On December 21, 2016, YouTube personality Adam Saleh and his friend Slim Albaher were told by the captain to disembark from their Delta Air Lines flight in London for speaking Arabic.
Saleh, 23, was reportedly speaking to his 66-year-old mother on the phone in her native Arabic, a ritual he does before every flight, when an American woman in front of Saleh turned around and told him he ought to speak English. Saleh then told her he could speak whatever language he wanted, and the woman’s husband allegedly began to curse and scream at Saleh to get off the plane. About twenty white passengers then expressed their discomfort with the men speaking Arabic and requested that the two men be removed from the flight. Saleh, in a video he filmed during the incident on the plane, said to the camera, “We’re getting kicked out because we spoke a different language. This is 2016… I cannot believe my eyes.” The camera then showed several passengers mockingly waving “bye” to Saleh and Albaher as they resisted being escorted off the plane. Other passengers, however, expressed their disapproval of the two men being removed by saying that it is their right to speak whatever language they want. Saleh posted the video on Twitter where it went viral, amassing over 830,000 retweets in 24 hours.
As #BoycottDelta began trending on Twitter, Delta defended its position by releasing a statement saying, “It appears the customers who were removed sought to disrupt the cabin with provocative behavior, including shouting… What is paramount to Delta is the safety and comfort of our passengers and employees. It is clear these individuals sought to violate that priority.”
Many people are skeptical of the validity of Saleh’s account of the incident due to his past pranking tendencies in his YouTube videos. There are different accounts of passengers refuting Saleh’s claims, deeming them false. However, I am lead to believe that Saleh and his friend are being truthful based on the stunned reactions of the passengers in the video who did not seem to deny what Saleh was saying. It is also important to note that Delta has a history of discriminating against Muslim passengers.
Regardless of who is right and who is wrong, this event raises an important point of discussion. Unfortunately, we live in a world full of fear and uncertainty. With the recent terror attack in Berlin, Germany at a Christmas parade, tensions are understandably high. But to humiliate two men in front of an entire plane and inconvenience them simply for speaking in a different language is unacceptable and wrong. If speaking a different language is suddenly reasonable grounds for kicking somebody off a plane, what will it be next? Will we start questioning the intentions of others based on their clothes or the length of their beard? Racial profiling and making others feel forced to assimilate to a commonly accepted culture is what pushes our society backwards. People begin to feel like they must act a certain way in public in order to not gather suspicion from others, and it completely alters the way they see themselves and the world around them; this does not help us move forward as a civilization. In order to move on, we must be more open about our fears and admit our prejudices to each other. When we learn to openly communicate with each other, we will find that there is more that unites us than divides us.