Why did no one stand up for Tahera Ahmad and the bigotry she faced?

Published: June 7, 2015

Others point out that most airlines pour their beverages into a plastic cup filled with ice, but Ms Ahmad asked for special treatment.

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.”

She adds,

“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.

Caleb Powell

Caleb Powell

The writer is a Polish/Persian American and worked overseas for eight years, in East Asia, the Middle East, and South America. He now lives in the Pacific Northwest with his family. He Tweets @sonofmizrahi (twitter.com/sonofmizrahi?lang=en)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Andrew Karkus

    Don’t believe this woman. My wife and I were on this flight. She was very rude and because she couldn’t get a whole can of pop she flipped out and started pulling the discrimination card. Pathetic. I have since tried to contact the media and not one has gotten back to me to hear my side of the story. Just goes to show many media only care about controversy instead of factual information..Recommend

  • Tinkerer

    Andrew, If you were in close proximity in the plane, you must have observed what the person across the isle said to her. Unless you happened to be that person, did you not feel the moral responsibility to speak up?Recommend

  • Muhammad Mushir

    It is a cheap and often tried tactics to get popular and gain sympathy, I don’t believe it. I was travelling from from LA to NJ by UA 1552, I only informed the cabin crew that I have dietery restrictions but as I have not informed you earlier so don’t bother. I can enjoy the flight with some dry fruits/ biscuits and coffee. My fellow passengers were worried that what will they serve, I was served last but the dry fruits, icecream, fruits basket and sweets were so appealing that my fellow passengers were sorry why they also did not opt for it! A golden rule in these matters is that never generalise with one or two incidents, After a extensive tour of USA I am convinced that the common people are courteous, helpful and friendly but remember USA has not invited you to live there and test their patience! Recommend

  • rao amjad ali

    Great piece, Caleb!

    @Andrew – Did you hear a fellow passenger use an invective, asking Ms. Ahmad to shut up?Recommend

  • Maqar

    Sounds like you were the angerbob who stood up and yelled at her!Recommend

  • Joe Gargery

    Believe this woman. She was honored by the White House. And she
    was discriminated against. Even the president of United apologized.
    My wife and kids and my grandfather and grandmother and all my 15
    children were on this flight. My in laws were also there. We also
    had our gardener with us. Plus our two maids were travelling too.Recommend

  • Gul Zaman Ghorgasht

    Nobody stood up to defend her because they are meek and they are mild people.Recommend

  • Logic

    @ Andrew, why didn’t you stand up for her not getting a can of drink when a person next to her got his can of beer? Isn’t that enough for a normal human being to support another when he sees injustice? And what about the filth yelling man??? Either testify the whole story or keep quiet.Recommend

  • U_SAF

    Well, I read a lot about this. I have some peoples from United States and tells me a lot of stories… I asked them about Hijab and they proudly told me…. girls with Hijjab have more respect in USA (particularly in NY) than any other women.

    At once it’s hard to believe Miss Tahera’s story… but if someone does this racism on individual capacity, you can not blame the entire airline or entity… unless you have a proof that they have issued such instructions to their employees.

    Whatever has happened with Miss Tahera is, if true, is really sad. But this happens most of the time in individual capacity, business or entities can not have such policies when world has become a global village.Recommend

  • Balaji iyer ka baap

    As long as I can remember,airlines don’t give unopened stuff.They always pour it Ina glass for you.just my 2 centsRecommend

  • Ed Morris

    If we don’t believe this lady, how can we believe your word?! for all we know it could have been you throwing all the insults at her!!Recommend

  • abhineet singh

    then andrew you should write a testimony including yours and wifes story and attach the tickets of the flight and send them to major mediahouses im sure this will certainly help or u can blog it. im sure thatll atleast put a dent and lets see where we can go from there :)Recommend

  • G. Din

    “…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.”

    A sensible comment must be based on facts. This woman was not denied Diet Coke. According to airline policy, a passenger is served soft drinks in a plastic cup. Steward opens a can of soft drink, pours it into a plastic cup as much as it can hold and hands it over to the passenger. Invariably, there is still some soft drink left in the can which is served to another passenger. This woman wanted the whole can which is not airline policy and made a big deal out of hygiene and all that However, it must be mentioned that the stewardess had no call to say that the woman may use it as a weapon, for which the airline has apologised.

  • Singh

    I agree with you AK. Now a days media is prestitute not a prostitute. Discrimination card sell better than issue of hygiene. Also every Muslim know very well how to use this card when they are in non Islamic country. If they raise same issue in Muslim country they will be beheaded for treason.Recommend

  • Kites
  • Alann

    Should read this aswell:

    She’s a member of the infamous muslim organisation CAIR with links to terrorist organisations. Because of her dirty ways, the poor airhostess got in trouble. Just because this ugly woman couldn’t resist playing the Muslim discrimination/victim card.

    All such people should be sent back to their Islamic homelands from where they rise.Recommend

  • Ch. Allah Daad

    She got what she wanted, fame, insults for Western society, revenge and perhaps some money is also on the way. What else she want? She will get that soon too.Recommend

  • SafeNation

    Why does this story still lingering as news? United Airlines has already apologized even when they need not. Isn’t that enough? Is she trying to gather more mileage using the ‘discrimination against the Muslims’ card?Recommend

  • Bairooni Haath

    Discrimination is when Christians are denied water from the same well or fountain as Muslims. Discrimination is when Christians are asked not to touch cooking/eating utensils used by Muslims. Discrimination is when you are on death row when you dared open your mouth. Discrimination is when the only jobs open to your religion is that of sanitation worker. Ms. Tahera Ahmed’s treatment does not meet the definition of discrimination. My sympathies are with the United Airlines air hostess!Recommend

  • Crikey

    What’s the big deal? I fly business and first class and I can’t ever remember getting an unopened can of anything. She shouldn’t be drinking this rubbish in any case.Recommend

  • ahmed

    Andrew stop your version of story your are not credible. If it was believable Airlines must have not thought you are lying because they didn’t believe woman alone they had their cameras and talked to their own staff and they didn’t dismiss flight attendant because Ms. Ahmad obnoxious. Please stop being childish and go on start making other lies in your boring life that are more believable.Recommend

  • Gulchand Mehta

    Nope. You don’t fly at all. So obvious. Because they give you silverware.
    glassware and real china in first and business class. You would have known this if you flew firstclass…then a can……?

  • Gulchand Mehta

    Then also take a good look at yourself. And think about the killings in
    Mizoram, Nagaland and Bodoland. Think about the massacres and
    Muslim village burnings in Imphal and Kohima. This all besides the
    the Muslim genocide in Kashmir. Then there is Ladakh and Kerala….
    Let us be honest, we Indians are just as bad as Pakistanis,..if not worse.Recommend

  • RFD

    Not so. She was honored and recognized by the White House.
    You supplied a hindu web link which is fake. So what;s new.Recommend

  • Faraz Talat

    I think he means ‘on the flight’.Recommend

  • Hasan

    You mean White House does not support Muslim Brotherhood?Recommend

  • Hasan

    That’s what he said; “can’t ever remember getting an unopened can of anything.”Recommend

  • Cobrajock

    What else does this Blogger want. The Airline has tendered an apology along with dispensing with the services of the errant attendant. There should be a limit to egoistic hulla baloo. From what I know of the incident, some fellow passengers were rude and discriminatory and not the attendant herself.Recommend

  • mimi sur

    Well..I am also saying the same thing. When MUSLIM terrorists killed cartoonists in France, how many muslims stood up to protest ? When islamic terror organisations attack US or UK or France or India or Nigeria or Israel, how many muslims protest against it ? Why should we non-muslims stand up with this lady ? Also we don’t know exactly what happened . We can’t believe this lady. We have not heard back from air attendants .Recommend

  • Gulchand Mehta

    Well see,…silverware means, a metal fork, a metal
    knife, a metal spoon. Same as you use in your home
    So a can of Coke holds no relevance. When you
    have a metal steak knife….or a wine glass.. Therefore
    he never traveled in first class. He would have known this.
    Just like YOU did not know it. Hopefully that clears the confusion. [open/unopened can versus metal knife.]Recommend

  • RFD

    Unfortunately Sikhs are targeted because of their turbans.
    But if all Sikhs are like YOU then there is not much hope for
    them, is there?Recommend

  • shami

    This is really disgusting. Every airline offers unopened can to all passengers on request. How can someone use a can to bomb an aircraft or harm someone? This is just descrimination on part of flight attendant towrads a muslim woman as she can be easily identified by her headscarf. Is there any credibility of United airlines? I was reading on another blog that a few days before a model was thrown out of the plane because her 2 year kid was crying in the plane. How can you expect all this from an airline?Recommend

  • George

    You mean Hindu genocide in Kashmir. Yeah, Kashmiri’s are Indians too. Also could you please enlighten me about Ladakh & Kerala? What happened there. Not disagreeing with you though. Loads of discrimination & killings in India. Recommend

  • wuffwuffwuff
  • wuffwuffwuff

    Why should you be willing to believe this ridiculous claim of a very sketchy sounding story, but you refuse to believe a different version?

    Islamophobiaphobia ™Recommend

  • wuffwuffwuff

    She previously claimed imaginary bigotry. She’s an activist for a Muslim organization (CAIR), that was accused of funneling money to Hamas,



  • wuffwuffwuff

    “Remember, if just one person defended Ms Ahmad on that airplane, there would be no controversy. Be that person.”

    Perhaps the reason no one defended Ahmad on the plane is because the entire incident is manufactured baloney.Recommend

  • SafeNation

    Muslim genocide in Kashmir? Are you kidding? Get your facts right otherwise the next thing you are going to say is that genocide was started by the Kashmii Pandits.Recommend

  • wuffwuffwuff

    She can’t stop talking about her fabricated incident on the airplane, with dozens of tweets.

    But when swastikas were painted all over Northwestern University just a few weeks, where she’s a Muslim chaplain, she was absolutely silent. Not a single tweet, not a single word to the students she is supposed to be a guide and spiritual adviser to.Recommend

  • Rocket

    No one stood up for her because it is becoming clear she is a liar!Recommend

  • Farhan

    To correct you, it’s more of an American right-wing redneck site than a Hindu one, but your point of it’s unreliability still stands.Recommend

  • JayMankind

    She is obviously a fame junkie who loves to play the victim and it is getting tiresome now. How many Muslims come out in support of victims who suffer at the hands of fellow-Muslims?Recommend

  • Maratha warrior

    Stop it!!… There is no communal problem in Ladakh.
    You are not a indian.Recommend

  • Maratha warrior

    Airhostess did the right thing,, after all security is most important in life. Although she lost her job she is alive today.Recommend

  • wb

    1) Anyone who has the name SINGH is not a Sikh.

    2) There’s as much hope for Sikhs as any non-Muslim.Recommend

  • wb

    Alright, we believe you. Karachiwala, Lahorewala, this and that.Recommend

  • Joe Gargery

    Sure, you can manufacture and grind out fake websites
    and articles from a virulent anti Muslim anti Pakistan lobby.
    Paid, adept, rumor mongers.
    Include White Supremacists, Arab haters and you name it.
    When a White Supremacist kills 3 Muslim students and this
    hate crime is passed off as a ‘parking space dispute.’ then
    you know there is discrimination. Does not even merit a
    full thorough investigation. Muslim voices need to be heard.
    Please, bogus websites !?!Recommend

  • wb

    She should be repatriated to her mother land.Recommend

  • https://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=8559594100366660134#allposts Supriya Arcot

    Because of the airhostess, this lady didnt get a proper drink , because of this lady , the airhostess lost her job . Wonder which one is more deadly . BTW ,Glad to hear the other side of the argument and reasoning – not just the ones blindly supporting her ( just to be politically correct. ) .Recommend

  • Milind A

    “Why did no one stand up for Tahera Ahmad and the bigotry she faced?”

    Simply because
    1. Muslims have overplayed the victim card and nobody trusts them anymore
    2. Muslims have never stood up or stand up for the minorities facing extermination in their landsRecommend

  • Kites

    I believe that the events that unfolded ‘on the flight’ are manifestations of Islamophobia in US (mentioned in the articles). Thank you for the response. I guess this needed clarification.Recommend

  • amit

    You are right. Muslims mostly where ever they go expect special treatment for themselves.Recommend

  • Maqar

    Only a Naan munching darbari can come up with tripe like this! Shame on you.Recommend

  • Usman

    The guy next to her got an unopened can of beer…that’s when she started protesting.Recommend

  • Usman

    The guy next to her got an unopened can of beer…that’s when she started protesting.Recommend

  • Hasan

    Your IQ gives away that you are not an Indian.Recommend

  • Hasan

    Your IQ gives away that you are not an Indian.Recommend

  • Usman

    I’m sure the airline must have investigated and found her guilty, before firing the hostess and offering the apology….They just won’t fire their staff on the mere basis a woman’s accuse. An opinion!Recommend

  • Gratgy

    Lol delusional much, no wonder people laugh at PakistanisRecommend

  • Gratgy

    or humanRecommend

  • Gratgy

    How do you know he got an unopened can of beer?Recommend

  • Pro Truth

    Looking at the comments, looks like the issue is much more worst and widely accepted as normal what she observed on board this flight!
    No wonder no one stood up for her as its OK to discriminate a Muslim.Recommend

  • G. Din

    There is a difference between how beer is served and how soft drinks are served on airlines. You may not agree with that but the stewardess was absolutely right in not giving her a full can. It was not for her to question what the airline policy is and has been for a long time. As far as I know she was the first passenger to demand a whole can of soda. If she was concerned about “the hygiene” she should have declined what was offered to her. But, being a Muslim, she had to make a spectacle of herself, didn’t she?
    Look at the final result. Did anyone gain anything? The fact that even passengers did not support her and, in fact, heaped abuse on her should give some pause for thought amongst Muslims. There are no two ways about it but Muslims simply provoke bad behaviour from all those around them.Recommend

  • Gulchand Mehta.

    Sure, when one is proven wrong and another one caught
    lying then, then start berating and pulling your hair. Shows
    your lack of manners and uncouthness. Your descent into
    vapidness was fast.Recommend

  • http://www.thanks-project.com Steve Berman
  • wb

    or even a decent animal.

    By the way, it’s the same one that goes by the names Ghorghastht and Gopeet and Rangoonwala etc.

    He tries too hard, but can’t hide the hollowness.Recommend

  • Mike

    Maybe nobody is jumping to her defense because she’s utterly lying about the context of what happened. Yellow journalism at its finest.Recommend

  • Nizamuddin

    Useful comments are those which talk about Chinese ban on growing beards, wearing burqas and fasting. Pakistanis don’t have guts to speak on this. Wait till China Pakistan Economic Corridor is completed, all your Islamic culture will be wiped out from Pakistan.Recommend

  • Abdul
  • kaamAdmi

    So if you have flown in 1st class whats the big dealRecommend

  • Debbie

    Her story didn’t pass the sniff test from the get-go. I was waiting until more information came out and it sure enough did – some of it right here in your comments. Ty Andrew Karkus!Recommend

  • Debbie

    Because Andrew isn’t the only person saying this.Recommend

  • RFD

    Writing under a Muslim Name? New trend among hindu commentators? Be careful. They censure Muslim comments. allow hindus.Recommend

  • Joe Gargery

    This is a made up jumbo tale. There are no such things as fruit baskets,
    dry fruits or sweets on these flights. You sit in steerage. From La to NJ is approx 5 hours. Depending upon the airline a paltry meal may be served.
    Ice cream? What ice cream? Beverages. And bags of peanuts. On some
    flights you can buy a cold sandwich. Or carry your slice of pizza, or burrito
    on board in a bag, that you purchased on the concourse.
    There is no ring of truth here. Missing something serious.Recommend

  • abhi

    Only victim seems to the be airhostess who is fired because of a whiner.Recommend

  • Sparky

    How do you know it really happened? Since when is reprinting a Facebook post considered journalism?Recommend

  • Rajiv

    She is a liar and belongs to a group which is known for being cheats and dishonest.Recommend

  • Meshuga

    This sanctimonious progeny of Indian Muslims failed to mention that she was behind the boycott of Ayaan Hirsi Ali speaking at Brandeis University. Trying to deny someone else’s right to speak her views while hurling claims of discrimination against an employee of a private airline.Recommend

  • Meshuga

    People shouting discrimination ought to re-read the US Constitution. It is the government that is prohibited from denying rights of citizens, not private business. After 9/11 and ever since the hijackings of the 1970s, it is incumbent on airlines to look after the welfare and safety of all its passengers, not just one. Perhaps the air hostess made a mistake in judgment but it was done not with malice but with a view of protecting all the passengers flying in a fragile narrow metallic tube 30,000 feet in the air. Wearing a hijab, demanding equal rights in a free Christian Western country that was a victim of Islamic terrorists is no way of curbing Islamophobia. Did anyone write an ET blog when Kate Moss was ejected from her airplane. Wasn’t here rights abridged? OR do only Muslims count in a Pakistani newspaper?Recommend

  • Meshuga

    Just as regular killing of Shias, Christians, Hindus, Hazaras are manifestations of a widespread homicidal intent on the part of a large segment of Pakistanis against minorities? It is easy to generalize.Recommend

  • a_realist

    Or even a white person? what’s that supposed to mean? GeeshRecommend

  • Mickey Logan