This past spring, I took ANTH 1151: “Towards a Critical Muslim Studies,” taught by former Professor of Anthropology and Gender Studies Anila Daulatzai. In the course, we learned about institutionalized racism and Islamophobia and the ways in which Muslims and people of color have been racialized and criminalized during — and prior to — the War on Terror. A few months later, I watched in horror as a video emerged of Daulatzai being violently removed from a Southwest Airlines flight in Baltimore. Seeing a pregnant Daulatzai being grabbed from her seat by her belt loop, so violently that her pants were completely ripped open, was heartbreaking and painfully emblematic of the systems of oppression that she teaches her pupils to critically understand.
Arguably even more painful was Southwest’s shameful, disgusting cover-up. Shortly after the incident, the airline announced that she was removed because of a “life-threatening pet allergy” — but it was never about that. Daulatzai is often racialized as a person of Middle Eastern descent, and the airline’s treatment was clearly about profiling, racism and Islamophobia.
For Southwest to flip the narrative so completely and paint her as a crazy, “combative” passenger who refused to be escorted off the plane — while portraying themselves as a kind-hearted company that simply wanted to save her from a life-threatening allergy — is disgusting, deceptive and reflective of the Orientalist tropes about Muslims that the airline espouses.
The news has been saturated with stories of this particular incident. But to me, it takes on a particular resonance because of my relationship with Daulatzai. She isn’t just any professor. She is undoubtedly one of the most influential and remarkable individuals in my life.
Before I met her, I remember feeling extremely impressed when I first heard about Daulatzai’s qualifications: a master’s degrees in public health, anthropology and Islamic studies, along with a PhD in anthropology. Finally, she did five years of fieldwork in Afghanistan. With her accomplishments in mind, I remember feeling slightly intimidated as I walked into her office for the first time. I didn’t even have a specific question to ask her; I felt that I was likely taking away from the slew of other important appointments she needed to have, papers that she needed to grade and books that she needed to write.
But Daulatzai spent three and a half hours with me that day. For three and a half hours, she helped me explore my Muslim identity and made me feel that I had a safe space as a visible Muslim woman in President Trump’s America. This is just one anecdote. This is just one, singular narrative that is emblematic of the type of professor — and the type of person — Anila Daulatzai is. Her character and personal ethics are truly remarkable, and I can honestly say I have met very few people I admire as much. This might seem a little exaggeratory or superfluous, but I can only say that she is someone you need to know to believe.
And I know that I am not the only student who feels this way. Many of Daulatzai’s students, myself included, have fought their universities to secure her a more permanent position. At Brown, we wrote letters, saturated with our individual experiences with Daulatzai, to the administration. We scheduled meetings with University officials while we were all swamped with exams during the pinnacle of finals week to describe the crucial role Daulatzai played in our collegiate experience and to let them know how much pain it caused for us to see her go. And that’s the thing about Daulatzai: There’s just something exceptional about her. Something so exceptional that her students are more than willing to spend their time and energy fighting for her, because we know that ultimately, the bodies of knowledge and understandings that she has imparted on us are things that we could never repay her for.
And we will not stop fighting for her — not then, not now.
During one of my last conversations with Daulatzai, I remember her telling me that we people of color should not get too comfortable in this country. That at the end of the day, we mean nothing to this nation, this government, this institutionalized system. How our blood is seen as too cheap, our bodies as too worthless — they will easily and without hesitation be discarded. How heartbreakingly ironic this conversation seems now, as I rewatch her body, which officials knew to be one carrying a baby, being violently grabbed, thrown and dragged around.
Southwest Airlines prides itself for its cheap national flights, which are especially appealing to students. But Southwest, here is what I want you to know: We are not interested in cheap flights if that means that the bodies of people of color and Muslims are also so cheap.
If our bodies are able to be yanked out of our seats so violently, if even the mention of pregnancy is not enough to prevent undue violence from being used against us, if our narratives are erased and subject to whitewashed cover-ups, then we do not care for your cheap flights.
We do not care for your so-called Southern hospitality (which is either fictitious or only applicable to a certain kind of people).
We do not care for your service.
We demand that Southwest Airlines issue an official apology, not some staged cover-up, to Daulatzai, acknowledging the racist and Islamophobic roots of this horrible incident.
We demand that Southwest Airlines condemn police brutality.
We demand that Southwest Airlines implement anti-racism, anti-Islamophobia and implicit biases trainings for all of its employees working on its aircrafts.
We demand justice for Anila Daulatzai. We demand justice for passengers of color, Muslim passengers and passengers racialized as Muslims who are subject to this form of institutionalized Islamophobia and racism.
Until these demands are met, we refuse to fly on an airline that treats people of color and Muslims in this way. We refuse to be profiled. We refuse to be complicit in and happy consumers of institutionalized Islamophobia and racism — systems of oppression that result in violence against black, people of color and Muslim bodies.
Amara Majeed ’19 is the creator of an online boycott campaign demanding justice for Anila Daulatzai and can be reached at email@example.com. Please send responses to this opinion to firstname.lastname@example.org and other op-eds to email@example.com.