Tahera Ahmed, a Director of Interfaith Engagement and Associate Chaplain at Northwestern University in Illinois, says a Universal Airlines flight attendant was “clearly discriminating against me” when her request for an unopened can of Diet Coke, for hygienic reasons, was rejected. Ahmed was told by a flight atttendant, “well, I’m sorry. I just can’t give you an unopened can, so no Diet Coke for you.”
The incident escalated when a male passenger sitting next to her received an unopened can of beer and after being questioned as to why she was being discriminated against, the flight attendant said to Ahmed, “we are unauthorized to give unopened cans to people, because they may use it as a weapon on the plane.”
Ms Ahmed claims that she was reduced to tears when none of her fellow passengers stood up for her and instead was told by a male passenger on the plane, “you Moslem, you need to shut the F*** up. Yes, you know you would use it as a weapon, so shut the F*** up.”
The news quickly went viral on Twitter and Facebook, as supporters pledged to boycott United Airlines until they apologised for the behaviour of the flight crew.
The airline as of yet have not commented on their beverage policy however, Federal Aviation Administration policy forbids carrying unopened alcoholic beverages, but does not have a specific “unopened can” regulation rule on non-alcoholic beverages.
An update on Ms Ahmad’s Facebook page states that both the flight attendant and the pilot apologised with the flight attendant saying that her behaviour was “utterly rude”.
This incident comes at a time when The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) reports growing Islamophobia in the United States. Its latest report details information on the 37 US groups whose primary purpose is to promote prejudice against and hatred of Islam and Muslims. These groups received more than $119 million in funding between 2008 and 2011, according to the report.
The adverse effect of the “Islamophobia industry” in America on public opinion towards Islam and Muslims can been seen in reports published by Gallup, based on polling data, which shows that in 2011, 48% of American Muslims were found to have experienced racial or religious discrimination in the preceding year and 52% believed the West did not respect Islamic societies.
Another survey reports that “nearly one-third of the country thinks adherents of Islam should be barred from running for President” and mirrors a growing concern that anti-Muslim rhetoric is being used by Republican candidates as a means to shore up support in the run up to the US presidential election next year.
For example, Republican Senator Ted Cruz appeared at a conference with anti-Muslim hate group leader, Robert Spencer, whose work was cited approvingly by Anders Breivik in his hate manifesto. Senator Cruz was also found to have implied that “average Muslims would approve of the Charlie Hebdo murders in Paris”. In January 2015, Senator Rand Paul of the Republican Party stated that “Christians around the world were under attack by as many as 100 million Muslims”. Republican candidate Donald Trump, also went on record to state that “Christians can’t come into this country but Muslims can. At what point is it going to be too late?”
With the 2016 election campaigns underway for party nomination, early indications suggest that anti-Muslim rhetoric and the deployment of fear over national security will cast a looming shadow over American Muslims as candidates scaremonger about Islam for political gain.