No one should be shedding any real tears for Nicholas George, especially Nicholas George. What happened to him is an unfortunate consequence of the fact that Arabic-speaking Muslims in places like Egypt, Jordan, and the Sudan have carried out terror attacks in the name of Islam, and so people who are entrusted with the safety of airline passengers have every reason to err on the side of suspicion. Those who are thus inconvenienced should consider it a small price to pay in order to head off the next terror attack.
I speak from experience. More than once I have been held and questioned at airports because of my work. Once I was working on this site on my laptop, someone saw “jihad” on my screen, and presently I was surrounded by police with big dogs and hauled off for questioning.
And just a few months ago I was in an airport, having hurried from a venue where I had just given a talk. I don’t ever speak from a written text, but I do carry notes — a page or two of quotations from various Muslim Brotherhood operatives, etc., including jihadist and Islamic supremacist statements by some putative American moderate Muslims, as well as quotations from the Qur’an and Hadith, etc. I had this material in my suit pocket, and it dropped out when I took off my suit jacket to go through security. So a few minutes later I was again in the friendly presence of police and TSA personnel. One gentleman was holding up my notes and asking me why I had this material. I started laughing, because I realized that there was absolutely nothing in the notes to show that I actually opposed what was written there — and realized that it might take awhile to straighten the whole thing out.
But I didn’t mind. Because I knew what they were doing. I knew they weren’t holding the bearded, swarthy fellow with notes full of jihad and hate because they don’t like people of Middle Eastern descent, or because they hate Muslims, or what have you. They were doing their job, which was to protect the American people. Nick George, or whoever may be offended by his treatment, should realize that.
“Arabic-language flashcards don’t fly with TSA: A Pomona College student from Philadelphia was jailed after airport security workers found study cards, including the words ‘bomb’ and ‘terrorism.’ He’s suing,” by Larry Gordon for the Los Angeles Times, February 11 (thanks to all who sent this in):
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.
But those flashcards changed George’s life far beyond the classroom. The 22-year-old from Pennsylvania is speaking out against what he contends are abuses by federal authorities in airport security measures.
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.
“I feel the TSA acts like it has a blank check as long as what it does is in the name of fighting terrorism,” George, said Thursday from Claremont, where he lives in a dormitory. “Of course, the TSA’s job is to keep us safe — but they have to follow the Constitution and respect rights.”
If his flashcards triggered such deep suspicion, George said, “then we’ve got a real 1st Amendment issue here. I have a right to study Arabic.”
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.
George said his interest in Arab culture began when he saw “Lawrence of Arabia” as a child. “The more I studied it, the more I was fascinated it by it,” he said. He plans to take the State Department exam to become a foreign service officer.
Last year, George spent a semester in Jordan, where he studied Arabic, and then traveled to Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan. He said his passport, with stamps from those countries, and a book in his possession that was critical of U.S. foreign policy, may also have raised suspicions at the airport….
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….
Although George’s suit seeks unspecified financial damages, he said he also hoped to help teach airport screeners to respect travelers’ civil rights.
“The point I want to make is that rules apply to the TSA,” he said. “Rules matter.”