Muslim Woman Removed From Plane Raises Vexing Questions
Thursday, March 17, 2011
The removal of a Muslim American woman from a Southwest Airlines flight raises questions with no clear answers.
An Islamic rights group said Southwest Airlines has apologized to a San Diego Muslim woman who was removed from a plane at Lindbergh Field on Sunday. The incident highlights the ambiguity surrounding security versus discrimination.
Irum Abbassi was escorted from a Southwest flight to San Jose after an attendant heard the woman say, "It's a go," during a cell-phone call.
Abbassi insists she actually said, "I've got to go."
Abbassi, an American citizen, was never interrogated nor searched after her removal. She was allowed to take the next flight to San Jose.
University of Southern California counter-terrorism professor Seth Stodder said discrimination laws for airline travelers are weighed against security concerns and sometimes just gut-level fear.
"It's a hard balance to draw when you're dealing with a pilot who is making a decision based on his assessment of the safety of the passengers of the plane," Stodder said. "There is no clear law. It's one of those issues that hasn't really been adequately litigated."
Edgar Hopida, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the balance has to include an understanding that Muslims are also travelers who want to get to their destinations safely.
"We're all about security because we're Americans too and we travel on the same airplanes as everyone else," he said.
Hopida said there will be many more people removed from airlines in the future if flight attendants and other crew members don't get that message.