WASHINGTON — Rep. John Fleming spoke out for the first time Wednesday on what he calls false allegations that a Muslim couple was discriminated against at one of the Subway sandwich franchises he owns in Shreveport.
The Nov. 21 incident, in which the Muslim couple was denied service, has garnered national attention this week because of the congressman’s ownership of the restaurant and because of the intervention by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Fleming, R-Minden, said the couple was denied service only after provoking employees and scaring away other customers.
Fleming said they could have “political reasons” for their actions and that CAIR has “nefarious connections” beyond civil rights advocacy, such as alleged ties to Hamas.
Mohammad Husain, 63, of Kenner, said Wednesday that he and his wife, Talat, will consider their legal options.
Husain said they entered the Subway to eat during a holiday road trip, but that they first went to the restrooms to wash up.
He said he then went to his car to get a medication and that he was blocked from re-entering by an employee and also locked outside while his wife was still inside.
“She (the employee) asked me, ‘Are you Muslim?’ and I said, ‘Yes, I’m Muslim,’ and then she said she could not serve me,” Husain said. Eventually, the police were called to defuse the situation that escalated, but no arrests were made.
“I have been hurt and humiliated,” Husain said.
Fleming, however, said those claims are false and that neither religion nor race was ever mentioned by any employees. Although he said he has not yet viewed the tapes, Fleming said the manager and corporate office have reviewed video and audio evidence and determined that the claims are false.
Although he does not interact with the restaurants on a regular basis, Fleming said he has investigated the matter and that he considers it resolved.
The Husains entered the Subway, Fleming said, and used the restrooms for about 30 minutes and, afterward, the restrooms were a “big mess” with water and washing oils all over. Then they left and re-entered the Subway about three different times over a roughly 45-minute span, Fleming said, without ever seeking food service.
Eventually, Fleming added, Husain went outside and spread out a blanket and trinkets on the ground in the parking lot, noting that he may have been trying to pray.
An African-American female employee, Fleming said, justifiably saw him as a behaving oddly and possibly being a vagabond.
She asked him to leave and, when he tried to force his way back in to finally order food, she then locked him outside, Fleming said.
When the employee realized the wife was still inside, she was then allowed to exit, Fleming said, but Husain blocked the door with his foot and became aggressive. So the employee opted to call the police, Fleming said, and Husain later called the police as well. Husain claims he called the police first.
“She never asked if he was Muslim,” Fleming said. “That’s simply not true, and the audio and video supports it.”
The wife was never trapped inside and she was allowed to freely exit, he added.
“It really seems to me he was trying to provoke a reaction and only asked to eat after he’d provoked a reaction,” Fleming said.
Fleming said he has a Muslim manager at one of his Subway restaurants. “We see people of all faiths and colors, and we hire people of all faiths and colors,” he said.
But Husain contends he was only in the bathroom for about 10 minutes and that he only went back outside once.
While Husain said he has a beard and his wife was wearing a traditional hijab scarf, he said they were wearing “Western dress” otherwise.
He said he is 5 feet and 6 inches tall and that he weighs about 155 pounds. “I’m hardly intimidating,” Husain said. “What happened to me? Did I turn into the ‘Incredible Hulk’?”
Fleming said there are no plans to publicly release the video “at this present time” in order to avoid giving Husain any extra information if he pursues litigation.
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