban riots that had taken place in 150 cities the previous summer, one of the complaints that came up repeatedly was ‘the stopping of Negroes on foot or in cars without obvious basis.’”

There indeed have been countless times over the decades where motorists were stopped by law enforcement officers because of the color of their skin and not necessarily for an actual violation of motor vehicle laws — and police officers need not be white to perpetuate this phenomenon.

Consider the case of Rufus Scales — who was driving his younger brother Devin to his hair-cutting class in Greensboro in North Carolina when two law enforcement officers pulled them over for minor infractions — as just one example.

“Uncertain whether to get out of the car, Rufus Scales said, he reached to restrain his brother from opening the door. A black officer stunned him with a Taser, he said, and a white officer yanked him from the driver’s seat. Temporarily paralyzed by the shock, he said, he fell face down, and the officer dragged him across the asphalt”, according to this article written by Sharon LaFraniere for The New York Times. “Rufus Scales emerged from the encounter with four traffic tickets; a charge of assaulting an officer, later dismissed; a chipped tooth; and a split upper lip that required five stitches.”


There are people who will argue that the phenomena of “Flying While Muslim” and “Driving While Black” are necessary due to atrocities and crimes which have been attributed to both groups in the past — but you will not find me amongst them.

I just completed acting in an independent movie which is currently in post-production in which the majority of the actors were black. I also visited several countries last year whose populations are overwhelmingly predominantly Muslim. Not once did I think or believe that I was in any danger whatsoever. Not once did I feel like any personal property which was on my person would be taken or stolen.

On the contrary: I consistently felt welcomed and included; and I enjoyed interacting with them. Why? I believe one reason is because I engaged with them and respected them as people; and they did the same for me. Who initiated that civility is irrelevant.

I have always believed that travel is the great equalizer pertaining to human relations. Many of the problems which occur in this world is due to undue stereotype and a fear of the unknown — and that goes both ways. By showing some interest as to what people do and why, it generates discussion. Wearing a hijab does not mean that a Muslim woman is plotting to commit terror; and driving a car does not mean that a black person is up to no good.

We cannot allow the truly bad people in this world — the few who perpetuate the stereotypes with their actions — to dictate how we perceive each other and treat each other. This includes anyone on an airplane who thinks that just because a person is Muslim that they are automatically in danger. The chances of you being endangered on an airplane by anyone — let alone someone who is Muslim — is so remote that the possibility is not even worthy of thought.

As I have mentioned in numerous past articles such as this one, being alert and aware of your surroundings is your best protection and prevention of becoming a victim of terrorism or of a crime — no matter what is the race, gender, religious belief or otherwise of the person who might be responsible.

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

  1. “I just completed acting in an independent movie which is currently in post-production in which the majority of the actors were black.”

    How did you know that? Were you wearing glasses?

    1. I knew that because all of the actors and film crew met each other for what is typically known as a “table read” before the production began filming, Melissa.

      I look forward to meeting all of them again at the premiere and cast party of the film for its debut in a couple of months.

  2. Tell it to the people who lost loved one on 09/11 or more recently in Orlando, or Paris, or Nice…Tell them to “engage(d) with them and respect(ed) them as people”…
    BC – I know that this is a travel blog and hate turning it political…but you did it!
    You are disillusion beyond repair…
    Background about mr: born in the USSR, lived in “free for all” socialist country, seen the criminally naive westerners who were trying to spread “love and peace” (and know what the reaction within USSR was), left for Israel, served in IDF.

    1. The people whom you mention were already affected by adverse and unusual circumstances, Totallyi; but I will still bet you that some of them still treat people of the Muslim faith — as well as other people — with respect…

      …not to mention that those atrocities which you mentioned were committed by radical extremists attempting to push an agenda.

      I have heard and learned about civil rights abuses in the former Soviet Union — including the pogroms inflicted upon people of the Jewish faith, which I and many others personally denounce. If you have lived through that, Totallyi, then I can understand why you feel the way you do…

    1. Thank you for illustrating and proving exactly the point I was making about assumptions in the article by actually demonstrating it, Totallyi.

      That last comment was completely incorrect and unnecessary; but I respect your right to post it…

  3. “…not to mention that those atrocities which you mentioned were committed by radical **MUSLIM** extremists attempting to push an agenda.”

    1. That statement is absolutely correct…

      …but extremists who are Muslim does not mean that all Muslims are extremists, Totallyi; and many religions have extremist groups — which leads me to ask you a question:

      Do you believe that the Muslim people mentioned in the article which I wrote deserved the treatment they received?

      1. How can we know what the Muslim people in the article deserved or did not deserve? The article was biased in that it gave only one viewpoint. If the article were written with the flight attendant viewpoint only, do you think reader opinion would be different?
        You are jumping on the easy bandwagon of “stop picking on all the Muslims” when you don’t even have all the facts in this case. I understand your need to be accepted by being politically correct, but unless you have all the facts in this case, you may be wrong (on this one).
        Nowhere in the article you reference did I see the flight attendants give their side of the story. Only what was “apparent” to others who have made inferences.
        All things need to be judged on a case by case basis with all the facts to avoid this crazy lumping everything into “stop picking on all the poor innocent Muslims”.
        I too have traveled and spent considerable time among the Muslim population. I have come away with the same impression as you stated. But I do not feel my experiences have made me anything close to an expert on the subject.

        1. The purpose of this article is not to “stop picking on all the Muslims”, fathiss — nor have I ever purported to be “an expert on the subject.”

          I can also assure you that I have absolutely no need to be politically correct, which is merely an assumption on your part without basis of fact. Rather, I loathe tiptoeing around a topic for the sake of political correctness and am not afraid to say it like it is…

          …but I also believe that people in general have a basic right to be respected — unless they otherwise demonstrate that they do not deserve it.

          With regard to members of the flight crew, you are correct and I agree with you — I would like to know the sides of the story from the perspective of the flight attendants who were involved in the incidents, as I do believe that there are always at least three sides to a story…

          …which includes the actual truth; but as far as I know, none of the flight attendants involved were publicly identified.

          1. My basis of fact is the article itself. It’s as politically correct as you can get (unless you are a Trump guy).
            If the point of your article is “all people deserve respect” it was lost on me. If that was the point of writing this article it is much more trite than I thought.
            Hopefully your acting is good.

  4. “Thank you for illustrating and proving exactly the point I was making about assumptions in the article by actually demonstrating it, TOTALLYI.” – family members from Iran, Syria and Morocco. Unsurprisingly, they all tell similar things – i.e. deceit and betrayal are considered to be wits in those societies…There is no such thing as “universal values”…It’s’a liberal utopia….

    1. I am not espousing that all people are exactly equal, Totallyi — we all have our differences where we are better at some things but not as good with others — but I do believe in the concept of innocent until proven guilty.

      Have you been to Iran, Syria and Morocco and personally interviewed those family members?

  5. Do you believe that the Muslim people mentioned in the article which I wrote deserved the treatment they received? –> no they did not, but again, extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. And make no mistake – time are extraordinary as we are at war!

    Yes, I have been to Morocco and Syria (not Iran, though). I have also been to Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and North Caucuses (Chechnya, Ingushetia and Osetia) talked and interacted with numerous people (including tribesmen) and completely agree with what was said before.

    1. Extraordinary times may call for extraordinary measures, Totallyi; but I believe that the incidents about which I wrote were all overreactions — as was this incident about which I recently wrote:

      Yes, I agree with you that we are at war — but I thought that we are at war with extremists and not with people of the Muslim faith themselves; and I am not willing to definitively conclude that because the majority of the reported number of terrorist activities were committed by extremists who believed themselves to be Muslim that we are at war with Muslim people in general.

      I would hope that you would agree that you would not want to be treated unfairly simply because of the color of your skin or because of your faith. Regardless of whether atrocities were proven to be committed by people of your race or faith, I would not want to see you treated unfairly or unjustly — which is the entire point of my article.

  6. The Muslim community can thank their brethren who continue to shoot, stab and blow up everyone and everything they don’t approve of, with at least tacit approval of the majority of Muslims. They need to clean up their own house, and stop blaming everyone else for their understandable reactions. I’d rather stay alive even if it means offending someone. How would you react if 99% of terrorists were Mormons? I bet you would not be so sympathetic.

    1. If 99 percent of terrorists were Christian, Jewish, Mormon, Hindu or any other faith — or nationality or race, for that matter — I would absolutely react similarly, WR.

      1. You are probably in the minority. Christian bashing is at an all time high. I am not a Christian, I am atheist, but what I see is people in the US bending over backwards to not offend Muslims, but will happily offend Christians.

        Regardless of how you say you would react, it is hypothetical, so we will never know. What I do know is that if Muslims suddenly stopped bombing, shooting and stabbing, the fear and anxiety people naturally feel towards them would subside. Willful ignorance is not a virtue.

        1. I agree with you, WR — except I do not believe that I am bending over backwards not to offend Muslims. I just generally do not believe in automatically assuming the worst of someone just by their mere appearance; and I also do not believe in bashing Christians in general. I am simply viewing this issue from a perspective of respect for fellow human beings.

          Yes, how I would react is indeed hypothetical. I am certainly not perfect by any stretch of the imagination.

          If extremist Muslims suddenly stopped bombing, shooting and stabbing, the fear and anxiety people naturally feel towards them would indeed subside — but there is also the media coverage of those incidents, which has been intense and relentless — in many cases only further fueling the fear, stereotyping and discrimination.

          I may be wrong; but I believe that if at least some of the incidents did not receive the media coverage — similar to ignoring a streaker running across the field at a baseball game — the number of those incidents would decrease because they are a combination of calls for attention and a wanting of control and power.

  7. Agree with WR.

    Muslim community absolutely MUST denounce in strongest terms possible AND resist with all possible means the spread of that cancer (i.e. Muslim extremist fascism). Unfortunately, it has not been the case as of yet.

    Brian – I am fairly fluent in Arabic…After reading Egyptian or Lebanese mainstream news outlets (various OpEd pieces), comments from LePen or Trump are as left wing as FARC :)…

    1. We are in complete agreement here, Totallyi.

      I have to admit that Arabic is not an easy language for me to learn; but I started to become proficient with Arabic numerals when I was in countries such as Egypt, Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates — until it was time for me to return to the United States…

    1. No apologies are necessary, Totallyi — and thank you for imparting your points of view on this controversial topic.

      I mean that sincerely.

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