Malaysian flag mistaken for American flag with ISIS symbols leads to Kansas lawsuit

File photo showing supporters holding the Malaysian flag during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics on Feb 16, 2018.
File photo showing supporters holding the Malaysian flag during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics on Feb 16, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The Kansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a Malaysian engineer, and it all started because some Americans thought the Malaysian flag was "an American flag desecrated with ISIS symbols".

The civil advocacy organisation described it as "an act of egregious racial profiling and blatant religious discrimination".

The Malaysian flag was used at a party at a recreational lake in the city of Wichita in Kansas last September.

The owners of the property, the Spirit Boeing Employees' Association (SBEA), filed a complaint with the employers of engineer Munir Zanial, the Malaysian who organised the party.

They alleged that Munir and his guests were in possession of an Islamic State in Iraq and Syria flag and were conducting an ISIS meeting on SBEA property.

"On Sept 2, 2017, Mr Zanial (Munir) hosted a party to celebrate Eid-al Adhara at the SBEA Recreational Lake in Wichita, Kansas," the ACLU said in its suit.

"Following the party, SBEA reported Mr Zanial to the Spirit Aerosystems security team based on a concern that Mr Zanial was affiliated with radical Islamic terrorism and alleged that he had used the SBEA lake to hold an ISIS meeting.

"SBEA alleged that Mr Zanial and his guests had an American flag that had been 'desecrated by ISIS insignia' and were wearing 'Muslim garb'," it said.

Munir's own employers, Spirit Aerosystems, subsequently filed a complaint with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

While the FBI cleared the aerospace engineer in October, 2017, SBEA, however, got a private investigator to continue looking into the incident and terminated Munir's rental benefits.

This led to the ACLU filing a federal lawsuit on Sunday (March 18) against the SBEA for racial profiling and religious discrimination against Munir, a dues-paying member of the association.

"At no point in time did the SBEA personally discuss the allegations with (Munir) Zanial before terminating those benefits, and he was not notified of the termination until he again tried to reserve the recreational facilities at a later date.

"The ordeal has caused Zanial to experience a great deal of stress and anxiety.

"He is concerned that the investigation could affect his lawful permanent resident status and feels distress and humiliation based on this experience of being singled out because of his ethnicity, race and religion," the ACLU said in a statement on its website.

Munir has been living in Wichita with his wife and two young children since 2011.

Local media in the state of Kansas and The New York Times have reported on the lawsuit.

According to the statement of facts in the ACLU's filing, the party was attended by approximately 45 guests, the majority of whom were Malaysians of Indian ancestry.

Several of Munir's female guests, including his wife, wore hijabs. The party was held to celebrate a Muslim celebration and Merdeka Day.

Munir earned a master's degree in aerospace engineering from Wichita State University and completed a work study programme at the National Institute for Aviation Research.