We hear our fair share of Islamophobic travel stories here in the US, like of a guy who was handcuffed at gunpoint at a hotel in Ohio for looking suspicious, or of two guys who were removed from a Southwest flight for speaking Arabic, or of four passengers who were removed from a Spirit flight because one passenger was watching a “suspicious video.”
Well, unsurprisingly being Islamophobic while traveling isn’t exclusively an American issue, as a story has emerged of three British siblings being removed from an Easyjet flight from London Stansted to Naples last week after being accused of having ISIL affiliations. There’s an Al Jazeera story about the incident, though perhaps it’s much more interesting to read what one of the siblings wrote on Facebook about the incident. Here’s her version of what happened:
So the story begins at 5am on a typically chilly, windy summer’s morning in London. My younger brother, sister and I are boarding a plane on our way to a much needed weekend getaway in Europe. We’ve passed the ‘random checks’ at the airport, got through the ‘seat mixup’ at the Gate, and have just eased ourselves into our seats, when a stone-faced air hostess approaches us, and with one gnarly finger, beckons for us to follow her.
My brother, thinking she means for only me to follow, and assuming it’s in regards to our seating, immediately asks if he may go, to which she sharply responds, ‘you’re all to follow me’. With no further information, leaving us absolutely clueless as to what’s going on, we get up awkwardly, follow her down the cabin towards the cockpit, and then bizarrely make a sharp left at the exit where she leads us off the aircraft onto the steel pull down steps.
‘There,’ she tells us, pointing down at the Tarmac, where gun-wielding policemen and men in suits are standing, awaiting our descent. ‘They want to see you’.
Honestly at this point, my mind freezes, and Kim K crying face springs to action. ‘What the hell is going on?’ We begin to descend the steps, and as we do, are met with the first question, initiating this bizarre and incredulous episode. ‘Do you speak English?’ Mind laughter. ‘We only speak English, officer. We were born and bred in England.’
‘Right, we have to speak with you. A passenger on your flight has claimed that you three are members of ISIS.’ 5am timing and running on 2 hours sleep is definitely not helping the surreal nature of this episode, and we all jaw drop in disbelief in response to the statement. ‘What?!’ I exclaim. ‘They saw you with Arabic or praise be to Allah on your phone,’ the officer responds immediately.
‘Firstly, that’s part of the Qur’an, our religious text, so even if we did have it, it wouldn’t signify that we’re a part of ISIS at all, but regardless, we’ve had nothing on our phone remotely Arabic related this morning. Also, we’re Indian by ethnicity, so we wouldn’t even have Arabic in conversation with anyone.’
The last portion is met with shock, followed by even more disbelief when my brother explains how we ourselves have volunteered in orphanages of victims of ISIS, during pilgrimages abroad. It is visibly clear that the officers and agents immediately relax at the sound of this, but nevertheless proceed with questioning us on our jobs, parents’ names, home addresses, workplaces, and all our personal details as well as any and all social media we have (add me on insta babes).
To make matters even more delightful, the MI5 agent, yes I can’t believe I’m writing these words and they’re not part of my childhood Anthony Horowitz book series, asks me to talk him through my passport, including all my pilgrimages; hajj, and, unfortunately for me, also Iraq, and informs me he has already done checks as soon as the allegation was made and that we all came through clear.
‘Why are you taking all these details from me then?’ ‘Oh be sure that I’ll be doing more research on you, and if anything comes back, I’ll be here waiting on your return,’ he warns with a serious tone, which to be honest I can’t take seriously at all, from a man who is jotting down my information in a 1970s Columbo-style notebook whilst unbeknownst to him, little leaves of said notebook are flying off into the wind. Don’t be fooled, there’s no hi-tech iPad sending info direct to HQ. Sad times guys, cuts are affecting us all#saveourMI5.
This questioning lasts about an hour, and definitely includes absolute babble from me about how I work for the NHS, how I couldn’t possibly be more British and hardly even affiliate with any other culture let alone TERRORIST ORGANISATION?!
The MI5 and police officers apologise for the ‘inconvenience’ (see: embarrassment, humiliation, total disregard for any thought of racial profiling on the part of the accusatory party) and assure us that, at a time where we are all ‘on edge’, they have to respond to threats such as these, and that the accusers were very ‘frightened’.
Oy! There are two sides to every story, so I really do hope there’s more to this. However, given all the other stories we’ve heard, I suspect there may not be.
On one hand I understand the need for the police to verify any reports. At the same time, there has to be a better system than what’s in place now, where baseless accusations can be thrown at people, and cause horrible humiliation. There has to be some accountability for the person making false accusations based on their own racism rather than reason.
(Tip of the hat to @pir8z40)