A YouTube star was removed from a New York City-bound Delta Airlines flight from London’s Heathrow airport this morning after speaking in Arabic — a language spoken by hundreds of millions of people worldwide and the fastest growing language in the United States.
Adam Saleh, 22, posted a series of videos and live Periscope videos to his Twitter account that show Delta employees escorting him and a friend, Slim Albaher, who is also a prominent YouTuber, from the flight. Saleh told The Guardian that a passenger said she was uncomfortable and that he should speak English after overhearing a phone call he made to his mother, who speaks only Arabic. After the phone call, Saleh said he spoke in both Arabic and English to Albaher.
— Adam Saleh (@omgAdamSaleh) December 21, 2016
“The woman who originally complained told the captain: ‘We feel uncomfortable — something happened in Germany. If they don’t leave, I leave,'” said Saleh.
In the video, passengers can be heard sarcastically yelling “bye!” as Saleh and Albaher are escorted off the plane. At least one passenger can be seen emphatically defending them, insisting that Delta employees not remove them from the flight simply for not speaking in English.
Saleh says he and Albaher were detained in the airport and Delta employees called the police. London’s Metropolitan Police said in a statement that no wrongdoing was found, and no arrests were made.
Delta said in a statement that the men had been removed after “a disturbance in the cabin resulted in more than 20 customers expressing their discomfort. In a later tweet, Saleh said they’d boarded a new flight — on a different airline — after being checked by security for a second time.
Saleh has over two million subscribers on YouTube alone and is known for staging prank videos. In a recent video he claimed to have ridden in the baggage hold of a Tigerair flight from Melbourne to Sydney, in Australia. The claim was challenged by the airline on Twitter, who said they had video of him boarding the flight on foot.
@omgAdamSaleh Nice try Adam, but definitely a few inconsistencies with this vid, namely the fact we have footage of you boarding the plane!
— Tigerair Australia (@TigerairAU) December 14, 2016
Salah later said that he’d always intended to reveal the stunt as a hoax, and did so sooner than expected when it made international news headlines.
And in 2014, a video titled “Racial Profiling Experiment” posted by Saleh racked up over two million views. In it, two men having an argument are purportedly only approached by police when wearing Muslim garb. The video spread rapidly, and Salah later added a disclaimer saying that it was a dramatization of previous events that happened in New York City.
A glance at Saleh’s YouTube channel might cast doubts on his claims, were it not for the many other documented instances of racism that have happened on Delta and other airline flights in which brown people are removed at the behest of those who feel “uncomfortable.”
A woman in hijab says she was berated in front of her four children on a Detroit-bound Delta flight last February. A student at the University of California, Berkeley was removed from a Southwest flight earlier this year just one day after having dinner with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. A Muslim-American couple celebrating their wedding anniversary in Paris were removed from a Cincinnati-bound Delta flight after a crew member claimed to have heard them say “Allah” and said they were sweating. Two Palestinian men, both American citizens, were barred from even boarding a Southwest flight in Chicago because a passenger complained after hearing them speak in Arabic in the terminal. A Spirit Airlines flight was diverted when a passenger claimed she heard two men make bomb threats (the claims were unfounded).
Concern about Islamophobia has been a concern for a number of years, but has earned new attention following the president-elect’s divisive campaign that often put Muslim Americans in the crosshairs. Hate crimes spiked after the election, including several occasions in which Muslim New Yorkers were harassed. And while one incident in which a young Muslim teenager claimed to have been harassed by white men screaming “Trump” has since been debunked, there is a laundry list of authentic incidents that cannot be ignored. A Muslim MTA worker was shoved down stairs by a man who called her a terrorist. A man was arrested after making anti-Muslim remarks and spitting on a 15-year-old girl in Queens. A different Muslim woman said she was harassed by a white couple on an MTA bus in Queens while commuting to her internship in Manhattan.
Saleh did not immediately respond to requests for comment.