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Ryanair CEO Comments on Muslim Men Reveal a Real Islamophobia Problem in Our Society

Ryanair CEO Comments on Muslim Men Reveal a Real Islamophobia Problem in Our Society

The CEO of Ryanair, Michael O’Leary, remarked last week that Muslim men on their travels should be profiled at airports since they supposedly represent the main “threat” to security for airlines. In his words, he said: “You can’t say stuff because it’s racism, but it will generally be males of a Muslim persuasion. Thirty years ago it was the Irish. If that is where the threat is coming, then deal with the threat.” 

This is not the first time that O’Leary and his company have made offensive comments about a specific demographic of air travellers. Back in 2009, Ryanair argued for a so-called “fat-tax” on passengers who “weighed significantly above average.” 

Casual racist remarks are often made privately within families, among friends or at most, publicly on the streets or in the workplace. Such behaviour is indeed harmful at all levels of society. But when they are voiced in the mainstream media by prominent figures, it only empowers those who hold racist views, and emboldens them to express their bigotry in sometimes violent ways, as was seen last week in Germany and in various other cases of a similar nature.

We have seen air travellers who look ‘Muslim’ be subject to increased security checks since 9/11. I have myself experienced this first-hand. I have been told to take off the pins from my headscarf on several occasions, while others who may be wearing a brooch and do not appear ‘typically Muslim’ are not checked for such trivial reasons.

Such experiences are highly common among those with Middle Eastern or South Asian appearances and with Muslim-sounding names. In 2016, a Muslim couple were kicked off a Delta flight from Paris to Cincinnati simply because a crew member complained that she felt ‘uncomfortable.’ These incidents are not only limited to people’s appearances, but to other symbols that turn on alarm bells. The Yemeni YouTube star Adam Saleh also reported being removed off a Delta flight for simply speaking Arabic. In another incident, Hasan Dewachi, an Iraqi scientist, received a text message in Arabic on a plane, it prompted a women across the isle to leave her seat as she believed he was a terrorist.

These cases demonstrate the essence and manifestations of Islamophobia that are very much present in real life. There is a deep-seated prejudice in our society against people who appear visibly ‘brown’, based on the stereotypes of what a typical Muslim looks like.  

These stories remind me of the institutionalised discrimination against Afro-Americans in some American states in the late 19th and early 20th century, where there were laws in place which enforced racial segregation on public transport. The laws required Afro-Americans to sit separate from white people, due to the widespread prejudice and racial hierarchy that was in place in American society. 

Although the situation in the UK and other Western countries regarding race relations is far from the picture that we have in mind when we think of racial segregation in the US seventy years ago, there is no telling that if we allow such forms of racism to dominate the public sphere, that we might not unknowingly slide back to darker times. The propagation of racist remarks and negative stereotypes in public are the first step towards the implementation of discriminatory policies by governments. 

The comments made by O’Leary are unacceptable and deserve condemnation from all sectors of our society. His comments and the like are fuelling the fire of hatred towards Muslims. If such individuals are given free rein to say what they want in the public space without reflecting on the consequences, this poses a real threat to the social harmony that exists between most communities in our country.

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