Arabic writing on your t-shirt? Good luck getting on a plane.

I’ve got a t-shirt that says “Peace” in Arabic. If I attempt to board a flight while wearing it, at least a JetBlue flight, apparently I will not be allowed on the plane. Raed Jarrar showed up for his JetBlue flight with a t-shirt that said, in Arabic and English, “We will not be silent,” and was told, “You can’t wear a t-shirt with Arabic script and come to an airport. It is like wearing a t-shirt that reads ‘I am a robber’ and going to a bank.” When he asked, “Isn’t it my constitutional right to express myself in this way?” he was told by an airline employee, or perhaps a TSA agent, “People here in the US don’t understand these things about constitutional rights.”

I find this really incredible. Does the U.S. expect “good Iraqis” to adopt the English language and alphabet along with our form of government? If I’m listening to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan on my ipod in the airport and the person next to me gets anxious and complains, can I be stopped from flying for that too? Things are getting really ridiculous.

I wish it were clearer whether this were a JetBlue policy or something coming from TSA. Raed Jarrar’s account focuses on JetBlue, but I was on the phone with a ticket agent just now and she denied that JetBlue has any such policy, saying it was probably TSA.

5 comments on “Arabic writing on your t-shirt? Good luck getting on a plane.

  1. I wouldn’t give Jet Blue a clean slate. They are a pretty awful organizaton.
    Jet Blue doesn’t have a union.”The non-union, low-budget Jet Blue airlines has a hip image, and its lower fares and access to multiple television stations has made it popular with consumers. But just as Nike’s progressive image obscured its reliance on sweatshop labor, Jet Blue’s low fares come at a steep price: the elimination of thousands of living wage airline industry jobs. Progressives who have a problem with Walmart should be equally troubled by the facts behind the “bargain fares” of Jet Blue.”
    They also released data on five million passengers to the Defense Department.

  2. It is no doubt that freedom of expression is being questionably supressed here, but I might like to add that wearing a tshirt in Arabic at an airport is a huge fashion statement mistake. It is very much like wearing a tshirt in a bank that reads “I am a robber,” more like walking into the prison exercise yard with your pants around your ankles. Honestly , it does stir me up to read that this poor man was not able to express himself at the airport, but I would still make a plea for common sense from Mr. Jarrar. Did he not even think about the possibility of this happening while he was taking a shower that morning. Did he not think on the cab ride that there are better places to challenge authority?

  3. I really don’t understand this attitude. It seems to me to be unforgiveably prejudiced, bigoted, and ignorant to think that an entire language and alphabet indicates alliance with “the enemy.” It supports the view that America is at war against Arabs or against Muslims, an entire world religion and an entire ethnic group, when even George Bush has no problem distinguishing between Muslim terrorists and Muslim friends. How can we sink so low as a nation as to think that anything in Arabic script is suspect? If that is the mentality of people in this country then Americans are their own greatest threat.

  4. I’m really late to this party, but I just started catching up on some posts I missed while on vacation.

    I pretty much agree with Rory that this was a ridiculous move by airport security and Jet Blue. My best guess is that there is no official policy against Arabic language clothing or other items. This mostly sounds like an over-reaction by airport security to what may have been a complaint by another passenger.

    Security often have far more personal discretion on what they allow and don’t allow than may be they should or are even supposed to. A couple weeks ago they let my mother bring some relish into the O’Hare airport after she forgot it was in her bag. Even though relish isn’t a specifically prohibited item it is certainly liquidy and gelatinous enough that it should be a banned liquid. I doubt my mother would have been allowed to carry it in if she wasn of asian descent rather than a gray haired white woman.

  5. Two things to note about this situation:
    1- This happened at JFK airport. JFK!! In New York City, where I currently reside. There are whole neighborhoods here where people speak only arabic, It is common to find arabic t-shirts all over the city as well as art, magazines and other literature in arabic. If this happened in iowa it would be different. Part of what I found so chilling about the incident was that it happened in one of the largest international airports located in a city with a huge multi-ethnic population. Furthermore, how is anyone at jetblue or TSA going to know whether it is arabic or urdu or farsi? Are they all equally inciting?
    2- The statement on the man’s t-shirt is an old one. It originates from the holocaust, it represented a refusal to pretend that racisim and genocide were not happening. By insisting that someone remove a shirt with that statement on it, our society is making a powerful and terrifying statement of their own.

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