Well, thank God #6: Raed Jarrar and ostensive definitions
Here's a pretty old post from the blog archives of Geekery Today; it was written about 17 years ago, in 2006, on the World Wide Web.
Posting has been light lately thanks to a combination of moving to a new apartment, catching up on backlogged academic writing, and having to wait until September for my Internet access to be set up at home. I have been coping by catching some Internet time through the local library’s WiFi and by playing a lot of Tetris. While I’ve been away, though, our august State has certainly been busy Securing the Homeland. Consider, for example, the case of Iraqi-American architect Raed Jarrar:
The next day, I went to JFK in the morning to catch my Jet Blue plane to California. I reached Terminal 6 at around 7:15 am, issued a boarding pass, and checked all my bags in, and then walked to the security checkpoint. For the first time in my life, I was taken to a secondary search . My shoes were searched, and I was asked for my boarding pass and ID. After passing the security, I walked to check where gate 16 was, then I went to get something to eat. I got some cheese and grapes with some orange juice and I went back to Gate 16 and sat down in the boarding area enjoying my breakfast and some sunshine.
At around 8:30, two men approached me while I was checking my phone. One of them asked me if I had a minute and he showed me his badge, I said:sure. We walked some few steps and stood in front of the boarding counter where I found out that they were accompanied by another person, a woman from Jet Blue.
One of the two men who approached me first, Inspector Harris, asked for my id card and boarding pass. I gave him my boarding pass and driver’s license. He saidpeople are feeling offended because of your t-shirt. I looked at my t-shirt: I was wearing my shirt which states in both Arabic and Englishwe will not be silent. You can take a look at it in this picture taken during our Jordan meetings with Iraqi MPs. I saidI am very sorry if I offended anyone, I didnt know that this t-shirt will be offensive. He asked me if I had any other T-shirts to put on, and I told him that I had checked in all of my bags and I asked himwhy do you want me to take off my t-shirt? Isn’t it my constitutional right to express myself in this way?The second man in a greenish suit interfered and saidpeople here in the US don’t understand these things about constitutional rights. So I answered himI live in the US, and I understand it is my right to wear this t-shirt.
Then I once again asked the three of them :How come you are asking me to change my t-shirt? Isn’t this my constitutional right to wear it? I am ready to change it if you tell me why I should. Do you have an order against Arabic t-shirts? Is there such a law against Arabic script?so inspector Harris answeredyou can’t wear a t-shirt with Arabic script and come to an airport. It is like wearing a t-shirt that reads. I saidI am a robberand going to a bankbut the message on my t-shirt is not offensive, it just saysInspector Harris said:we will not be silent. I got this t-shirt from Washington DC. There are more than a 1000 t-shirts printed with the same slogan, you can google them or email them at email@example.com . It is printed in many other languages: Arabic, Farsi, Spanish, English, etc.We cant make sure that your t-shirt means we will not be silent, we don’t have a translator. Maybe it means something else. I said:But as you can see, the statement is in both Arabic and English. He saidmaybe it is not the same message. So based on the fact that Jet Blue doesn’t have a translator, anything in Arabic is suspicious because maybe it’ll mean something bad!
Meanwhile, a third man walked in our direction. He stood with us without introducing himself, and he looked at inspector Harris’s notes and asks him:is that his information?, inspector Harris answeredyes. The third man, Mr. Harmon, asks inspector Harris :can I copy this information?, and inspector Harris saysyes, sure.
inspector Harris said:You don’t have to take of your t-shirt, just put it on inside-out. I refused to put on my shirt inside-out. So the woman interfered and saidlet’s reach a compromise. I will buy you a new t-shirt and you can put it on on top of this one. I saidI want to keep this t-shirt on. Both inspector Harris and Mr. Harmon saidNo, we can’t let you get on that airplane with your t-shirt. I saidI am ready to put on another t-shirt if you tell me what is the law that requires such a thing. I want to talk to your supervisor. Inspector Harris saidYou don’t have to talk to anyone. Many people called and complained about your t-shirt. Jetblue customers were calling before you reached the checkpoint, and costumers called when you were waiting here in the boarding area.
it was then that I realized that my t-shirt was the reason why I had been taken to the secondary checking.
I asked the four people again to let me talk to any supervisor, and they refused.
The Jet Blue woman was asking me again to end this problem by just putting on a new t-shirt, and I felt threatened by Mr. Harmon’s remarks as inLet’s end this the nice way. Taking in consideration what happens to other Arabs and Muslims in US airports, and realizing that I will miss my flight unless I covered the Arabic script on my t-shirt as I was told by the four agents, I asked the Jet Blue woman to buy me a t-shirt and I saidI don’t want to miss my flight.
… The woman went away for 3 minutes, and she came back with a gray t-shirt readingnew york. I put the t-shirt on and removed the price tag. I told the four people who were involved in the conversation:I feel very sad that my personal freedom was taken away like this. I grew up under authoritarian governments in the Middle East, and one of the reasons I chose to move to the US was that I don’t want an officer to make me change my t-shirt. I will pursue this incident today through a Constitutional rights organization, and I am sure we will meet soon. Everyone said okay and left, and I went back to my seat.
Well, thank God, says I. If government spooks didn’t partner with corporate pencil-pushers then who would protect white American airline customers from men wearing t-shirts with offensive scripts that they can’t read in languages they don’t understand? What Raed didn’t realize is that Homeland Security had to be on the look-out for Arab-American men wearing a shirt saying
We Will Not Be Silent, because it has a compelling State interest in providing the tax-paying public with an ostensive definition of
Incidentally, I am now taking bets on how quickly all those Red Staters and professional blowhards who spent the past couple decades railing against restrictions on
offensive speech and against the culture of enforced sensitivity will be rushing to Raed Jarrar’s defense.
Good night, and good luck.
My friend just told me Delta made her turn her “George Bush Killed My Dog” t-shirt inside out because it was “offensive”. Last week! Insane.