Jarrar was a U.S. resident -- not a citizen, in other words -- who showed up at JFK for a flight to Oakland wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with Arabic script. (The shirt, translated, read "We will not be silent.")
The AFP story leans heavily on information provided by the American Civil Liberties Union. An ALCU lawyer apparently represented Mr. Jarrar. The AFP story does not specify what claims were filed based on these facts:
[Jarrar] was told other passengers felt uncomfortable because an Arabic-inscribed T-shirt in an airport was like "wearing a T-shirt at a bank stating, I am a robber,'" the ACLU said.This is worth $240,000?
Jarrar eventually agreed to cover his shirt with another provided by JetBlue. He was allowed aboard but his seat was changed from the front to the back of the aircraft.
There is, I confess, a part of me that sympathizes with Mr. Jarrar: He had done nothing wrong. And I find it pretty easy to get upset about the narrow-minded bigotry of people who seem to become reflexively "uncomfortable" in the presence of someone like Mr. Jarrar.
But... I recall flying once with a colleague -- well before 9/11 but shortly after a story had been widely disseminated about two airline pilots getting busted for reporting to work drunk. We were boarding the plane and the flight crew was greeting passengers as they boarded. My colleague, a nervous flyer, made some offhand remark, something like, 'these guys look sober enough' -- and I felt the temperature drop 50 degrees.
The smiling pilots stopped smiling. "Do you realize we can ground this flight?" they asked. We can have you removed, they said. We will take blood tests right now, they said. Various federal regulations were cited. Profuse apologies followed and the situation resolved peacefully... but this experience taught me that, even before 9/11, airplanes were somehow different from public places.
Also, I can't shake the feeling that Mr. Jarrar's wardrobe choice that day was 100% intentional. I'm willing to bet that he had another t-shirt available to wear for the flight. Maybe one that said "Yankees," for example, since the flight was originating in New York. In other words, I can't help but think that the airline and the TSA were set up. And, all of a sudden, my sympathies vanish.
It wasn't mad Methodists or lunatic Lutherans who hijacked airplanes on September 11. No, the 9/11 hijackers all claimed to be devout Muslims. It is unfair that hard-working, God-fearing, patriotic American citizens who happen to be Muslims are eyed with suspicion in airports -- sometimes even prevented from immediately completing their travel plans. But it is a fact that some self-professed adherents of Islam have declared war on the West in general and on the United States in particular. Why, then, is a certain degree of caution -- directed specifically toward Muslims and not toward everyone in general -- inappropriate?
A hundred years ago, members of other ethnic groups tried to combat nativist prejudices by trying to look and act more American than the Americans around them -- by learning and using English exclusively, even in the home. Clerks at Ellis Island Americanized a lot of family names -- but a lot of immigrants did this on their own, too. I guess in this day and age these coping strategies would be considered somehow demeaning. I don't really understand why, though: If I were to move to Saudi Arabia or Iraq, I'd make darn sure I looked and acted as little like an American as I could.
The linked AFP article does not explain the legal theories underlying Mr. Jarrar's complaints in any detail. I would have liked to see those. Maybe looking at the statutes involved would explain the amount of the settlement. Instead, we have a quote from ALCU lawyer Aden Fine: "The outcome of this case is a victory for free speech and a blow to the discriminatory practice of racial profiling."
I see it's a victory for Mr. Jarrar. But I'm just not sure about the rest of it.