Ryanair boss faces backlash over calls for extra checks on Muslim men at airports

‘In Germany this week a white person killed eight people. Should we profile white people to see if they’re fascists?’ says MP

Kate Ng
Saturday 22 February 2020 10:41 GMT
Michael O’Leary previously stirred anger nationwide after labeling obese people ‘monsters’
Michael O’Leary previously stirred anger nationwide after labeling obese people ‘monsters’ (Reuters)

Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary has been accused of “encouraging racism” after he said Muslim men should be subjected to profiling in airports because they were a “threat”.

Mr O’Leary added that checks on families with young children should be dropped as there was “virtually” no chance of them being terrorists.

He told The Times: “Who are the bombers? They are going to be single males travelling on their own. If you are travelling with a family of kids, on you go; the chances you are going to blow them all up is zero.

“You can’t say stuff, because it’s racism, but it will generally be males of a Muslim persuasion. Thirty years ago it was the Irish. If that is where the threat is coming from, deal with the threat.”

The Muslim Council of Britain said in a statement: “These comments are openly racist. He openly advocates against ‘males of a Muslim persuasion’, which presumably is not based on specific intelligence but solely whether someone ‘looks or acts like a Muslim’.

“This is the very definition of Islamophobia. Institutional discrimination against Muslims is well-established; whether it is the ability to get a job, buy a flat or even getting car insuarance.

“The challenges of flying whilst Muslim are well-documented across the globe. It is a shame that such racism is being expressed so openly and that the CEO of a large airline would want to discriminate against his customers so brazenly.”

Labour MP Khalid Mahmood, who is Muslim, said Mr O’Leary’s remarks meant anyone who looked Muslim was “game”.

He said: “He’s effectively saying ‘everyone is game – if they look like a Muslim then they must be a terrorist’. It doesn’t improve community relations; it gives succour to people of a fascist mindset.

“In Germany this week a white person killed eight people. Should we profile white people to see if they’re fascists? He’s being very blinkered and is actually encouraging racism.”

Passenger profiling is commonplace in airports all over the world, including Britain, and relies on airport staff who are specially trained to recognise specific behaviours that can help identify travellers with illegal, criminal or terrorist intents.

But the practice has often resulted in the stereotyping and targeting of specific ethnic or religious groups, and racial profiling.

Dr Waqas Tufail, a senior lecturer in criminology at Leeds Beckett University, told The Independent: “I think the comments are outrageous and will encourage more racism towards Muslims. Many studies have highlighted that Muslims in the UK, US and elsewhere already experience discriminatory treatment from airport security and police, and sometimes from fellow passengers.

“We know from research that Muslims are often racially profiled at airports but it is the brazen nature of the comments by Michael O’Leary that are really disturbing. The comments are also really irresponsible when we consider that Muslims already suffer the majority of faith-based hate crime.

“These comments will only help to encourage Islamophobia, and will do nothing at all to prevent terrorism,” he added.

Mr O’Leary is no stranger to controversy, having previously said “shoot them” in reference to environmentalists and travel agents, and called obese people “monsters”.

He also stirred anger nationwide after suggesting passengers should pay to use toilets on flights and even pushed proposals to remove two of the three lavatories on each plane so they could be replaced with seats.

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