Saturday, August 11, 2007
The ACLU sues JetBlue on behalf of a passenger who happens to be an Arab
In the category of bad cases having the potential to make bad law, consider the case of Raed Jarrar v. JetBlue (complaint(pdf)). On August 12, 2006, Jarrar -- an Iraqi architect and well-trafficked blogger -- arrived for a JetBlue in New York sporting a t-shirt that said in Arabic and English "We will not be silenced." August 12 was two days after the discovery of the plot by Arabs in the United Kingdom to blow up aircraft flying across the Atlantic, so the United States was at a high level of vigilence. Not surprisingly, an Arab-looking person wearing a confrontational Arabic political message unnerved some of the passengers, and the TSA intervened:
Last August, a Transportation Security Administration official identified only as Inspector Harris pulled Jarrar away from a boarding gate, took him to a JetBlue counter and told him his shirt made other passengers uncomfortable, the complaint said.
Jarrar was told to cover up the message if he wanted to board the flight to his home in Oakland, Calif. The TSA official equated wearing Jarrar's an Arabic shirt to an airport with "wearing a T-shirt at a bank stating, 'I am a robber,'" the complaint said.
Jarrar is also suing Inspector Harris personally.
JetBlue resolved the issue, at least from the perspective of the TSA and JetBlue's customers, by purchasing Jarrar another t-shirt to wear over the "we will not be silenced" shirt. JetBlue then seated him first, in the back of the plane, presumably so the complaining passengers would not see him walking down the aisle after they had been seated. This deprived Jarrar of the opportunity of advertising his political opinions to the rest of the passengers.
Jarrar characterizes JetBlue's actions as "intimidation":
Jarrar, who now lives in Washington, D.C., said he was intimidated into wearing a shirt purchased by a JetBlue customer service agent over his T-shirt. His seat was also moved to the back of the plane and he was forced to board first, said the lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages.
Jarrar is also suing various "Jane and John Does", who are unidentified JetBlue and government employees who required him to choose between not flying and covering up his t-shirt and sitting in the back of the plane.
The ACLU says it was "clear" even ex ante that Jarrar was not a security threat. According to the news story, their basis for this is that Jarrar is "a U.S. resident since 2005 and the husband of an American citizen." The complaint adds that Jarrar had already passed through TSA security checkpoints as further evidence that he was not a threat. More on that in a bit.
Now, who is Jarrar? He is a full-time NGO activist. From the complaint (which is worth reading in its entirety), paragraph 8:
Mr. Jarrar ... is currently employed as the Iraq consultant for the American Friends Service Committee, an organization committed to service, development, social justice and peace programs throughout the world. He previously served as the Iraq Project Director for Global Exchange, an international human rights organization that promotes social, economic, and environmental justice.
The American Friends Service Committee is a Quaker organization that, not surprisingly, is very anti-war. Global Exchange is a palpably left-of-center NGO devoted to the full range of transnational progressive causes.
Now, the ACLU cites Mr. Jarrar's work for these organizations in the complaint to establish the origins of the t-shirt and its slogan -- Jarrar picked it up at an activist rally. According to the complaint, "We will not be silenced" has its origins "a student resistance movement" in Nazi Germany during the 1930s, and Mr. Jarrar "views the message ... as the minimum obligation of all people who witness human suffering and violations of human rights." Presumably, the authors of the complaint want us to believe that Mr. Jarrar has a good faith belief in his slogan, and that its expression serves a higher purpose than giving white American air passengers a case of the jumps.
There is another way to read all of this, though, which may have no bearing on the legal case but should influence the policy discussion: Mr. Jarrar must have known exactly what he was doing wearing such a shirt two days after we learned that other Arabs were plotting to blow up thousands of Americans and British people flying across the Atlantic to New York, the very city in which Jarrar was trying to board his plane. He was trying to provoke a response to the system. You know it, the ACLU knows it, and Mr. Jarrar absolutely knows it. Or, if he does not, he is not half as intelligent and suspicious of authority than his education and left-wing activism, respectively, suggest. Jarrar is either a provacateur or a moron -- it is hard to see a third explanation.
Of course, Jarrar is entitled to be a provacateur or a moron, at least if his only conduct is speech, so he may win his legal case. The ACLU and Jarrar obviously want more than a mere victory out of this case -- they want to defend a principle. It looks to me, though, that a victory will prove only one thing -- that when passengers and security officials are at peak vigilence it is possible to stimulate some of them into an overreaction. So what? Would Jarrar's victory -- or, for that matter, defeat -- in this case really signal something about the state of free speech in the United States of America? Not that I can see.
There is, in any case, comedy gold buried in the ACLU's publicity around the case. The ACLU argues that the TSA and JetBlue "profiled" Jarrar:
"It is a dangerous and slippery slope when we allow our government to take away a person's rights because of his speech or ethnic background," said Reginald Shuford, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU's Racial Justice Program. "Racial profiling is illegal and ineffective and has no place in a democratic society."
Fine. So law enforcement officials should search coeds from Southwest Missouri State and ignore the probably-Arab man in his twenties with the angry or scared look on his face (read the complaint and decide how likely it was that Farrar's face was the picture of calm equanimity portrayed on the ACLU's web site). That much is typical of the ACLU. But then consider the ACLU's argument for the claim that TSA Inspector Harris and the JetBlue customer service agent should have lept to the conclusion that Jarrar posed no security threat: Jarrar has been living in the U.S. since 2005 and he is married to an American. Huh? How is that not "profiling"? True, it is not profiling based on race, but the essence of the ACLU's point is that the TSA should have assembled little bits of immediately apparent but superficial information and drawn the conclusion that Jarrar was not a bad guy.
Well, at least the ACLU admits that profiling works.
Jarrar probably will win his case against the TSA, and he probably should. Government officials should not leap to conclusions based on t-shirts, and should not cater to passengers who complain about t-shirts. But Jarrar should lose against JetBlue, it seems to me, which was only trying to resolve a conflict between passengers. More importantly, there is no right of free speech vs. an airline, which ought not to be considered to have been acting under color of state authority no matter how stridently the ACLU claims that it was. JetBlue could bar a passenger from displaying a t-shirt that said "F*ck George Bush" or "Nancy Pelosi is a dumb b!tch" on its aircraft, but a judge could not do the same in a courthouse. Now, the ACLU will argue that JetBlue did not neutrally enforce a prohibition on offensive t-shirts, because it would not have forced a 12 year-old blond girl to cover up the same t-shirt on the same flight on the same day, and that it discriminated against Jarrar because of his race or nationality, which is unlawful. Perhaps Jarrar will win on this basis, but he should not. JetBlue's compromise was reasonable under the circumstances, which we should all remember involved a deliberately provocative testing of the system two days after the discovery of a massive plot by Western Arabs to kill thousands of people on airplanes. JetBlue diffused tension in a potentially volatile situation, and should do the same thing if presented with a similar provocation.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the ACLU waited a year to file the case -- they wanted the jury pool to forget the context. I would bet my bottom dollar that as the case progresses Jarrar's lawyers will file a pre-trial motion to prevent the defense from reminding the jury of the plot discovered on August 10.
MORE: Solomonia elaborates, and our commenters are piling in with additional stuff, including the background of Jarrar's American wife.
By AmPowerBlog, at Sat Aug 11, 12:05:00 PM:
This part is the best:
"Mr. Jarrar must have known exactly what he was doing wearing such a shirt two days after we learned that other Arabs were plotting to blow up thousands of Americans and British people flying across the Atlantic to New York, the very city in which Jarrar was trying to board his plane. He was trying to provoke a response to the system. You know it, the ACLU knows it, and Mr. Jarrar absolutely knows it. Or, if he does not, he is not half as intelligent and suspicious of authority than his education and left-wing activism, respectively, suggest. Jarrar is either a provacateur or a moron -- it is hard to see a third explanation.'
Eminently quotable passage. Good job on this post!
This sort of adolescent case demeans the plaintiff and the ACLU. Why obvious silliness gets a free ride in the MSM always mystifies me.
By D.E. Cloutier, at Sat Aug 11, 12:26:00 PM:
Excellent post, TH. Nevertheless, they should have let him wear the provocative shirt.
The planners of the 9/11 attacks told the terrorists to do nothing to draw attention.
I really don't want the government to start picking my wardrobe. Have you seen how many of the bureaucrats in Washington (DC) dress?
By Purple Avenger, at Sat Aug 11, 12:48:00 PM:
He got exactly what he paid for - an airplane flight. What damages could there be when you get precisely what you paid for?
Exactly. This is nothing more than using the courts to force a particular way of thinking down everyone's throat.
The American Citizen Jarrar is married to is Niki AKhavan, an Iranian born (IRI apologist, islamist). She is virulently anti- American. Her name is Niki Akhavan.
This is her blog:
Check out the blogs she links to. Almost all of them are pro-Islamic Republic blogs (Mostly in U.S. or Canada) or sympathizer and anti-American.
They are also highly educated and attend graduate schools or are PhD candidates in some of the most prestigious universities in Canada or U.S.One author, Lawerence Ershagi, is an attorney in the U.S. and writes for the Iraniantruth.com
I realize air travel is regulated, but is it your "right" to fly?
Personally, I'd rather read that this asshole got the ever loving shit beat out of him. I suppose in fairness, 'we will not be silent' could apply to those arabs who want freedom, but given what you're saying about his wife and the subject matter of his blog, it seems unlikely...
By Purple Avenger, at Sat Aug 11, 03:53:00 PM:
is it your "right" to fly?
If you own your own plane ;->
Otherwise you gotta abide by the rules of the person/company you contract with to tote your sorry ass.
Does the ACLU really only do bullshit cases like this? Every time I ever read about them, it is equally ridiculous. Is there anywhere to go to get an account of all of the cases they are involved in?
We are all doomed.
Give up now.
By Solomon, at Sat Aug 11, 06:12:00 PM:
This one really bugs me. It's been bothering me ever since I heard the author of Raed in the Middle was allowed into this country. That's what we get for being charitable.
This dude does seem to be an agent provacateur. Where is his common sense and decency?
By Purple Avenger, at Sat Aug 11, 09:01:00 PM:
There has been a concerted social and security probing effort by muslims in this country to see just how much they can get away with before there is pushback.
The only thing I haven't decided yet is if its an organized effort or not.
"Jarrar probably will win his case against the TSA, and he probably should"
Based on your description of his background, he was clearly trying to provoke a confrontation. Isn't there some "fighting words" protection for the TSA here?
"We will not be silent" was the slogan associated with the "White Rose" anti-Nazi non-violent student movement (consisting of five students and one professor) who distributed leaflets calling for active resistance to the Hitler regime.
It is, it seems to me, a twisted mind that can compare our actions in Iraq to those of Hitler. Who are the Baathists and al-Qaeda but modern day versions of Nazis?
Mr. Jarra should win his lawsuit. But that's about the only thing he's on the right side of.
Strange times we live in.
It's not that the case has merit, in some philosophical sense, it's that the case should never be heard! He has no damages.
He is using the court to advertise his support for killers of Americans. How is it that he has standing to bring suit? Other than inconvenience and discomfort at the hands of TSA, he has no complaint.
If discomfort and inconvenience are the standards the federal courts use for admitting cases based on anti-TSA complaints, then I have grounds every week.
Heh, how ironic that he is wearing a shirt saying 'we will not be silenced'.
Damn right, he is in the United States where he is free to speak his mind.
Unlike the entire middle east (save Israel).
This guy has no idea who his friends and enemies are. Typical lib.
By Georg Felis, at Mon Aug 13, 09:21:00 AM:
“Jarrar is either a provocateur or a moron -- it is hard to see a third explanation.”
How about both?
Seriously, if some white guy in a suit, wearing a beanie with a propeller gets on the airplane tries to get on the airplane and makes the other paying passengers nervous, I would hope the airline would have the common sense to treat him just the way this young gentleman was treated. And I hope the Judge in this matter is a soccer player, because he’s going to have to punt this case a loooong way down the field. JetBlue deserves to win the case, and collect damages for him filing a frivolous lawsuit.
By DaveG, at Mon Aug 13, 09:26:00 AM:
Had he been noticably inebriated, he wouldn't have been allowed on the plane at all. Would the ACLU have been as interested in that case? I think not. Read into that what you will.
By Bruno, at Mon Aug 13, 11:04:00 AM:
""We will not be silent" was the slogan associated with the "White Rose" anti-Nazi non-violent student movement (consisting of five students and one professor) who distributed leaflets calling for active resistance to the Hitler regime."
And isn't it so very telling that the American authorities themselves hwere worked up into such a tizz over an anti-Nazi message?
"We will not be silent"
Clearly an anti-American, terrorist supporting message, right?
Your reaction to this does more to associate you to the Nazis than ANYTHING that the message itself says, because devoid of context it means nothing. YOU provide that context.
And so it is, Bruno.
Reading about this guy and his wife, it is quite clear that he is in fact an anti-American, terrorist supporting jerk.
He provided the context, not the passengers or the officials in charge.
By Bruno, at Tue Aug 14, 02:51:00 AM:
"Reading about this guy and his wife, it is quite clear that he is in fact an anti-American, terrorist supporting jerk."
In other words, because he has the guts to speak up on the mass murder and destruction of a country that the US has engaged in, in Iraq, he's a terrorist supporter? Because he wants an end to conflict he's anti-American?
It's quite clear to me who the real terrorists are, actually.
By Cas, at Tue Aug 14, 06:36:00 AM:
Why is it Raed Jarrar's "Absolute Right" to wear anything on a plane regardless of the circumstances?
I do not care what his political beliefs may be, nor do I care what the ACLU refers to as "ethnic profiling." All I (and 99% of the other passengers) want to do is get to my destination without blowing up, or crashing into a building, so Jarrar's ethnic brothers can wage Jihad on HIS adopted country.
Jarra's an operative for anti_American, pro-Islamic terrorists who use our own laws against with the help of the equally vile and seditious ACLU.