Airline officials barred Waris Ahluwalia, a Sikh American actor, model, and designer, from an Aero Mexico flight Monday, because he refused to remove his turban, touching off outrage in the Sikh community. Sikhs are not Muslim, but they are still caught in the recent wave of Islamophobia.
Profiling is increasingly common for Sikhs, Muslims, and Arab Americans who fly in and out of the United States.
— Sikh Coalition (@sikh_coalition) February 8, 2016
The problem for Ahluwalia was that he wearing a turban:
‘I was about to board, and they asked me to remove my turban (religious headgear that Sikh men usually wear.) That’s not something I’m willing to do in front of everyone. It’s like asking someone to remove their underwear in public.’
‘I said that’s not going to happen. Then another gentlemen came by and said that I would not be getting on any Aero Mexico flight.’
Head of the Sikh Coalition Simran Jeet Singh said this about turbans:
‘Wearing a turban is not an option. We don’t put it on and take it off when we please. The turban represents our commitment to justice, to service and to faith.’
Sikhism was founded in “India in the 15th century and encourages a life of spirituality and service. The turban symbolizes a man or woman’s commitment to the faith.”
Ahluwalia has had roles in Hollywood films such as “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “The Darjeeling Limited.” He gained notice on a GAP commercial, wearing his turban.
The event began in Mexico City when airport personnel flagged him for advanced screening at the airport. He knew his dress might flag him, but the airport personnel held him until everyone began boarding the plane to New York City. His plane ticket read “SSSS,” which is code for secondary screening.
The purpose of his trip was to visit a Mexican arts fair on his trip, so that he could meet artists and experience the Mexican culture:
‘I was flying as a guest of Aero Mexico.’
In the U.S., security guards screen Sikhs in private rooms and pat down turbans rather than asking them to take them off in public.
This event has triggered a clamor in the Sikh social media and adds fuel to the hot debate. Right now four Muslim and Sikh men are suing American Airlines for apparently taking them off of a flight in December without a good reason.
In another experience of Islamophobia, an influential MSNBC Sikh commentator was also asked to prove she wasn’t a terrorist by showing passengers on a plane her breast pump.
Although Aero Mexico tried to book another flight for Ahluwalia, he was, understandably, not comfortable flying with the airline.
Instead, he has asked for a public apology and a guarantee that Aero Mexico will “train their staff about Sikhism and religious headgear in general.” Ahluwalia was philosophical about the incident:
‘It’s okay to make a mistake — we’re human. But it’s about what you do after that. It’s about how you deal with that. It is a larger conversation. It’s just a chance to make the world a better place.’
It sounds as if we could learn a lot from Sikhs.