Liberal Grace

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Asians on a Plane

A clear case of anti-Muslim profiling? A cultural misunderstanding? Probably both.

'Security risk' Indians return to Mumbai
Living overseas, I'm familiar with cultural misunderstandings. I'm especially familiar with South Asians -- like the twelve guys who were arrested on the Northwest flight from Amsterdam to Indian.

I have to wonder if this wasn't all a big cultural misunderstanding. In our local media this incident is being portrayed as anti-Muslim profiling. Maybe. I have my doubts.

I have flown many times with thousands of Indians and other South Asians and witnessing some amazing misbehavior on airplanes.

Most South Asians, of course, behave just like you probably do.

But there are often a couple of guys acting erratically or even being belligerent. I've seen guys absolutely refuse to stop talking on the cell phone or start digging around in the overhead bins during take-off. I've even watched a row mate struggle to open her window. Worse than that, I've seen someone starting pulling on the emergency door handle in search for a bathroom.

(Don't get me started on the odd -- even bizarre -- carry-on items I've seen).

It isn't just inexperience with flying. It's also a cultural attitute towards rules.

I've watched a middle-age man unbuckle himself and start walking around the cabin, in defiance of repeated warnings -- personally and over the intercom -- during the last moments of the final approach. The long-suffering flight attendant unbuckled herself and came flying down the aisle, screaming at him to sit the hell down! I assumed he just wanted to be the first off the plane.

Westerners unfamiliar with South Asian culture could get very alarmed when someone flagrantly disobeys the minimal and clearly-explained rules of flying.

If twelve people are acting belligerently towards the rules, I could imagine a plane getting turned around and escorted home with jet fighters.

The men aroused suspicion of the cabin crew because some of them had not fastened their seat-belts and were passing a cellular phone around while speaking excitedly to one another shortly after take-off.

Racial Profiling Pulls Indians From Plane

But, maybe this incident was clear case of Muslim profiling.

Probably it was a mix. The fact that they were all identifiable Muslims surely increased the alarm among the flight crew.

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