Tag Archives: open minds

“Flying While Arabist” a Crime Now?

An American student was handcuffed and jailed for attempting to take Arabic-English flashcards onto a plane. LA Times article here.

Nicholas George planned to brush up on his Arabic vocabulary during a flight in August from Philadelphia to California, where he was to start his senior year at Pomona College. So he carried some Arabic-English flashcards in his pocket to study on the plane.

George, a physics major who is considering a career as a U.S. diplomat in the Middle East, is suing the Transportation Security Administration, the FBI and Philadelphia police for jailing him after his flashcards were found and confiscated in a Philadelphia airport screening. His lawsuit, filed in federal court this week, said his four hours in detention, half of that in handcuffs, violated his rights to free speech and protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

My first thought upon reading this was, “Ha! My anxieties about taking my Hans Wehr dictionary on flights was well founded after all, and not paranoid!” Because you know what words appear in the world’s greatest Arabic-English dictionary? “Bomb” and “terrorism.” Swear to God.

The student acknowledged that a few of the vocabulary words, including “bomb” and “terrorism,” may have alarmed authorities, but he also said he needed to learn them in order to understand the news of the day in Arabic-language newspapers.

Indeed one does need to learn “bomb” and “terrorism” to understand many articles in newspapers. Especially some of the most interesting ones, assuming that’s where your interests lie.

The lawsuit, filed with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, details George’s allegations of abusive questioning. The suit contends that an FBI agent cursed him and asked George if he was Muslim or a member of any “pro-Islamic” or communist student groups, to which he replied no. The student said he was later released without an apology. Having missed his original flight, he flew to California the next day.

Ben Wizner, the ACLU attorney who helped file the suit, said George “is the kind of young man that this country should be encouraging and creating more of. He has traveled the world with an open mind and an open heart, and he is studying the language that the State Department and the military have made clear we need more Americans to study.”

What’s a pro-Islamic group? Something like Students United for Supporting Islam Even Though We’re Not Muslims? I wonder if an interfaith group like the Virginia Interfaith Center would be considered a “pro-Islamic” group.

Hey TSA guys, sometimes the person who reads Arabic is exactly the person you most want on your side, fighting terrorism.


Filed under arabic, arabist, bigoted idiots