When “Iranian” becomes racist short-hand for “terrorist”

According to a CNN iReporter, missing passengers Pouri Nourmohammadi, 18, and elavar Seyed Mohammad Reza, 29 -- the two passengers flying on forged passports -- took this picture with their roommates in Kuala Lumpur moments before boarding MH370. Photo Credit: CNN/iReport
According to a CNN iReporter, missing passengers Pouri Nourmohammadi, 18, and Delavar Seyed Mohammad Reza, 29 — the two passengers flying on forged passports — took this picture with their roommates in Kuala Lumpur moments before boarding MH370. Photo Credit: CNN/iReport

Over the weekend, a Malaysian Air jetliner, MH370,  disappeared somewhere over Southeast Asia, potentially claiming all 239 souls on-board. As search crews continue to scour the area following recent suggestions that the jet mysteriously shifted course near Pulau Perak and started flying on a vector in the opposite direction from Beijing, mainstream news outlets have focused on two non-Asian male passengers who reportedly purchased their tickets using the stolen passports of an Austrian and an Italian citizen.

Over the last few days, mainstream news have tacitly suggested that these two passengers were — by virtue of their forged passports — responsible for the jet’s disappearance. Twitter and other social networking sites have been more explicit, openly theorizing over terrorism.

These theories were whipped into a frenzy yesterday when it was revealed that the two non-Asian passengers flying on forged passports were of Iranian descent.

Because, y’know, “Iranian” is synonymous with “terrorist”.

That’s so racist, yo.

By the iReporter’s account, Nourmohammadi and Reza entered Malaysia on valid Iranian passports, but were travelling to Germany to visit Nourmohammadi’s mother on the stolen passports. Why? Details are still unclear, but I can imagine even one possibility — temporary visa restrictions that limit out-of-country travel, and that can (at least in the U.S.) functionally result in long periods of separation between expats and their families. 9/11 notwithstanding, the vast majority of missing passports in the world are used for run-of-the-mill extralegal travel — undocumented immigration or migration — to circumvent visa restrictions, and typically not for nefarious purposes.

Whatever the reason that these two passengers were flying on stolen passports, the notion that parts of this country, and the world, jumped to the “terrorism” angle based almost entirely on the ethnicity of these two passengers and otherwise explicit absence of additional information is so incredibly racist. It speaks directly to the insidious racism leveraged against Middle Eastern, and even South Asian, people.

For most people, there is a presumption of innocence until proven guilty. But, if you’re certain shades of brown, there is a presumption of terrorism until proven wrong.

And god — that is so racist.

For all of you who played into the conspiracy theorizing, please give it a rest. Instead of pointing the finger at these two young Iranian men and casting them as villains, could we please instead remember that Pouri Nourmohammadi and Delavar Seyed Mohammad Reza are two missing Iranian men. One of them is practically still a kid.

There is no evidence suggesting Nourmohammadi and Reza are terrorists, or that they had anything to do with the plane’s disappearance beyond just being on the plane. For now, all we know is that they are victims of this tragedy, whose families are shedding tears as real as those being shed by the families of the other 237 passengers and crew. They deserve your prayers just like everyone else on-board flight MH370, not your suspicion.

Internet, could you please stop treating these two men like they are terrorists just because they are brown?

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