Whether it is taking off your shoes or removing your belt and walking into a scanner, it is clear that airports in the United States take security very seriously. Luggage, for instance, must be below a certain weight and carrying liquids have special regulations involved.  Here, I try to break down the rationale behind airport security. Based on a few personal incidents, here are a few guidelines that airports don’t tell you for ensuring safety:

Speaking Arabic

Whatever you do, don’t speak Arabic. Yeah, yeah it’s the fifth most common language in the world, but it’s only spoken by about 295,000,000 people. Maher Khalil and Anas Ayyad, who were born in Palestine, were asked to leave the plane because a passenger felt uneasy listening to them speak in Arabic. Ultimately, after questioning from the police, they were able to enter back onto the plane, but they knew not to speak Arabic again. Pick a neutral one like English, or British English. Actually don’t do British English – there is a reason why this is America and not the Thirteen Colonies. American English will not give you trouble, unless you look suspicious.

Saying God-Willing

Don’t be religious on the plane. Really, the plane is not the best place to invoke God. If you are caught saying God-willing, you might be ousted from the plane.The phrase is cited under the belief that everything happens under the permission of God. If it does not sound threatening, why was Khairuldeen Makhzoomi forcibly removed from his plane? He was a Muslim and he recited Insh’Allah, the phrase in Arabic for God-willing. It is common for Arab and non-Arab Muslims alike to recite the phrase. Khairuldeen was speaking to his uncle in Iraq on how excited he was to speak to former UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon. A Berkeley graduate from Iraq? Sounds suspicious to me. How about this? As long as you mention anyone else i.e, Jesus, Buddha, Jehova, Yahweh, etc., you’re good. I can’t promise you anything if you’re Muslim though, sorry.

Changing Seats

Don’t like your seat? Suck it up and accept  it. It doesn’t matter if Southwest Airlines allows you to pick your seats. Asking someone else to switch with you is a breach of security. Why else would Hakime Abdulle be forced to leave the plane after asking someone to switch seats? The attendant did not feel comfortable with Hakime’s actions. Maybe Hakime switched her seat for clear malevolent intentions, which may include finding a more comfortable place or aesthetically pleasing, such as a window seat. But other people have done this  without running into trouble. Hakime Abdulle is Somali and she was wearing a headscarf. Her neighbor gladly offered her a seat, but the attendant asked Hakime to leave anyway. The attendant’s actions were clearly rational, so  here’s a revised tip – Change your seats, just don’t be Muslim while you do it.

Asking for Another Drink

Tahera Ahmad, a chaplain for Northwestern University, did the unthinkable. After a flight attendant gave her soda, Tahera asked for an unopened can. The attendant rejected her request over concerns of unopened cans acting as weapons. How dare Tahera make such a request. The attendant worked so hard to serve her, Tahera should have been more thankful for getting a soda in the first place. So what if it is unhygienic? The flight attendant was just doing her job. Besides, the policy stood for everyone else in the plane – except it didn’t. Her neighbor asked for an unopened can of beer and the flight attendant honored his request. The double standards were explicit and Ahmad complained.  But the attendant was not referring to the idea of turning unopened cans into weapons. On the contrary, the attendant referred to how Tahera would turn the unopened can into a weapon. I suppose that asking for beverages is fine, unless you are clearly Muslim. Then it is better to stay quiet and not question anything. After all, silently witnessing an injustice must have been the American thing to do.

Reading a Book

If you’re going to be stuck on a plane for a few hours, you better find a good way to kill time because reading a book is not an option. It could raise some serious suspicion or suggest ulterior motives. Faiza Shaheen, a psychotherapist from the United Kingdom, was detained after reading a book on Syrian culture. The award-winning book included Syrian essays, short stories, poems, songs, drawings and photos from different artists and poets. An interest in another culture? How dare she! Syria itself is bad enough, now people are reading up on their culture. Next thing you know people are going to start dancing and eating falafels with hummus. Faiza’s book raised  reasonable suspicion. Next time you read on a plane, better pick a book on some other culture like Italian or French. Perhaps we should start censoring certain books. After all, totalitarian regimes have banned books contrary to their beliefs. . It kept their countries  safe, so we should keep our planes safe. Don’t be visibly Muslim or South Asian. In case you are, kill time by doing something else like staring at the window or at the ceiling.  

Remarking on Safety

Kashif Irfan, an anesthesiologist, and his family, had the audacity to question plane safety. His brother Atif, a lawyer, remarked how the jets were adjacent to the window. The entire family was of South Asian descent and dressed in stereotypical Islamic garb i.e, men had beards, women wore headscarves, etc. Alarmed by Atif’s comment, the passengers reported the family, prompting an entire screening of everyone on board. The FBI later characterized the incident as a misunderstanding, but the family should have known better. The plane is only travelling about 540 MPH, which is not very fast. It is not as high off the ground as you may think –merely 35,000 FT in the air.  Unless you look South Asian or Muslim, you can ponder safety or make these comments without retribution. Ironically,  the Irfan family remarked about safety, and for safety reasons, the crew forcibly removed everyone.


If reading books on culture were not convincing for censorship, try doing math while on a plane. Guido Menzio, an Italian Ivy League economist, was interrogated for suspicious formulas that he scribbled down. It was actually a differential equation, but aren’t you shocked that it wasn’t a Muslim or South Asian? I suppose no one is safe. Math teachers have emphasized that the best way to learn a mathematical technique is to practice. Practice it everywhere except in a plane. Ironically, the velocity of the moving plane can actually be expressed as a differential equation. Guido may have been Italian, but passengers were alarmed because he looked Middle Eastern. Another passenger approached him for his autograph. This was not to congratulate him on completing his interrogation, but rather his appearance closely resembling Sean Lennon, John Lennon’s son. Truth be told, everything is done in order to guarantee safety. So just to be safe, don’t do math on a plane, even if you look like a celebrity.


Now that we have established what you should not do on a plane, it is clear that airport security is not meant to be taken lightly. Let’s take a look and see what the Transportation Security Administration(TSA) allows on aircrafts for safety through its rigorous screening process:

Ice Skates

Kitchen knives and other sharp objects may not pass, but if you are an avid ice skater you are in the clear. Despite how sharp the blade on the skates may be, the TSA is willing to ignore it by allowing you to use it as a carry-on. Tom Hanks creatively used ice skates in order to pop out an infected tooth in Castaway,  but that was fiction and it’s too painful to try in real life. Don’t mind how ice skates make marks on ice by literally cutting through them. Afterall, ice skating is a graceful sport; ice skates cannot possibly be used as a violent weapon.

Ice Axe

In case your ice trip looks under packed, and ice skates are not enough, the ice axe is considered an acceptable carry-on. Say goodbye to getting ripped off at a local mountain resort – the TSA seems to be very understanding of trekking gear in arctic climates. We also have to think of likely cases  such as: what if the ice machine fails to break down ice into cute little cubes? What if the plane freezes in mid-air? The ice axe is the best bet for these cases.   

Meat Cleaver

What kind of vacation does not involve chopping up some meat? In case the hotel you are staying at fails to provide tools for cutting meat, you can carry your own meat cleaver. Whether you are a butcher or not, I am sure every chef has sentimental value in their meat cleavers. Besides, meat cleavers are not dangerous. They are obviously used to only chop off meat, right?

Hammers and Saws

Bob the Builder never goes anywhere without his toolbox, and neither can any builder or mechanic. The TSA understands your concern. In fact, it would be silly to travel somewhere else and buy these very expensive tools when you can just bring your own. These tools are used to build things, you can’t possibly do anything else with them.

Throwing Stars and Swords

The TSA fully acknowledges your inner ninja. Your throwing stars could stop  a potential bandit. Or you could be a samurai.  Particularly, Samurai Jack, who is a ponytail-wearing, Japanese-garb suited samurai fighting against evil, using his badass katana in wooden geta sandals. Your sword will be able to counter any aggression on the plane. I’m sure the flight attendants could also use a hand in chopping onions, garlic, carrots and other vegetables. A ninja or a samurai, the TSA can accommodate both.


If you have not guessed it already, the rationale of airport security is beyond comprehension. How ridiculous must it be to hesitate to speak Arabic? Society demonizes the language without realizing at least twenty five countries speak Arabic. . Maybe, instead of conforming to bigoted concerns, we should instead stop vilifying the language. What’s even more sad? The incidents not only took place on American soil, but many of these victims were also American citizens. Americans come in all sorts of different ethnicities, including Arabs. If the victims were not U.S citizens, Arabs are still human beings. It’s not in the name of security – it’s racial profiling. How silly must it be to suspect praising God in a language foreign to others? Haven’t people failed to realize Insh’Allah or God-willing in Arabic has been employed for centuries? Why have people treated it with contempt, despite it being the literal equivalent of how Christians say, if the Lord wills it? The double standards in airplane security are built off irrational fear and bigotry. One’s actions are defined by their identity instead of context.


If you are not a Muslim or don’t look like one, be thankful that you do not have to be self-conscious of your actions on a plane or at the airport. The injustice may not be directed towards you, but you should feel obligated to speak out against injustice inflicted upon others. It is clear authorities and society in general should view one’s actions objectively as a human being instead of profiling others driven by fear and paranoia.

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