Monday, August 13, 2007

T-Shirt Story 1: 'I Got Rights!'

"I grew up and spent all my life living under authoritarian regimes and I know that these things happen.

"But I'm shocked that they happened to me here, in the US."

These were the words of Mr. Raed Jarrar, an architect, who wasn't allowed to board a JetBlue airliner in New York. Just because of his T-shirt!

If fact, he wasn't allowed to board until he got another T-shirt to wear.


And he's gonna sue!

That's not really so shocking, come to think about it.

On the surface, this looks like a clear case of racism, islamophobia, or something scary like that. Mr. Jarrar grew up in Iraq, moving to to the United States in 2005. The T-shirt he was wearing was black, with the words "We Will Not Be Silent" written on it in white.

In Arabic.

These days, "We Will Not Be Silent" is a slogan used by people against the war in Iraq and other conflicts in the Middle East. The BBC article on Mr. Jarrar's troubles says that the phrase comes from the White Rose dissident group in Nazi Germany. "Resistance group" might be a better term, but "dissident" is the more groovily relevant term these days. That's another topic.

The Curious Affair of the Architect's Shirt started August 12, 2007.

"We Will Not Be Silent" was boldly proclaimed on Mr. Jarrar's shirt in Arabic, and, in much smaller lettering, in English.

The black-shirted Iraqi-American boarded the flight "days after British law enforcement officials announced they had disrupted a plot to blow up trans-Atlantic flights," the New York Sun pointed out.

I wouldn't have chosen that day to wear a black T-shirt with Arabic writing in big, bold, white lettering.

Mr Jarrar said that the T-Shirt slogan was protected by his "constitutional rights to free expression."

He finally consented wear another T-shirt, another T-shirt, purchased for him by a JetBlue employee at the airport gift shop. At least, that's what the Mr. Jarrar's complaint says.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has gotten involved with Mr. Jarrar's lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security over the T-shirt affair. This should be interesting.

If Mr. Jarrar's lawyer decides to play Mr. Jarrar as an a-political architect whose just happened to wear a T-shirt with a harmless slogan, I hope that the court will take a few facts in mind: Global Exchange says that, in contrast to "US companies such as Nike abusing the women who make its shoes, the US government fueling an illegal, unjustified, murderous war in Iraq, or the World Trade Organization (WTO) undercutting consumer and environmental protections, Global Exchange offers itself as a partner for peace and social justice."

Mr. Jarrar's bolg is In The Middle / Raed Jarrar's Blog.


Anonymous said...

So is your point that because other people are ignorant and fearful of another language they don't understand, we should all just cater to that mentality instead of call them on it? Homeland Security and the Jet Blue security officials had no business getting that deeply involved in the first place so it will serve them right to have the ACLU come knocking at their door. The authorities involved at the airport could have looked for/called 3 people who speak Arabic to ask them if they recognize the wording on that man's T-shirt and see if they translate it the same way and then let Raed J. go about his business. This would not have been an issue if people chose to get some knowledge/education rather than react in fear.

I hope those same authorities do read Raed J.'s comments. They'll probably learn something. I did.
A female Grad student in Cali

Brian H. Gill said...

A female Grad student in Cali,

I do not advocate ignorance and fear.

On the other hand, I find it difficult to believe that an intelligent man such as Raed Jarrar would not anticipate the reaction that wearing his T-shirt would provoke: and the benefit his cause would enjoy, if he became a 'victim' of American authorities.

Those interested in the use of law enforcement and related agencies as tools in anti-government propaganda campaigns might find two other posts of interest:
"T-Shirt Story 2: Civil Rights vs Common Sense" (August 13, 2007)
"Raed Jarrar, Just Who Is this Guy, and Why Should We Care?" (August 13, 2007)

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