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Does Arabic Offend You?

| April 22, 2016

raed jarrar

The shirt that kept Raed Jarrar from boarding a plane. (ACLU)

The story I’m about to tell you happened 10 years ago, but it might as well have happened two weeks ago–as in fact it did, like a reminder of America’s Groundhog Day stupor in the bogus age of terror.

pierre tristam column flaglerlive.com flaglerlive Raed Jarrar is an Iraqi-born architect and political activist who first gained fame in 2003 as one of the authors of a celebrated blog that documented the horrors of Saddam Hussein’s regime and the American invasion. That’s when he lived in Baghdad under threat of getting picked off by Saddam’s goons or obliterated by American Tomahawks.

He then emigrated to the United States. In August 2006 he was at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, waiting to board a Jet Blue flight home to his American wife in Oakland. He was wearing a black t-shirt with white Arabic lettering that said: “We will not be silent.” The English translation appeared below the Arabic line. The line dates back to a student resistance group in Nazi Germany called the White Rose, whose antiwar leaflets pledged, “We will not be silent… we are your bad conscience,” and so on.


A Transportation Security Administration goon asked Jarrar to step aside, and before long he and a Jet Blue employee were demanding that Jarrar either remove his shirt or cover it with an idiotic one labeled “All Original New York Authentic Blend.” Jarrar was polite throughout, answering all sorts of inappropriate questions about his private life, and reminding his assailants of his rights. “People in the U.S.,” the TSA goon told him, “they don’t know anything about constitutional rights.”

He was right about that, himself being Exhibit 1. He told Jarrar that the t-shirt at an airport was the equivalent of someone wearing an “I am a robber” t-shirt at a bank. With intelligence like that, the TSA goon missed his vocation as a CIA agent. Jarrar didn’t want to miss his flight. He finally complied. He later sued Jet Blue through the ACLU and won a $240,000 settlement. He didn’t want to settle. He wanted a precedent set against airlines. But the judge was getting impatient. Jet Blue never apologized and denied wrongdoing.

Humiliations of the sort are the white noise of America’s rotting war on terror. We only hear of that fraction that turns into court cases. We don’t hear–we don’t want to hear–about the accusing glances, the sneers at the woman wearing her veil, the titters and muffled insults at the small group of Muslims praying for a few minutes in a corner of the terminal. Blacks and browner-skinned immigrants of course are used to being treated as subhuman threats in the clutter of white stereotype. For Arabs it’s a relatively new thing, starting in the early 1980s when Ronald Reagan, after his run-ins with Muammar Qaddafi in Libya and being run out of Beirut in defeat, started adopting the Israeli slur about Palestinians as terrorists and applying it to all Arabs.

The big concentrations of Arabs in Dearborn, Mich., started feeling it first before it spread little by little to the rest of the country, then exploded after the 9/11 attacks. John Ashcroft’s summarily and illegally rounded up some 1,500 Arab and Muslim migrants purely based on their race and creed, holding half of them them for months, and in many cases torturing them. It was a brief redo of the internment of Japanese during World War II, on a smaller but more brutal scale. Naturally, not one of those rounded up proved to be anywhere near a threat to national security. Not compared to John Ashcroft, anyway. His profiling approach is still the cue to those who see a suicide belt in every turban.

You’d think over time people might learn not to advertise their ignorance so proudly. But prejudice is a powerful vaccine against good sense, and it’s making an overt comeback. It’s the wind beneath Trump’s hair. So it was at the beginning of the month when another Iraqi exile, Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, a refugee and a student at the University of California at Berkeley, was accused of talking to his father in Arabic on a cell phone and kicked off a Southwest plane after a fellow-passenger thought he was a terrorist. He, too, was heading to Oakland. (“The trouble with Oakland is that when you get there, there isn’t any there there,” Gertrude Stein famously said of Oakland. That was in the day when you could at least get there.)

Now, the number of people who speak Arabic worldwide is almost equivalent to the population of the United States. Some of them are in this country (I’d include myself is my Arabic hadn’t become so pidgin), and some of them—at least a few, anyway—are not terrorists. When they say “I’ll call you when I land, Inshallah” to their dad on a plane, they actually mean that God willing, they’ll call when they land. “Inshallah,” by the way, is not a specialty of Muslims. It was the dangling participle of every other sentence in my childhood’s Catholic household.

You can’t expect Americans who most of them barely know how to speak their own language properly to know the rudiments of Arabic. The woman who alerted authorities about Makhzoomi’s conversation with his dad has her own problems. But when her stupidity leads to a police search, an interrogation, and an implied prohibition of speaking Arabic on a plane, not only do we all have a problem. We are the problem, and 15 years of prejudice big and small against Arab-Americans have taught us nothing. The only war we’re winning is against our own.

Pierre Tristam is FlaglerLive’s editor. Reach him by email here or follow him @PierreTristam. A version of this piece aired on WNZF.


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39 Responses for “Does Arabic Offend You?”

  1. Mark says:

    Doesn’t matter, I’m a white male. We don’t count.

  2. Joe says:

    Uneducated, ignorant, and scared of the world. There are lots of these people around. It’s sad.

  3. Jon Hardison says:

    There’s a video that has played on the internet for years – a video where an angry older woman calls over the flight attendant and demands to be moved to another seat because her neighbor has the wrong color skin. Aiming to please, the attendant moves the black passenger instead, leaving her in her coach seat and upgrading him to first class.

    It was a Portuguese video released in 2000. It concludes with with the following:
    “Put racism in the right place.” https://youtu.be/6yVMik5Mfwk

    Fear has never solved a problem. It never will. This is all so terribly sad.

  4. Dean Carpenter says:

    I agree that prejudice is rampant and the ten fundamental rights are ignored by people with authority as a matter of routine but your editorial opinion that it is caused by a common racial stereotype shared by all white people is shallow and insults your readers. You are pandering. You can do better.

  5. ScotchRox says:

    What is your point?

    In today’s environment that’s the same as yelling “FIRE” in a theater or talking about a BOMB in an airport…

  6. r&r says:

    Arabic doesn’t offend me it’s the arabic people that do. When they burn our flag and have a motto DEATH TO AMERICANS it pisses me off and if our government had the guts to stand up to them we wouldn’t be talking about this.

  7. Brian says:

    More amusing anti-American blather from Pierre…how strange for a TSA official to exhibit concern regarding this shirt – of course he should have known about the student resistance group in Nazi Germany 75 YEARS AGO! Dang, these agents sure are misinformed! Or, perhaps at the moment he saw the shirt his mind flashed to much more recent events than World War II – like 15 years ago when a band of scum trash commandeered 4 airplanes and slaughtered 3000 American mothers, fathers, sons and daughters who were just going to work and minding their own business. All these people wanted was to get through the day and return to their families, INSHALLAH!!

  8. Red White & Blue says:

    You can print all this “crap” you want. I will Stand my Ground as an American who DOES NOT like, nor wants to live anywhere near islamics or middle -east humans. Their beliefs are a DANGER to our society. You can call me racist, bigoted, homophobic , WHATEVER…I don’t care. I will continue to vote against any more immigration of Syrians or any other middle-eastern people coming to America who can’t and WILL NOT give up Mohammed and his teachings……

  9. Tired of it says:

    I agree with r&r. Foreigners come to this country for a better life and when they get here they expect us to adhere to their customs. This is the United States. We speak and write English here. If you want to live here you need to do the same or go the hell back to where you came from. God Bless America!

  10. Lin says:

    I don’t doubt that anecdotes like this describe events that happen. It’s awful to target a whole people like those who speak Arabic. But I see these articles as targeting everyone else.

    The whole context of the world that this is happening in is missing here.
    There is genocide, jihad, culture clashes with an ideology that is violent and trying to take us back into the ancient world where there was slavery, no rights for so many segments of the people. We have made so much progress here in America beyond what Middle East people still suffer.

    Give us a break.

    • Pierre Tristam says:

      So Lin, the standard by which we measure ourselves is now the Middle East? Not, say, the Bill of Rights? Does the fact that mayhem is rampant in those parts of the world somehow lessens the injustices that afflict people here because, well, they should be grateful they’re not being beheaded in a Mesopotamian desert? By that standard we should all just shut the hell up and put up with indignities, lawbreaking, abuses of power and the rest of it because after all it’s not nearly as bad as elsewhere. And if you call the year of Trump, when all sorts of bigotries have unashamedly become overt and accepted, “so much progress here in America,” then we haven’t been watching the same Fox tales. Give me a break. Read this comment thread. It testifies to your “progress” admirably.

  11. David B says:

    I can see where people would feel uncomfortable in an Airport.

  12. Geezer says:

    Most of my Caucasian brothers and sisters around the world owe their brown
    eyes and olive skin to the Arab peoples. So remember that if you wish to spread
    hatred. It may just catch up to you.

    Arabic language tee-shirts don’t offend me. The provocative, vulgar, foul language
    shirts that people don more and more often these days do irritate me.
    I recently saw a young woman wearing a shirt that proclaimed “I Just Pooped.”
    And now I see “Fu** You” on a lot of tee-shirts.
    I even saw a rebel flag tee with the caption: “I Had a Dream.”
    How these people don’t get assaulted perplexes me.

    There’s so much to be offended about today–so many choices!

    Abbondanza!

  13. The Geode says:

    There are Americans who burn the flag and kill each other EVERY hour of EVERY day. What do you have to say about that?

  14. Truth says:

    It’s sad how in today’s times people born in the USA, who’s parents were born it the USA, and so on have no real rights or say in changes that take place here. Any time a person takes to social media or small group says they don’t like something. That something is banned, taken, regulated, or shunned by even more bleeding hearts that feel bad for that person or group (as long as they are different or a minority). Forget the masses views or rights. Mass discrimination is the new norm and or local, state, and govrn’t leaders feed on this. They can’t tell the small number of people your wrong and why they want to look like the hero’s saving the weak. It’s time to grow up and bring things back to reality. Nothing good is coming from this crud we are seeing today!

  15. Lin says:

    Pierre, I should have been clearer. I condemn bigotry of all types and against all groups.
    Arabic does not offend me. But generalizations and stereotypes do. What on earth does Trump have to do with my post? Your story condemns us all, Americans who cannot even speak our own language. Does this wearer if the t shirt consider the fate of his words at all, and do you?

    But Americans who got rid of slavery and are bending over backwards through yes, The Bill of Rights and Constitutional amendments and laws, rules, etc., courts, etc. set up to right the wrongs having been done and
    Unfortunately still being done — that protection doesn’t exist as such in the Middle East. That is the contrast I was trying to spotlight with my imperfect words.

    I’d like one story from you about the present day misery that shows some accountability to the Muslims for the violence taking place now. I’m not and Trump is not responsible for it. Sorry this happened to this man, unjust yes.

  16. Econ professor says:

    That shirt is for shock value and creating negative reactions. Yet because of the person’s background or race it is OK in this country. The same country that bans a historic flag on false ideas of it’s history (because the people have been told it represents something it didn’t), and wants to take guns from people for reasons that are crazier than the flag issue. And then there is the whole BL*#% lives matter thing that I want even start on. It’s time for change and as crazy as the idea is America needs to take about 10 steps back and start moving forward from there. Class dismissed for today.

  17. Veteran says:

    I agree with Red, White and Blue and Tired of it. They saved me the trouble of posting.

  18. Mark says:

    My white privilege is offended.

  19. Knightwatch says:

    You can see here that Trump has tapped into a segment of our society that was quietly bigoted and xenophobic, but now has a voice and a purpose. These folks envision a return to our racist roots when whites were supreme and no one had to sit next to anyone of color or of another culture. It’s horrifying to me that their champion has sullied America’s international reputation with his hateful, vile nonsense, and that so many agree with him. Thankfully, there’s not enough of them to take over America, but we have to be very wary. They’re out there!

  20. Anonymous says:

    I think that Pierre has a point. If the guy had been doing anything that implied an actual threat, that would have been different. But, he wasn’t. As a result of one TSA agent’s stupidity, Mr. Jarrar got more than his “15 minutes.” Let’s move on.

  21. Concerned Citizen says:

    I’m not offended by the Arabic culture, language, or T-Shirts with a slogan.

    What does offend me is the totally biased nature of this article. You seem to be on a high horse assuming that all Americans dislike people from the Middle Eastern part of the world. I’m not perfect but I was raised to show respect towards others regardless of where they are from.

    I also wonder about your repeated use of the word goon to describe a TSA worker. Does it make you a better person to accuse white people of being overly sensitive to the Arabic culture then repeatedly insult someone because of their profession?

    Granted TSA does not have a good reputation nor does a lot of Law Enforcement agencies in this country. Still most try to do their job every day without trying to make headlines in the paper.

    We would all be better off as a society if we showed a little more respect to all and didn’t use words like “Goon” to describe our fellow human beings.

    Just a thought and my humble opinion which doesn’t matter much this day and age.

    • Pierre Tristam says:

      Concerned, I don’t know where you get the impression that I’m referring to “all” Americans. Some of your best friends are Arabs, I’m sure. But regarding the goon: I was referring specifically to TSA Inspector Garfield Harris, whose behavior by definition rates him a goon, inexcusably upending the life of a fellow human being that day and for who knows how many months, as lawsuits are no small matter on one’s peace of mind. I have no doubt many a TSA inspector is fair minded and unremarkable. That’s not the issue here. Whatever led Harris to act as a goon is, and clearly, it didn’t seem out of the ordinary to him, which suggests that that type of goonery was not unusual. It’s lawsuits like Jarrar’s that help put goons in their place, not submission and rah-rah waving of pompoms because we all love a uniform.

  22. Stan says:

    Maybe if the Muslim community spoke out LOUDLY against violence and terrorism, it would dispel some of the distrust. Maybe I am missing it, but I only hear the sound of silence.

  23. confidential says:

    Not Arabic neither Arabs offend me. Among them there are nutty ones like in any other cultural groups. Lets do not paint all individuals with the same colors of the rotten one’s. Please live and let live and lets try a little kindness too.

  24. Boy I Hate Politics says:

    Completely agree with “Stan”. The Muslim community has remained mostly silent on terrorism as a whole, only very rarely denouncing it and only when pointed questions are asked. ISIS and other groups that claim their religion (Islam) as being the sole purpose for their actions should alone cause “true” Muslims to be infuriated….but it doesn’t.

    I understand the argument of “they’re not us so we don’t have to defend anything” but that isn’t reality. Until the Muslim community as a whole takes an active stance on these issues and actively participates in the denouncing of the supposed tearing apart of their religion by terrorism, side eyes will continue and justly so.

    What’s funny is I’ve generally refrained from posting on FlaglerLive because liberals always fall back on the “bigot” insult when someone doesn’t agree with them on this issue. It’s hilarious considering I’m mixed race, have dated a Muslim in the past, and am not a Republican. Oh and I don’t hate Muslims or their religion. I just want to live in a country that is safe and right now, inviting people in from a group that has proven to have a heavy influx of terrorists as well as those lying about their background to gain entry to our country is frankly foolish. There are other ways to help people.

    Please…find something worthy of insulting people on because your tired fallbacks are getting very old.

  25. Fredrick says:

    No it does not. What offends me is what nutjobs do in the name of religion. Any religion. #muslimlivesmatter #christionslivesmatter, #Atheistslivesmatter, even #leftwingliberialslivesmatter, though the last one I think I could look the other way,

  26. tightlines says:

    For “Stan” and “Boy I Hate Politics”: The Muslim community hasn’t been “mostly silent on terrorism as a whole.” A quick Google search brings up statements condemning terrorism with tens of thousands of names on them (http://www.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl#q=muslim+leaders+condemning+terrorism). But fanatics who support groups like ISIS or al-Qaeda don’t give a damn about other Muslims’ condemnations. They’re part of a sect that considers Muslims who disagree with them “disbelievers” deserving of death, and they kill more Muslims than they do non-Muslims. Condemnations from moderates do little more than placate non-Muslims demanding condemnations. Anyhow, do you go around demanding that Episcopalians and members of the Metropolitan Community Church condemn the actions of groups like Westboro Baptist Church because they’re all Christians? (And do you think Westboro would care?) No? Then be consistent. Don’t demand that Shiites and Sufis and moderate Sunnis apologize for the actions of Salafi jihadis who’d happily kill them.

  27. Joe says:

    There alot of people in these comments who are so scared and full of hate. I feel so bad for them because life must be miserable living like that. I pray they find God and love, peace and understanding. Anyone who doesn’t understand the importance of freedom and would fight to supreme freedom of expression in America are considered terrorist supporters in my group. Yes believe it or not the biggest terrorist threats in America comes from Americans themselves.

  28. Donald Trump's Tiny Fingers says:

    When is the Christian community going to finally come out and denounce all the terrorist attacks that Christians have been involved in? I have yet to see them openly denounce the Oklahoma city bombing.

  29. Nancy N. says:

    Tired of it – yes, those darn foreigners that come here for a better life and then when they get here expect those already here to adhere to their way of life. It’s outrageous.

    So which native tribe are YOU a member of, anyway? Oh, what’s that you say….?

    I got here first so I get to set the rules only works in preschool.

  30. Sherry says:

    Hola from Javea, Spain. . . where everyone we’ve met is appalled that anyone would support some one like Donald Trump. . . who is all over the headlines here!

    Right On. . . Nancy N, dear Geezer, Donald Trumps Tiny Fingers, tightlines, Joe, Knightwatch and all the others who see this situation in a balanced, open minded way.

    The media here does show many, many Muslims speaking out against the horrible acts of ALL terrorists. The Muslims we’ve met all very much want us to understand that their friends and families are the biggest and first victims of the terrorists and that the vast majority of Muslims completely condemn the terrorists acts of destruction. The HUGE problem is that media in ALL countries is biased. . . we only hear what the media owners want us to hear. . . we are ALL being massively manipulated!

  31. Geezer says:

    Sherry:
    ¡Saludos desde Palm Coast!

    In reply to your thoughts about media bias–I am posting a link
    showing an international version of Newsweek which contains a
    sympathetic article discussing the plight of the Palestinian people.
    The article is referenced on the yellow call-out bar on the top of
    the cover. (International ed, Newsweek, August 2004)

    The American Newsweek mentions a trivial article in the same
    call-out box and does not include the pro-Palesinian article in the issue.
    (American ed, Newsweek, August 2004)

    http://www.annainthemiddleeast.com/whatcanyou/media/index.html

    This is only a small example of media bias. (Selective journalism)
    When I was a child, I remember the exposé articles and the abundance
    of investigative journalism articles. Today the news is treated as
    entertainment, and places its priorities on ratings, and is in cahoots with
    the government by their rich and corrupt ownership.

    We are hearing mostly propaganda which has been very effective at
    turning us all against each other. We eat propaganda like Reagan
    would eat his jellybeans.

    There is no real outcry for honest reporting. The younger generation
    won’t miss it, as they’ve never known it. It’s a sad prognosis for Americans
    going forward. All Americans should take out a book on propaganda
    and study it, and notice how these brainwashing methods are being applied
    every single day against them by their favorite news networks and media.

  32. Anonymous says:

    I would think that the fact that extremist Muslims kill more Muslims than any other group might prompt more outcry and action from the Muslim community, for their own sakes, no matter how they might feel about Non-Muslims who may be casting stones their way.

  33. Sherry says:

    anonymous. . . the Muslims ARE speaking out against terrorism frequently and loudly. . . the Media just doesn’t want us to hear it!!! Many media owners want us divided and afraid. . . we are much more controllable if we are cowering in fear. By reading many of the comments here. . . I would say mission accomplished!!!

    Geezer dear. . . you are so astute and accurate in your observations of media manipulation. Hopefully your wisdom will influence others to do their own research for some glimmer of truth. We all need to learn that true accurate, unbiased journalism is dead. . . if it ever lived at all.

    Beautiful Valencia beckons. . . Tapas tonight!

  34. sick of failures says:

    Pierre and Flagler Live are collectively the truest form of journalism in this community! Those who scream liberal drivel and get outraged should step away from the keyboard for a moment and ask yourselves,what other media outlet does a better job of investigating and holding officials, agencies, groups, whomever accountable for their actions?

    There are numerous and in my opinion more articles on this site that appeal to and espouse the so called conservative values and ideals, such as taking the city and the county government to task over waste, fraud, and abuse of the tax payers’ dollars! NO ONE calls the local officials in this county out more than Pierre. For this reason alone Flagler Live should receive at least $1/month from each of you!

    For the sake of appeasing those less informed, let’s agree Pierre is “liberal”. It was your choice to read this, don’t turn around and shoot the messenger if you believe the source to be garbage. Ranting doesn’t change anyone’s mind. Provide solutions, provide insight from another perspective or simply choose to find media that caters to your particular bias. Flagler Live religiously publishes comments that are in direct opposition to the point of the article. What is liberal media anyway? How do you identify it when it is the MEDIA who coined and proliferated the phrase. It is akin to me running around and screaming I am a human, I am a human, I am a human.

  35. sick of failures says:

    Furthermore asking the Muslim community to take responsibility for and do something about extremism, fundamentalism, and the perpetuation of violence for the sake of violence is such an ignorant, bigoted, and useless point of view.

    To all of our white christian community members, are you going to take responsibility for every act of extremism, violence, and mass extermination? Do you feel responsible for young white boys taking automatic weapons and bombs into churches, schools, theaters, and crowds/gatherings? What are you doing to own up to your part in those instances? Once the group in charge accomplishes such a magnanimous feat please share the plan with all the other skin colors, sects, religions of the world.

  36. Lun says:

    Does Christian offend you?
    Does Republican offend you?

  37. sick of failures says:

    @Lun…Christian does not offend me. Republican does not offend me. In fact I would more likely be surprised to find myself the offended rather than the offender. Ignorance scares me. Witnessing buffoons spew hatred and be acknowledged and upheld for doing so go against the heart and soul of what it means to be an American. While not as sophisticated in thought or ability to articulate my distress at such failures as Pierre, the rate in which the average US citizen let alone, the average Palm Coaster is devouring itself and becoming, and further more behaving and reacting as radicalized is a symptom more severe and detrimental to humanity’s soul. gods save us all

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