- - Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Earlier this week, a Dutch teenage girl tweeted at American Airlines: “@AmericanAir hello my name’s ibrahim and I’m from Afghanistan. I’m part of Al Qaida and on June 1st I’m gonna do something really big bye.”

The airline reported the individual to the authorities, and the event launched a debate regarding if she should be treated as a child or if this was a serious violation of the law or moral ethics.

The fact that the young woman thought it was humorous and acceptable to associate an otherwise random Muslim name, a Muslim country, and terrorism has rarely been discussed in this debate, despite the immense international focus on the incident. Dozens of postings by other Twitter users, similarly associating Muslim names and countries to terrorism via airplanes, have popped up recently in what appears to be a major instance of Islamophobia.

“Researchers and policy groups define Islamophobia in differing detail, but the term’s essence is essentially the same, no matter the source: An exaggerated fear, hatred, and hostility toward Islam and Muslims that is perpetuated by negative stereotypes resulting in bias, discrimination, and the marginalization and exclusion of Muslims from social, political, and civic life,” says Gallup World, attempting to explain the true nature of Islamophobia.

In the recent controversy, scores of Twitter users posted threatening messages to various airlines accompanied by proclamations of ties to either Muslim-majority countries, or claiming to have stereotypical Muslim names.

According to the Pew Research Center, about 23 percent of the world’s population is Muslim, with nearly 1.6 billion individuals subscribing to the Islamic religion. “Muslims make up a majority of the population in 49 countries around the world,” says Pew.

Most believe that the individuals sending the tweets are merely copycats, attempting to latch on to the fame of the Dutch teenager, and are not serious threats against any airplane. In each post, however, Muslim names or Muslim countries were directly associated with terrorism. The end result, however, is that all Muslims are stereotypically grouped with terrorists who attack airplanes.

Another individual tweeted at the company: “@AmericanAir You really seem to not care that i’m about to bomb your plane that’s headed to Paris. Btw, my name is Ahmed.”

Still others wrote:

@AmericanAir Hello Am From Iraq i Want 1Million Or I Will Plan A Bomb To Your Next Flight To Paris !! Bye Bye America

@AmericanAir hello my name is Ibrahim I think you guys are the BOMB!!!!!!

@AmericanAir i will drop a bomb on your company. This is osama bin laden

@AmericanAir Hi my name Sluha Benn Tala There will be a series of bomb attacks on your district at exactly 3PM Eastern Standard Time

@AmericanAir I’m from Pakistan and see me bomb now

@AmericanAir I will be boarding a flight two weeks from now with a bomb strapped to my body. All of you will die with me. Hail Allah

Of the original 19 hijackers from 9/11, none were from Iraq, Afghanistan, or Pakistan, even though the Twitter users attempted to associate those countries with threats of airplane attacks. Many Muslims see this “Muslim airplane tweet” episode as one of the most well-publicized, but least discussed, instances of Islamophobia in recent history.

The behavior is not new, and many school-age children of Arab or Muslim descent in the United States experience similar comments on a regular basis. “You boys were so much fun on the 8th grade trip! Thanks for not bombing anything while we were there!” were among the comments written on a student’s yearbook by a middle school teacher after a field trip to Washington D.C., according to the Huffington Post. “To my bomb man!” and “Come wire my bomb” were other messages written to the same student by his peers in his yearbook.

Accordingly, the practice of casually associating otherwise innocent Muslims with terrorism or bomb threats is exemplified in these Twitter posts.

The Gallup polling organization warns of the implications of unabated Islamophobia by reporting that — according to “Fear, Inc.,” a report by the Center for American Progress — a network of misinformation experts actively promotes Islamophobia in America.

“The promotion of Islamophobia creates both prejudice and discrimination among the general population. Prejudice plays a key role in the existence and proliferation of Islamophobia,” the report states. “Prejudice alone, as a negative judgment, opinion, or attitude, is a detriment to a population’s overall wellbeing. Prejudice combined with overt actions, rising to the level of discrimination, creates a dangerous environment for its victims.”

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