A COLLEGE student was recently escorted off a Southwest Airlines flight after a fellow passenger said she heard him making comments in Arabic that were “potentially threatening.”
In a statement, Southwest Airlines said that the student, Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, who came to the United States as a refugee from Iraq, was removed for the “content of the passenger’s conversation” and not his language choice.
Mr. Makhzoomi wasn’t ranting about death, terror, Trump or artisanal mayonnaise — any of which might warrant such a drastic response.
No. What he said on the phone right before the passenger expressed concern, he later explained, was the Arabic phrase “inshallah,” which translates as “God willing.”
This trisyllabic, Semitic weapon of mass destruction is a hallmark of the Arabic vernacular. Some anti-Muslim bigots in recent years have argued Arabic is “the spearhead of an ideological project that is deeply opposed to the United States,” one that seeks to replace the United States Constitution with a halal cart menu. Most sane individuals, however, believe Arabic is simply a language that millions of people around the world speak.
But now Arabic has become a nightmare that terrorizes passengers at 30,000 feet. In November, two men said they were questioned before boarding a Southwest flight because a few passengers heard them speak Arabic and were afraid to fly with them. Several years ago, six imams were kicked off a plane for what fellow passengers deemed suspicious behavior, including praying in Arabic near the gate.
Jordan Awan for the NYT
Arabic is so threatening to some that it doesn’t even have to be spoken. In 2006, a man said he wasn’t allowed to board a plane because he was wearing a black shirt with an Arabic inscription that translates as “We will not be silent.”
Opportunity is often born from absurdities. I believe this latest episode is actually a great moment to bring the versatile and glorious term inshallah into the vocabulary of more Americans.
Inshallah is the Arabic version of “fuggedaboudit.” It’s similar to how the British use the word “brilliant” to both praise and passive-aggressively deride everything and everyone. It transports both the speaker and the listener to a fantastical place where promises, dreams and realistic goals are replaced by delusional hope and earnest yearning.
If you are a parent, you can employ inshallah to either defer or subtly crush the desires of young children.
Boy: “Father, will we go to Toys ‘R’ Us later today?”
Father: “Yes. Inshallah.”
Translation: “There is no way we’re going to Toys ‘R’ Us. I’m exhausted. Play with the neighbor’s toys. Here, play with this staple remover. That’s fun, isn’t it?”
If you are a commitment-phobe or habitually late to events, inshallah immediately provides you with an ambiguous grace period.
Wedding Planner: “We only have the hall from 7 to 10 p.m. We’ll incur extra charges if we go past 10. Please tell me you’ll be on time.”
Wedding Attendee: “But of course! Inshallah, we’ll be there.”
Translation: “Oh, you sad, sad, silly little man. I hope you have saved a lot of money or have access to an inheritance. I’ll leave my house at 9:45 p.m.”
Inshallah is also an extremely useful tool in the modern quest for love.
Man: “So, you think we can go on a date later this week?”
Woman: “Yeah, let me think about it, inshallah.”
Translation: “No. Never. There is no way we are ever going on a date. Even if there was a zombie apocalypse and you were the last man on earth, I would not consider this an option and would rather the human species perish as a result of my decision.”
I drop about 80 inshallahs a day, give or take. I’ll get to the gym, inshallah. Yes, I’ll clean up around the house, inshallah.
Most commonly, inshallah is used in Muslim-majority communities to escape introspection, hard work and strategic planning and instead outsource such responsibilities to an omnipotent being, who somehow, at some time, will intervene and fix our collective problems.
Many Americans may want to do a Hail Mary inshallah to wash away the ugliness leading up to the 2016 elections. One Republican presidential candidate suggested temporarily barring Muslims from entering the United States. Another recommended that law enforcement agents patrol Muslim neighborhoods.
We’re encouraged by authorities to say something if we see something. Unfortunately, the toxic mix of fear, ignorance and hate clouds the better judgment of otherwise well-intentioned Americans who transform common occurrences, and dark-skinned neighbors, into permanent threats.
Here’s my humble request: If you see me sitting on an airplane, drinking coffee, playing Assassin’s Creed on my laptop and praying out loud “Inshallah, Trump and Cruz get zero votes,” don’t worry. (Coffee, assassin and zero are all words with some Arabic roots, by the way.) I assure you there’s no need for panic. I’m just a harmless dork like you, hoping to stay on the plane.