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T-Shirt Censorship: Beginnings of a Deadly Sentiment?
August 21, 2006 2:21 PM   Subscribe

Raed Jarrar was coming home from Jordan wearing a T-shirt with the phrase "We will not be silent" in Arabic script and English. Other JetBlue passengers who could not read the Arabic were "offended" and she was apprehended by security and asked to replace it. She also had her seat changed to the back of the plane. Variations on T-shirt airline censorship have happened before, but, taken to extremes, the fear of foreign language has spawned some unpleasant nights. Where is the line drawn? And where is the path to multicultural reconciliation?
posted by ed (70 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
From the first link: It sucks to be an Arab/Muslim living in the US these days. When you go to the middle east, you are a US tax-payer destroying people's houses with your money, and when you come back to the US, you are a suspected terrorist and plane hijacker.
posted by brain_drain at 2:31 PM on August 21, 2006


First person accounts are crap.
posted by smackfu at 2:32 PM on August 21, 2006


!الحريه
posted by Firas at 2:33 PM on August 21, 2006


Don't threaten me with your devil tongue!
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:35 PM on August 21, 2006


posted "she was apprehended by security"
I asked him "why 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 said "people here in the US don't understand these things about constitutional rights".
(And the terrorist Al Queda sympathizer brown person macaca second-class non-citizen T-shirt wearer is a guy.)
posted by orthogonality at 2:39 PM on August 21, 2006


That's not what she said!!
posted by boo_radley at 2:39 PM on August 21, 2006


I find this part particularly exasperation-worthy:
She asked, what kind of t-shirts do you like. Should I get you an "I heart new york t-shirt?". So Mr. Harmon said "No, we shouldn't ask him to go from one extreme to another". I asked mr. harmon why does he assume I hate new york if I had some Arabic script on my t-shirt, but he didn't answer.
posted by Firas at 2:39 PM on August 21, 2006


The t-shirt in question

posted by nickyskye at 2:42 PM on August 21, 2006


Firas writes "!الحريه"

Matt, threatening posts like Firas's should be deleted.
posted by orthogonality at 2:45 PM on August 21, 2006


I am not sure what she is saying via her tee shirt that she will not be silent...but since she visited Syria, that bastion of freedom, and went straight to a refugee camp (the Shia in the South fled to Syria from that Hezballah area), I assume the shirt was protesting the Israel/Hezballah war.

Years ago I had a friend who was a specialist in Germany during the WWII period. He spoted a German flag in his window for the Weimar Republic (democratic rule) and the neighbors called the cops on a "nazi living next door."
posted by Postroad at 2:50 PM on August 21, 2006


I'm buying that t-shirt immediately.

Firas, what did you write? I don't speak fus'ha (I know some darija), and I also confess that I still need the vowel marks...
posted by Liosliath at 2:51 PM on August 21, 2006


inspector Harris answered "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".

Genius. Brings to mind this story, wherein shoe bomber Richard Reid sauntered aboard a plane while the man who would eventually subdue him was detained by security, apparently for being tall and black.
posted by maryh at 2:51 PM on August 21, 2006


Welcome to Bigotry, population:us
posted by NinjaTadpole at 2:53 PM on August 21, 2006


Liosliath, don't know exactly—I just typed 'freedom' into google translate.
posted by Firas at 2:54 PM on August 21, 2006


Richard Reid sauntered aboard a plane while the man who would eventually subdue him was detained by security, apparently for being tall and black.

In Paris, of all places!
posted by smackfu at 3:00 PM on August 21, 2006


Yep, now I get it - "hurriya." (which does translate to "freedom") Thanks!

OK, nitpickers, I know it's "al-hurriya."
posted by Liosliath at 3:04 PM on August 21, 2006


Good post, but it could have done without the last bit, "the fear of foreign language has spawned some unpleasant nights." Stalin's murder of Jews was not about language, and it seems to me a little insulting, or at least diminishing, to toss it in as a makeweight to a post about having to sit in the back of the plane because of a t-shirt.
posted by languagehat at 3:04 PM on August 21, 2006 [1 favorite]


America: More like your high school every day.
...seriously tho...I wonder if the commercial focus on youth culture imparts a sort of juvenile mentality on folks in general.
The response seems insipid as well tho.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:06 PM on August 21, 2006


Not a T Shirt case but a recent example of plane paranoia which really turned my stomach.

Not sure of its been noticed as its is related to little old blighty.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/5269106.stm

Summary. Two men, either Asian or Arab looking, removed from a flight after fellow passangers deemed them suspicious and refused to fly with them.
posted by Reggie Knoble at 3:11 PM on August 21, 2006


Here is the link done properly (i hope), apologies, first time i have included one in a post.
posted by Reggie Knoble at 3:13 PM on August 21, 2006 [1 favorite]


Passengers on a JetBlue plane arriving in Austin today from Boston were detained, interviewed then released over a suspicious note. JetBlue spokeswoman Jenny Dervin says the crew of Flight 1263 noticed what she called a "suspicious material." Dervin declined to release specifics.

But the FBI later said the material was a note that initially appeared to have been written in Arabic. Officials later determined it was not, and isn't a threat.
--source

Happened earlier this month. JetBlue apparently has issues with Arabic, i.e. Arabic=evil plots.
posted by Orb at 3:17 PM on August 21, 2006


Raed, is of course, the addressee to whom the famous Iraqi warblog "Where is Raed?" was addressed to.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:17 PM on August 21, 2006


OLD NIGHTMARE AIR TRAVEL SCENARIO:

15A: really fat guy
15B: me
15C: really drunk guy

NEW NIGHTMARE AIR TRAVEL SCENARIO:

15A: crying eagle twin towers never forget t-shirt guy
15B: me
15C: squiggly joined-up writing cellphone launch codes guy
posted by Armitage Shanks at 3:17 PM on August 21, 2006 [1 favorite]


I'm pissed off Monarch didn't leave the passengers who refused to fly behind.
posted by cillit bang at 3:17 PM on August 21, 2006


Apologies to Raed for confusing his gender. That was sloppy of me and I'll do better followthrough next time.

languagehat: A fair point, but seeing as how cultural identity is tied into language, I would disagree somewhat. I wasn't intending to insult, but to point out that any kind of ethnic or linguistic discrimination can be taken to a terrible level.
posted by ed at 3:21 PM on August 21, 2006


she was apprehended by security and asked to replace it

Also, apparently, to change "her" gender.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 3:21 PM on August 21, 2006


I'm going to make a version of that shirt, with

Front of t-shirt: "We Will Not Be Silent"
Back of t-shirt: "Suicide Bomber Go Boom!"
posted by Osama bin Laden at 3:26 PM on August 21, 2006


Raed is a Mefite.
posted by Wolof at 3:26 PM on August 21, 2006


Shortly before a flight last year, I noticed that I had the icons for "Hijack This" (which shows dynamite with a detonator, it's for cleaning up malware) and "Holy Quran Viewer" (a Qur'an with open pages) right next to each other on the desktop of my laptop.

I got rid of them, and my friends laughed and laughed, telling me I was paranoid.

I think I was right.
posted by Liosliath at 3:33 PM on August 21, 2006


nickyskye, that one's actually in Farsi. There isn't a clear shot of the Arabic one, but this is close:

posted by omarr at 3:36 PM on August 21, 2006


Girls Gone Wild, Middle Eastern Edition: "Come make me take it off"


posted by The Jesse Helms at 3:37 PM on August 21, 2006


Still looking for work in Canada. Anyone? Help!
posted by leapingsheep at 3:44 PM on August 21, 2006


meh.
posted by keswick at 4:06 PM on August 21, 2006


Inspector Harris answered "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".
I wonder if Inspector Harris can point to the specific ruling that forbade the wearing of such a shirt in a bank ... 'cos I can't help feeling he's talking out of his arse.

Seriously, what the hell's the thinking here? Are they worried she was a suicide bomber with a T-shirt that reads, in Arabic, 'If you can read this you'd better get off the plane NOW before we start to taxi? Nudge nudge wink wink'?
posted by kaemaril at 4:32 PM on August 21, 2006


Call JetBlue. Ask them what their policy is on wearing t-shirts with Arabic script. Tell them this story...then tell them you'll never fly their airline again.
posted by mapalm at 4:34 PM on August 21, 2006


I want a t-shirt with Mary Magdalen giving head to Jesus on the Cross; actually I want a big wodden sculpture, but all I'll ever get is a t-shirt, and that'd be more fun at airports anyway.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:57 PM on August 21, 2006


Thanks omarr. I found another pic and one of Raed Jarrar in the shirt.
posted by nickyskye at 6:05 PM on August 21, 2006


Inspector Harris answered "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".
I wonder if Inspector Harris can point to the specific ruling that forbade the wearing of such a shirt in a bank ... 'cos I can't help feeling he's talking out of his arse.
posted by kaemaril


But can you wear a t-shirt that reads, "Fire!" in a crowded theatre???
posted by leftcoastbob at 6:42 PM on August 21, 2006


NEW NIGHTMARE AIR TRAVEL SCENARIO:
15A: crying eagle twin towers never forget t-shirt guy
15B: me
15C: squiggly joined-up writing cellphone launch codes guy
posted by Armitage Shanks
DREAM AIR TRAVEL SCENARIO (TRUE!)
15A: Young gregarious Egyptian-American hottie en route to visit family in Egypt;
15B: me, en route to the UK;
15C: Young gregarious American soldier hottie en route to Iraq.

The conversation was better than you can ever imagine. At one point later on during the flight they were actually both asleep, leaning on my shoulders!

I've got a great idea for a movie...
posted by Aquaman at 6:49 PM on August 21, 2006


But can you wear a t-shirt that reads, "Fire!" in a crowded theatre???

Yes, of course you can.
posted by kaemaril at 7:32 PM on August 21, 2006


At one point later on during the flight they were actually both asleep, leaning on my shoulders!
Nothing personal, but I'm lighting you on fire with the power of my hate. I get 350-pound flag-shirt-wearing Republicans and evangelical Christians, you get this. ENJOY YOUR KARMA, YOU PRICK, IT'S COMING AT MY EXPENSE.

*foaming at mouth*
posted by scrump at 7:42 PM on August 21, 2006 [1 favorite]


Hmm. Let's see here...

This sucks.

I know that if my little brother were wearing some shirt with Korean on it, and someone gave him a bullshit reason to take it off, he would put up a fight, too.

But...

"We will not be silent" in English, combined with foreign text above it, can be construed as threatening. Many people fear what they can't understand. "offense" is not the same as "fear" which is probably what was really going on that day.

Stuff like this makes me mad that we subsidize the airlines with our tax dollars.
posted by bugmuncher at 7:47 PM on August 21, 2006 [1 favorite]


I have a dark blue T-shirt with yellow print on the back. Instead of FBI it reads TERRORIST. My partner forbid me to wear it outside. And I'm not even in the US but in Canada.
posted by kika at 9:48 PM on August 21, 2006


kika, if you decide to wear that T-shirt outside someday, can I have your car?
posted by Cranberry at 10:53 PM on August 21, 2006


I think I heard that the airlines are really jumpy about people who seem to be outspoken about issues dealing with the Middle East. I'm not sure why.
posted by fleacircus at 11:18 PM on August 21, 2006


Anyone know where I can get a T-shirt with "I am a robber" printed on it? I want to wear it to visit my local bank.
posted by talitha_kumi at 2:06 AM on August 22, 2006


Kinda reminds me of when I saw a guy with this shirt: Killers. Not surprisingly, he was singled out for some extra screening.

My initial reaction was not at all one of censorship or first amendment, but "what kind of total dumass wears a black t-shirt that says 'Killers' to the airport in 2006?"

While I hate to suggest it, I think that I would probably leave the Arabic t-shirts at home when I fly, just to make it easier on myself! Tilting at windmills, etc.

On the other hand, I am CERTAIN that if a security screen saw a Koran in someone's carry-on, that they would possibly (probably?) want them to check it, "for fear of scaring the other passengers." Now that would be wrong.
posted by gregvr at 3:32 AM on August 22, 2006


My favorite t-shirt slogan?

Tu eres un pendejo
You are my friend.

posted by JJ86 at 7:21 AM on August 22, 2006 [1 favorite]


This is why I only fly NakedAir.
posted by slimepuppy at 7:24 AM on August 22, 2006


Wow. Thanks for this - I will not fly JetBlue now.
posted by agregoli at 8:22 AM on August 22, 2006


I dunno...

Apparently enough people were offended by the T-shirt so that many of them actually called the airline (if Mr. Harris speaks the truth).
What if the T-shirt involved an racist insult outrageous enough that many people complain? Would the airline let the person wearing such a T-shirt on the plane?

Also, I find the slogan "we will not be silent" uttered by someone with an Islamic background slightly threatening, since "not being silent", for true believers, often tends to involve throwing bombs, torching buildings, burning flags and just generally being violent.
posted by sour cream at 9:15 AM on August 22, 2006


Yup, sour cream, cuz' that's just what I do when I don't want to be silent about an issue I feel strongly about.
posted by Floydd at 9:46 AM on August 22, 2006


I find the slogan "we will not be silent" uttered by someone with an Islamic background slightly threatening, since "not being silent", for true believers, often tends to involve throwing bombs, torching buildings, burning flags and just generally being violent.

Well, you're just a moron bigot. And I will not keep silent on the matter.
posted by sonofsamiam at 10:03 AM on August 22, 2006


Thank you, sonofsamiam -- you just demonstrated the point I was trying to express.

"[Affirmative statement]. I will not be silent." Okay, I see. There's your statement, and you are emphasizing it. A little heavy on the persecution complex, but it's cool.

"I will not be silent." ... and? By itself, it doesn't actually say anything. it leaves the person's particular grievances and proposed solutions as exercises for the reader. All it says is that the person is aggrieved, and is going to do something about it. I can absolutely see how people would find it threatening.

I'm relatively open-minded, and agree with the general sentiments of the shirt, and would take random Arabic script or Islamic imagery as an invitation to start a conversation. Even the same script, without the English translation, would be okay. But with the English on it, it becomes very deliberately and openly hostile. "I'm Arabic. Don't fuck with me."
posted by bjrubble at 10:17 AM on August 22, 2006


I can absolutely see how people would find it threatening.

Pussy. It's absolutely, categorically irrational to talk yourself into feeling scared over something like this.
posted by sonofsamiam at 10:24 AM on August 22, 2006


If you find it scary, ask the person nicely what it says and what it's about. If they act irrationally, then maybe you really did just save your plane. Most likely, when they calmly tell you what it's about, you can breathe easy and save your plane and that passenger unneeded discomfort.

The culture of fear is not just about being afraid of a foreign language, it's also about the feat to engage strangers, especially those of a different background, in conversation.
posted by cell divide at 10:27 AM on August 22, 2006


Also, I think people generally ought to dress better when they travel. That goes for all the t-shirt, sweatpant wearing slobs out there, not just those with political agendas.
posted by cell divide at 10:29 AM on August 22, 2006


Oh, for future reference, terrorists don't usually wear their 'Hijacking '06: You Da Bomb, Man!" t-shirts on the day of the hijacking. They only pull those out for lanwnmowing and stuff.
posted by sonofsamiam at 10:29 AM on August 22, 2006 [1 favorite]


I think it's sad how scared people are. A t-shirt? Why am I still so amazed that people out there are so completely and bafflingly stupid?
posted by Bageena at 11:16 AM on August 22, 2006


Bageena, I don't think anyone said anything about being scared. The people on that flight complained because they felt offended, not because they were scared.

Anyhow, here's my personal prediction: All this shit is going to get worse, as more and more terrorist acts are perpetrated by young male Muslims. Five years from now, airlines will offer (for a surcharge, of course) flights that are off-limits to people with a middle-Eastern background (this does not include Israelis). There will be a huge discussion on who exactly should be excluded from those "extra-safe" flights, but, surprise, the US Supreme Court will be totally OK with it.

Note that I'm neither condoning this nor saying that it will change much, I'm just saying that it will happen.
posted by sour cream at 12:45 PM on August 22, 2006


Another prediction: In the not-to-far future, Raed Jarrar will find himself on a no-fly list and will have to embark on his next tour to Lebanese refugee camps by non-aerial means of transportation.
posted by sour cream at 12:49 PM on August 22, 2006


"I am CERTAIN that if a security screen saw a Koran in someone's carry-on, that they would possibly (probably?) want them to check it, "for fear of scaring the other passengers."

They've never asked me to check it when I've had one in my carry-on (maybe 2-3 times)...then again, I guess I don't look like their idea of a scary Arab Muslim.
posted by Liosliath at 1:11 PM on August 22, 2006


People who would find this shirt threatening probably feel threatened by the mere presence of an arab muslim on their plane. No need to involve the shirt.
posted by giantfist at 1:26 PM on August 22, 2006


You know if I had Larry Ellisons money I wouldn't be blowing it on 138m yachts (or the three 40 ft tenders that go with it). I'd be bank rolling guys to innocently dick with the airlines. For example I'd buy round trip tickets for a couple dozen guys on a single flight and supply them with T-Shirts with the text of the ten commandments on the front, in arabic.

Firas writes "الحريه"

Damn you firas for injecting the tick into this thread.
posted by Mitheral at 1:46 PM on August 22, 2006


This reminds me of 1968 -- we were not allowed to bring a peace symbol onto the AF base (t-shirt, bumpersticker - or anything) ... didn't matter WHO you were.

Kind of funny how these ppl are still around. (Like locusts ... they just stay under the dried mud and erupt every decade or so?)
posted by Surfurrus at 9:37 PM on August 22, 2006


Wow, it warms the cockles of my heart to see how everybody read what i had to say, then completely disregarded it and continued on as though I'd said exactly what their strawman caricature would have.

Let me repeat, using small words:
* I like a lot of Muslim culture
* I agree with the general sentiment of the shirt
* I have approached people to ask them about Islam
* I own t-shirts with Arabic script on them

That said, this shirt is not cool in my book, because it is deliberately confrontational. It does not invite dialogue -- hell, it doesn't even make a coherent statement. It merely expresses a vague anger.

Should it be grounds for action by airline security? No.
Is it a completely innocuous shirt that can only be construed negatively by the hopelessly bigoted? You've got to be kidding.
posted by bjrubble at 12:43 AM on August 23, 2006


I don't think it's just the t-shirt. I think it's the t-shirt plus Raed's apparent ethnicity. I'm willing to be that if I, a young Caucasian woman, had walked onto the plane wearing that shirt - I wouldn't have been given any problem.
posted by etoile at 11:02 AM on August 24, 2006


T-shirt: "I am not a terrorist," in Arabic
posted by homunculus at 3:28 PM on August 25, 2006


It does not invite dialogue -- hell, it doesn't even make a coherent statement.
posted by bjrubble


That's one thing this shirt has in common with the shirts that say, "Support Our Troops," "United We Stand," and "Til They All Come Home." They're making a statement but the words don't really express much at all.

The only effect those shirts have had on me are that I haven never really want to stand united with anyone who's been wearing one.
posted by leftcoastbob at 8:08 AM on August 26, 2006


bjrubble: "Let me repeat, using small words:"

I have black friends!

"That said, this shirt is not cool in my book, because it is deliberately confrontational.

Every shirt has to "invite dialogue" now? Would you have a problem with a black activist wearing the shirt? A gay rights activist? A women's rights activist?

Just being snarky above — I don't want to acccuse you of anything, but flashing your Muslim-friendly credentials doesn't affect the validity of your argument one way or another.
posted by rafter at 10:37 AM on August 26, 2006


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