On Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015, CAIR-Chicago held a press conference to address religious discrimination and profiling that targeted a respected Muslim chaplain during a United Airlines flight.
On May 29th, United Airlines allegedly refused to give an unopened can of soda to Tahera Ahmad, an Associate Chaplin at Northwestern University. Ahmad documented the incident on her Facebook page, and wrote she asked a flight attendant for an unopened can of soda for sanitary reasons. The flight attendant refused and said she was “unauthorized” to give it to Ahmad. A passenger sitting next to her received an unopened can, and when Ahmad questioned why she was unable to get an unopened can she was told it could be used as a “weapon.” Ahmad was then subjected to hateful remarks by a nearby passenger and did not receive any support from either the flight attendant or fellow passengers.
“This is about acknowledging the act of discrimination not trivializing it as a regular mundane conversation about a Diet Coke can, but about the hurt it caused a person,” said Ahmed Rehab, executive director, CAIR-Chicago. READ ARTICLE >> WATCH VIDEO >>
WGN was one of many news networks that attended Wednesday’s press conference at CAIR-Chicago. WATCH VIDEO >>
Fox also broadcasted coverage of Wednesday’s event. WATCH VIDEO >>
Maudlyne Ihejirika covered the story for the Chicago Sun-Times. READ ARTICLE >>
Christine Mai-Duc wrote the story for the LA Times. READ ARTICLE >>
Outlets across the country published AP coverage from Carla K. Johnson and used photos from Christian K. Lee. READ ARTICLE >>
Nina Golgowski has the story for the New York Daily News. READ ARTICLE >>
At Wednesday’s press conference CAIR-Chicago released the following statement:
By definition, discrimination is not so much about a given (airlines) policy, but the unequal application of the stated policy. And that is precisely what occurred here. Tahera Ahmad was denied an un-open can of soda whereas the gentleman next to her was permitted an un-opened can of beer. When Ms. Ahmad objected to the double standard, she was subsequently told by the flight attendant that it was because “you would use it as a weapon.”
Moreover, there is no such policy on the record as reported by The Guardian:
“There is no policy difference in serving alcoholic or non-alcoholic canned beverages to passengers,” says Bob Birge, director of corporate communications at Republic Airways Holdings, which owns Shuttle America, “no differentiation in opened or unopened cans, and no policy speculating what may or may not be done with a container.”
Secondly, the shocking and unnecessary mistreatment of Ms. Ahmad by the flight attendant opened the door to a hostile environment against Ms. Ahmad in which a passenger chimed in “You Muslim, you need to shut the fuck up, you know you would use it as a weapon.” The flight attendant failed to challenge the overt bigotry that her actions had unleashed and did not address the man or come to Ms. Ahmad’s aid, leaving Ms. Ahmad feeling even more vulnerable and severely distraught.
To date, the airline companies have failed to acknowledge the blatant and egregious nature of the treatment Ms. Ahmad was subjected to and have yet to offer an adequate public apology or to show an understanding of why what happened is a problem. They have thus far shirked their responsibility to resolve the issue and reassure future passengers that such discrimination cannot be tolerated.
Like Northwestern, Ms. Ahmad’s employer, and others, CAIR frequently uses United Airlines and is dismayed by this incident that challenges confidence in its customer service and management values.
CAIR-Chicago demands that United/Shuttle Airlines 1) issue a formal public apology in which they 2) acknowledge the egregious nature of discrimination, intimidation and the creation of a hostile atmosphere against a customer for no other reason than their appearance, in this case their religious appearance. CAIR-Chicago demands that the airlines do everything necessary – including but not limited to 3) sensitivity training of its staff – to ensure that this does not happen again and if it does to not be tolerated.
All options are on the table, including legal options. But CAIR-Chicago’s preference is that the situation be handled with utmost care and understanding on the part of the Airlines. Our only goal is to ensure passengers are treated with the respect, care, and dignity every human deserves and if this can be achieved through rational discussion that would be our preference.
This is not about one Tahera Ahmad or a can of soda, this is about challenging the notion “that it is OK to discriminate on a whim against a segment of our society and that they are expected to shut up and take it lying down.” We assure current and future perpetrators that this will not be the case. No one should have to accept being treated as a second-rate human and be forced to suffer silently and be expected to stay quiet.