Friday, February 12, 2010

Quickie: Arabic flash cards can get you detained? In America?

From CNN: Passenger who had Arabic flash cards sues over his detainment (February 10, 2010):

A college senior studying Arabic says he was wrongly detained for almost five hours last summer after an airport screener found his Arabic-English flash cards and a book critical of U.S. foreign policy.[…] George, of Wyncote, Pennsylvania, said he is studying Arabic because of his interest in Middle East politics. He plans to take a foreign service exam later this year, he said.
"I want to serve my country using my Arabic language," George told CNN. "And it just seems crazy to me that for that I was arrested and treated like a criminal."

He said the incident occurred August 29 after he arrived at the Philadelphia airport for a flight to California to begin his senior year at Pomona College. When he was asked to empty his pockets at the airport checkpoint, he produced a set of handmade flash cards, which piqued the interest of the TSA screener. The flash cards had an English word on one side and the corresponding Arabic word on the other.

Of the approximately 200 flash cards, about 10 had words such as "bomb," "explosion," and "terrorist," George said.

"They asked me why I had those words. I told them honestly because I had been trying to read Arabic news media, especially Al-Jazeera, and these are words that come up when you read the news about the Middle East," George said.

He said he was in the secondary screening area for about a half hour before a TSA supervisor arrived and began questioning him in a "hostile and aggressive manner."
Noting that George had a book titled "Rogue Nation: American Unilateralism and the Failure of Good Intentions," the supervisor asked him a series of questions, including "Who did 9/11?" and "Do you know what language he spoke?" The supervisor then held up the flash cards and said, "Do you see why these cards are suspicious?" George said.
One year ago, JetBlue Airways and two TSA screeners paid $240,000 to an Iraqi man to settle claims that they refused to let him aboard a flight until he had covered up his T-shirt, which read, "We Will Not be Silent" in English and Arabic.

The man, Raed Jarrar, said one screener told him, "Coming to an airport while wearing a T-shirt with Arabic letters on it was equivalent to going into a bank while wearing a shirt saying, 'I am a robber.' "

Read the whole thing here.

Does this mean I could potentially get whisked to secondary at the airport if I’m carrying Eduardo Galeano’s Open Veins of Latin America? Rogue Nation, by the way, was written by Clyde Prestowitz, a former Reagan Administration trade official.  I wonder if the TSA supervisor had even read that book. Do you see why brains are needed?


Donna said...

Yikes. And since we're going to Jordan next, I'd been planning on trying to learn some basic Arabic. Wonder if "Arabic for Dummies" will get me solitary?

diplopundit said...

Didn't we used to read things like this happening in the old USSR or some third world dictatorship? I really do wonder -- what were they thinking?

Good luck in Jordan, Donna! I hope you stay blogging.