I’m sure we’ve all heard the horror stories about Spirit Airlines, which are primarily known for their cheap but often unpleasant flights. In this case, though, the story isn’t about the inconveniences of flying with Spirit; it deals with the issues of flying while Muslim.
While the phrase is often associated with security and service staff mistreating Muslim travelers, a Muslim woman was harassed and mistreated by another traveler in this incident. After intervening when a white woman harassed another passenger of color, a “visibly Muslim woman” wearing an Islamic headscarf was harassed by the same woman. Identified as Aicha Toure, the hijab-wearing woman was called a “Muslim terrorist” for asking the white woman to stop cursing and intimidating an elderly South Asian woman, the Detroit Free Press reported.
“During the flight, the white woman reportedly initiated altercations with minority crew members on the flight, and upon landing in Detroit began harassing and intimidating an older woman who looked to be of South Asian descent,” the Michigan Chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said in a news release.
“When the white woman realized Toure and others were recording her Islamophobic comments, she allegedly struck Toure with her fist before crew members of Spirit were able to intervene,” the release read. CAIR representatives noted that the woman was belligerent.
Members of the flight crew eventually stepped in, and Wayne County Airport Authority confirmed it had responded to an assault on the plane and took a suspect into custody.
“After a preliminary investigation, it appears there was a misunderstanding between two women. A third woman intervened in an effort to help and was assaulted,” the local police agency said.
“Airport police took the suspect into custody and cited her for assault and disorderly conduct.”
The woman was arrested on Sept. 11 following a flight from Atlanta. Advocates with CAIR want the woman charged under Michigan’s ethnic intimidation law for allegedly assaulting the Muslim woman on board to Detroit. The law carries a felony with a max sentence of two years and a fine of $5,000.
“We call for the suspect who allegedly spewed anti-Muslim rhetoric during the assault to be charged to the full extent of the law,” CAIR-MI Executive Director Dawud Walid said in a statement. “Swift arrests along with strong prosecutions must be instituted to deter future acts of anti-Muslim hate crimes.”
Walid noted the incident was clearly a hate crime because the assault was motivated by Toure’s “identity as a visibly Muslim woman.” While a video of the incident was not posted, the organization posted a screenshot of the woman.
“The alleged actions of this individual are reprehensible, and she clearly targeted religious and racial minorities for her violent words and actions,” Amy Doukoure, a CAIR-MI attorney, said.
“Michigan’s Ethnic intimidation law was created to protect people like Ms. Toure from being assaulted after being called a Muslim terrorist while traveling on the 20th anniversary of 9/11.”
In response to the incident, Spirit issued a statement confirming it did not tolerate the behavior and would be banning the woman from further flights.
“At Spirit, we want each of our Guests to feel safe, welcome, and respected. We do not tolerate discrimination or harassment of any kind. A passenger on one of our flights arriving in Detroit chose to use appalling language toward one of our Guests. That kind of language has no place on our planes—or anywhere else—and she is no longer welcome on any of our flights. We thank our crew for taking control of the situation until law enforcement arrived, and we thank the Wayne County Airport Police for removing her.”
On the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, the incident is one of many that Muslim Americans, especially in Michigan, have reported in the past two decades.
Additionally, it is not the first incident in which CAIR has been involved with Spirit Airlines.
According to the Baltimore Sun, in 2015, CAIR asked Spirit Airlines to apologize to four passengers who were removed from a flight out of the Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. While the airline denied race and religion played a role, the passengers were removed after a witness reported “suspicious activity” to the flight crew—despite having no concrete evidence or explanation for what was deemed “suspicious.”
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