Marooned

malta-post

After paying a fast visit to Valletta ferry terminal this morning I realised being stuck here until the next week, as the boats of the local shipping company are under a “yearly maintenance” until February 8th. In addition to this I am still waiting for a bag of different wires, chargers and adapters that I left in my Cambridge room and that was mailed to my Valletta hotel, but still hasn’t arrived. So it will still be a weekend in Gozo, after all. But hey, I can imagine much worse places for getting stuck at than Malta, so I am not really complaining.

This morning I picked up somewhat amusing piece of news from TV that was about another rather expensive t-shirt. Apparently a guy called Raed Jarrar was told to cover up his t-shirt with some arabic printed on it while trying to board the flight out of New York in 2006. Although he tried to explain that the words on his chest only mean “We will not be silent” it was to no avail, as he was told that the shirt in question would make other passengers uncomfortable and that it would be the same as “wearing a T-shirt at a bank stating, I am a robber.” Mr. Jarrar proceeded to cover his shirt as requested and, after being also re-seated from the front of the cabin all the way to the very back, sued the crap out of both the airline and the Transportation Security Administration and, as a result, settled this January for $240,000.

On the one hand it is of course nice to know that I will be able to wear t-shirts with pictures of camels or sentences in arabic and still be able to board flights in the United States (where I am heading to in about a month). On the other hand, I can only wonder what was going on in the mind of that person (who was also Iraqi American) when he chose what to put on in the morning. This reminds me of a friend of mine who, after getting stopped by police for driving without a safety belt on, thought it was a good idea to remind the police that, according to the law, he should first show his badge and only then ask for the driver’s license. Of course, if your objective is to walk proud and prove that you can get on the plain as long as you have a ticket, then this is fully understandable. However, if what you’re trying to do is simply to fly from NY to Oakland, then this is certainly not a very helpful choice of a shirt to wear.

The settlement could be (and indeed, has been) hailed as a victory against the injustice and racial profiling. I do remain skeptical, though. It depends on precisely what kind of injustice one has in mind here. If one is concerned whether airport authorities allow people wearing arabic t-shirts to board planes then yes, it is a victory, as after this particular news went national I very much doubt that there will be anyone refused an entry to the aircraft on similar grounds. However, if one looks at WHY was the entry refused, then I am afraid that this settlement has a very small effect, if at all. I don’t think that it will teach people that “not everyone who looks like a Muslim is a terrorist, and not everything in Arabic is warning of impending doom”, I think it simply teaches people that if you go around in America implying that arabic-looking people are terrorists you can get sued to the tune of quarter a million dollars.

At the end of it though it seems to have worked out pretty fine for the Raed Jarrar, though. I know of people who travel light so that they could take the bump in case the flight is over-booked and claim the compensation – now this adds a whole new dimension to this and I suppose we will see a lot more people traveling in keffiyeh on the US domestic flights in the future.

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