Yesterday, what looks like an incident of racism came to light when YouTuber Adam Saleh and his friend Slim Albaher were allegedly kicked out of a Delta Airlines flight in London, which was on going to New York – for speaking in Arabic. Saleh recorded a video from the plane, of them getting kicked out, which has since gone viral, being retweeted over 700K times. The incident was also reported by Al Jazeera and Independent.
— Adam Saleh (@omgAdamSaleh) December 21, 2016
Saleh, who is a social media star and has over 2 million followers on YouTube, said he called his mom before the flight, spoke to her in Arabic and then his friend Slim spoke to him in Arabic too. And as per his vlog, a fellow passenger felt “uncomfortable” and asked Slim to speak in English. This is what happened, in Adam’s own words:
“What happened today seriously breaks my heart. I speak to my mom for 10-20 seconds and I start speaking to Slim in Arabic. There was this lady 4 seats in front of us. She looks back and she says, “Can you please speak English? I feel really uncomfortable.” Me and Slim were just shocked. He was just paralysed. I spoke to her and I said, ‘Haven’t you heard anyone speak in a different language? ‘Then a man who was with the lady, he got up and said, ‘Chuck them off the effin’ plane!’ That caused a whole chain reaction and 20 of them got up and said, ‘Get out, get out!'”
In the video that Adam posted, it’s disturbing to see other passengers saying “Bye!” to them as they were being told to get out of the plane. Since, Delta has issued a statement saying that, “Based on the information collected to date, it appears the customers who were removed sought to disrupt the cabin with provocative behaviour, including shouting. This type of conduct is not welcome on any Delta flight.”
But it has been reported, and Adam and Slim were told this as well, that Delta has a history with racist profiling. In the past, they couldn’t believe that a black woman passenger was a doctor, a Muslim family was forced to move seats after being verbally attacked on the plane and they demanded an explanation for a breast pump that a Sikh woman was using, who was then forced to remove it and show it to everyone.
Many have also said that since Adam and Slim are known for prank videos on YouTube, this seems like a prank as well. For instance, U.S. Uncut ran a piece stating, “He definitely has a history of pulling pranks on airplanes.” USA Today stated, “Saleh is known for intentionally provoking people to intentionally show their discomfort around Muslims and Arabic-speaking people to his millions of viewers.” And to this, Slim and Saleh say, “They’ll keep using the fact that we’re pranksters, against us. They’ll try and use our past against us. But you can see in the video, it’s as real as it gets.”
Adam asks in his vlog what would have happened in such a case, with an elderly person who couldn’t speak English or didn’t have a camera to record a video and share it on social media. It is indeed true that discriminatory episodes on airplanes and airports are not uncommon. In 2007, Metallica frontman James Hetfield was held by Luton airport officials in London because of his ‘Taliban-like beard’. In September 2015, trans artist Shadi Petosky was held at Orlando International Airport, when security labelled her body as ‘an anomaly’, subjecting her to a humiliating body check. Disability rights activist Javed Abidi and paralympian Suvarna Raj were told to get up from their wheelchairs during a security check in Delhi, or else miss their flight.
This incident shows that Islamophobia and other forms of discrimination are global, and we don’t think twice before stereotyping anyone who looks ‘different’ (even someone who sports a beard!) and speaks in a different language. In a world where right-wing forces are rising, there has never been a more urgent need for solidarity and standing up for what’s right.