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Valarie Kaur Headshot

An Open to Letter to Steve Hafner, CEO of Kayak

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Dear Steve Hafner:

Let me first say that Kayak.com is bookmarked on my computer. I think it's the best travel site out there. I've used Kayak for every single flight I have ever booked since 2005. And I travel a lot -- at least 50,000 miles a year. You provide a tool I use all the time.

So when I read your blog post defending your company's decision not to renew advertising of All-American Muslim on TLC, I was furious. I was troubled when anti-Muslim groups like the Florida Family Association (FFA) began to target the show for depicting Muslim Americans as regular people. But I didn't think it would actually work! First Lowe's withdraws support. Now Kayak, one of my favorite companies?!

Now I know that you handled the matter differently from Lowe's, who openly acknowledged that it gave in to pressure. Instead, you stated that your decision, which came three days after Lowe's, "was in no way influenced by demands from third parties such as the FFA." You explain: "We do try to avoid advertising on shows that may produce controversy... We simply don't want people to confuse our choice of where we spend our TV dollars with a political or moral agenda."

So, not only did your company cave into bigoted demands, but you covered it up with spin. The deception makes your decision even more morally outrageous.

Mr. Hafner, you say that you want to avoid a "political or moral agenda," but in fact, your decision makes a strong political and moral statement. We hear it loud and clear:

It shows that you find a portrait of everyday Muslim American families "controversial."

It implies that any media that shows Muslims as ordinary people, not terrorists, has a "political or moral agenda."

Worse, it tells fringe hate groups that mainstream companies will cave into bigoted demands, even if they don't admit it publicly.

Please understand that your company's decision has real-life consequences. You are not just a travel site company, as you try to explain in your blog post. You're a player in the world at large. Your decisions spill over into our social, political, and ethical landscape, and people like me bear the costs and benefits.

I am a Sikh American woman who has watched her community targeted in beatings, bullying, profiling, and killings since 9/11. The stereotype of the "Muslim terrorist" still dominates the media and seizes our nation's imagination. It makes some see my family and community -- people with brown skin or turbans -- as automatically suspect, perpetually foreign, and potentially terrorist. I am not even Muslim, but I bear the brunt of that bigotry and I want it to end.

And I am not alone. There is a groundswell of people out there who are tired of the politics of fear. People of faith are tired of their religion being used as a tool of oppression. What's more, a new generation of young people -- the largest, most diverse and open-minded in the nation's history -- can't stomach hate groups. Most of us don't like decisions that give in to their bigotry, no matter how you cover it up. And a whole lot of us use Kayak.com.

Mr. Hafner, you say: "We're not bigots." I don't think you are. You just committed a moral failure that allows bigotry to win the day. In the end, I'm not sure there's much of a difference. But you have a short window of opportunity to prove me wrong:

1. Issue a public apology immediately.
2. Renew your support of All-American Muslim.
3. Devote a portion of your profits to combating religious and racial bigotry.

I offer you a meeting with myself and/or my peers to talk about the right thing to do. Until then, I am boycotting your website. I will call upon all people who care about religious diversity in America to do the same.

Sincerely,

Valarie Kaur
Former Loyal Kayak Customer
Director of Groundswell

P.S. I have sent your office a copy of my film Divided We Fall, a documentary that chronicles anti-Muslim hate violence after 9/11 through real stories. It shows just why television shows like All-American Muslim are so important.