The Charlotte Observer newspaper recorded a Delta (ASAConnection) incident of probable discrimination against two Muslim clerics who, ironically enough, were travelling to Charlotte for a meeting that will deal with Islamophobia.
Reportedly the fearful chief pilot and a passenger pressed for the plane to go back to the gate after it was taxing. The pilot reportedly refused to fly with them even though they had been fully checked by the TSA screeners:
Imams Masudur Rahman, an adjunct professor of Arabic at the University of Memphis, and Mohamed Zaghloul said they and their bags were checked twice by security agents at the Memphis airport before boarding the 8:40 a.m. Delta Connection Flight 5452 to Charlotte.
The conference on Islamophobia is timely given the outbursts of anti-Islamic rhetoric since the U.S. killing of Bin Laden last Sunday:
Organizers said more than 150 religious leaders from across the country will meet through Sunday to discuss prejudice and fear of Islam or Muslims.
Jibril Hough of the Islamic Center of Charlotte put it succinctly: “These guys definitely have something to talk about.” And the Memphis professor also noted that this discrimination:
reminded him of Rosa Parks and her famous 1955 stand against riding in the back of an Alabama bus because she was black. “That racism, I felt today in the plane … should not happen to anyone.”
The media are reporting that they were detained because of their “Muslim dress,” and I would guess too because of their beards. That is, certain physical characteristics. Clearly, most native-born European Americans do not see them as “white,” as one survey we did made quite clear. (Only 7 percent of self-defined white college students saw Middle Eastern Americans as clearly “white.” See Chapter 12 here)
As I have described elsewhere, Middle Eastern Americans have been part of the U.S. mix since about 1900. And European American legal-political authorities have grappled with defining them racially. Between 1909 and 1944, at least eight court decisions by European American judges legally assessed whether certain Arab Americans were “white.” Four ruled that they were, and four ruled that by “common knowledge” or “legal precedent” they should not be considered white. Note too that the many white supremacist writers of the early twentieth century saw them as “parasites” and “Mongolian plasma” that would “contaminate the pure American stock.” Middle Eastern immigrants (both Christians and Muslims) were then cataloged with southern and eastern Europeans as “inferior races” by European American intellectuals. They suffered extreme stereotypes that many European Americans drew from the already entrenched white racist frame, including old derogatory terms such as “blackie,” “camel jockey,” and “sheeny.” Some of this racialized stereotyping and framing clearly persists on a large scale today, renewed by events of the last few decades.
In addition to physical features such as skin color and facial features, many European Americans, in the early period and today, have used distinguishing markers that are cultural in character, such as clothing (hijab, turban), language accents, and religious customs. In the too common racial-ethnic framing of Muslim and Christian Middle Eastern Americans today, certain cultural markers are added to skin color marking to target them for racialized stereotyping and discrimination.