“People here in the U.S. don’t understand these things about constitutional rights”

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That’s what a Jordan-born man says he was told by airport security personnel when they asked him to remove his T-shirt before boarding a flight to California at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. The man, whose name is Raed, says he was told “People are feeling offended because of your T-shirt.” Raed was wearing a shirt that said in both Arabic and English, We Will Not Be Silent. He was asked to put on another shirt instead, but all of his other shirts were in his checked baggage.

“Isn’t it my constitutional right to express myself in this way?” was Raed’s question, to which one of the security people replied, “”People here in the U.S. don’t understand these things about constitutional rights” Raed’s answer: “I live in the U.S., and I understand it is my right to wear this T-shirt.”

“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,” was the security man’s rejoinder.

Raed explained that he bought the shirt in Washington, D.C. and that they are available in a number of languages. He was told that without a translator, people did not know what the shirt said. “But as you can see, the statement is in both Arabic and English,” Raed explained, but securiety personnel had yet another reply: “Maybe it is not the same message.”

Raed was asked to wear his T-shirt inside-out, which he refused to do. Security offered to buy him another T-shirt that he could wear over the one he had on. He agreed to do that if they could show him a law that prohibited his wearing his own shirt. He asked to see a supervisor, but was not allowed to; he was told there had been numerous complaints about his shirt. He did not want to miss his flight, so he allowed a woman from his airline to buy him another T-shirt. She innocently asked if he would like to have an I Love New York shirt, and one of the security people said, “No, we shouldn’t ask him to go from one extreme to another.”

Raed did ask the man why, if he had Arabic script on his T-shirt, did that mean he hated New York? This time, he received no reply. He went to board the plane, and discovered his seat, which he had booked four weeks in advance, had been taken from him. He was seated in the very back.

Raed’s final comment: “I grew up under authoritarian governments in the Middle East, and one of the reasons I chose to move to the U.S. was that I don’t want an officer to make me change my T-shirt.”

Well, Raed–welcome to Amurika.

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