Why did no one stand up for Tahera Ahmad and the bigotry she faced?
If you have been following the ‘Tahera Ahmad and the Diet Coke’ saga, you know that a United Airlines flight attendant refused to serve a Muslim Chaplain, Ms Ahmad, on the grounds that the can could be used as a weapon, a disagreement followed, and a fellow passenger made profane comments aimed at her religious identity.
Soon Ms Ahmad posted on Facebook saying:
“I am in tears of humiliation.”
Resultantly, Ms Ahmad became a symbol and icon. In an article at The Guardian she says,
“This isn’t about me and a soda can, it’s about systemic injustice.”
“They’re basically failing to recognise the humiliation.”
The ensuing controversy can be split between “just cause” and “drama queen”. Faraz Talat, in a blog for Dawn, wrote,
“It would be a grievous mistake to view this incident in isolation as the sum total of the inconvenience a member of a religious minority might face.”
Ale Naqit, in a blog for The Nation satirised with his headline:
“My name is Tahera and I need Coke!”
Is her experience overblown or relevant? Both sides have merit. Hopefully, the incident will neither fuel anti-Muslim bigotry nor give Muslims reasons to cry victim. Bigotry exists, and what Ms Ahmad met fits the definition. Muslims, just as Christians or Jews or any other ethnic or religious group, cannot be defined by the actions of a few crazies.
Yet Ms Ahmad’s detractors are many. One persistent theme is that Ms Ahmad’s humiliation does not compare to that of the Rohingya minority floating around the Bay of Bengal seeking to be repatriated from Myanmar, or being Yazidi and conscripted into sexual slavery, or kidnapped by Boko Haram, or being attacked by the Christian militias in the Central African Republic, or being a minority in Pakistan and having your bus blown to pieces for the crime of existing.
Others point out that most airlines pour their beverages into a plastic cup filled with ice, but Ms Ahmad asked for special treatment. Is there a parallel between her and Orthodox Jews who demand not to be seated next to women? Perhaps. Asking for privilege and special accommodation can be problematic. Yet those sexist Orthodox Jews were in the wrong. Ms Ahmad’s request, at worst, would be a mild inconvenience. That the airline offered an apology and dismissed the flight attendant can be seen as encouraging.
Then there’s the claim that Ms Ahmad seeks attention by making herself a victim. I hope not. Ms Ahmad seems to have a comfortable life. Can her complaint be equivalent to that of those white people who cry victim? Let’s look at this headline by the Daily Mail:
“One third of whites claim they are victims of racism.”
Victimhood should mean something. Yes, some people hate whites, but how often does “racism” disrupt a white person’s life?
The thing is, for as silly as Ms Ahmad might appear, what I’m left wondering is why no one on that airplane stood and said to the flight attendant,
“Excuse me, but you are being ridiculous. Please give this woman a Diet Coke.”
Sure, being refused a Coke, or being accused of being a terrorist, is rather tolerable in the scheme of the world. Ms Ahmad will be fine. Just like most whites who cry persecution will be fine. What we need, though, are people standing up. This is universal. If you see or hear a black, Latino, LGBT, Muslim, Christian, atheist, Jew, Deobandi, Asian, a policeman, or even a white person, attacked by a bigot, speak up.
Remember, if just one person defended Ms Ahmad on that airplane, there would be no controversy. Be that person.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.