‘Islam Is About Forgiveness As Well': UC Berkeley Student, Iraqi Refugee, Talks About Getting Kicked Off Southwest Airlines Flight For Speaking Arabic

The Berkeley student is distressed by Islamophobia, but stresses forgiveness

It would be understandable if Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, a senior at the University of California, Berkeley were angry or even sued Southwest after being kicked off a flight to Oakland because a passenger heard him speaking Arabic.

But the researcher at Cal’s Department of Near Eastern Studies doesn’t seem bitter at all.  

In fact, he’s been thanking those who have been covering his story, including his Facebook post over the NBC Bay Area story that ran Friday, saying: “Islam is about forgiveness as well.”

Makhzoomi was set to fly from Los Angeles to Oakland, return to campus and attend classes on April 6, as first reported by the campus newspaper, the Daily Californian. However, he was booted from Southwest Airlines Flight 4260, after a passenger heard him speaking in Arabic and thought he was saying the word for "martyr," he said.

He was speaking to his uncle, telling him about his experience as a guest in Los Angeles at the World Affairs Council with Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon. Makhzoomi told The Associated Press he made a passing reference to Islamic State recounting the event.

"At the end of my call I said, 'Inshallah, I will call you,' and he was like, 'Call me when you get home.' I was like 'Inshallah, Inshallah,' which means God willing," Makhzoomi said.

Moments later, he was removed from the plane, detained and searched by security officers, and questioned by the FBI. He was also denied service by Southwest Airlines.

"I was like, at least inside my brain, I was reciting, 'Innocent until proven guilty,' because I was overwhelmed at what happened," Makhzoomi told NBC Bay Area last week.

Southwest Airlines said another Arabic-speaking passenger heard Makhzoomi mention a terrorist organization during his conversation and became alarmed.

Southwest's statement about the incident was not quite what Makzzoomi was hoping for, he said. The statement said in part: "We wouldn't remove passengers from flights without a collaborative decision rooted in established procedures. Southwest neither condones nor tolerates discrimination of any kind."

FBI agents let him go after determining he did not pose a risk, but Makhzoomi ended up getting home eight hours later on Delta, and pretty shaken up.

A spokesman for Los Angeles International Airport police says officers have concluded Makhzoomi broke no laws by speaking in Arabic on his cellphone on the plane, and consider the case closed.

Officer Rob Pedregon of the Los Angeles World Airports Police Department said Monday that officers from his department and agents from the FBI interviewed Makhzoomi after he was taken off the April 6 flight.

"The statement he made was not illegal, there was nothing that involved threats or anything like that so he was released," Pedregon said.

The 26-year-old fled Iraq in 2002 after his father, an Iraqi diplomat, was killed under Saddam Hussein's regime. Makhzoomi's family lived in Jordan until the United States granted them asylum.

He underscored that his experience on the flight is a symptom of a larger problem.

"This is what Islamophobia has gotten this country into," Makhzoomi said. "Anyone can report anyone."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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