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bigotry trumps freedom of expression August 31, 2006

Posted by Brad Richert in politics.

If I walked into an airport wearing a shirt that said “We Will Not Be Silent” I doubt there would be much of a stir. It would probably appear a lot less threatening than wearing an anarchist “A” or a picture of Lenin on my shirt. But what if the shirt said “We Will Not Be Silent” in Arabic and the person wearing the shirt was of Iraqi descent?

Mr. Raed Jaffar, an architect, passed security at JFK but upon waiting for his flight he was confronted by two men wanting his ID and boarding pass. The two men then told him that he had to remove his shirt that said “We Will Not Be Silent” (in both Arabic and English) because several other passengers were “concerned” about the Arabic script. The slogan has been used by many around the world as a protest against the war in Iraq (and other Middle East conflicts).

The interesting thing about this whole situation is that he had been cleared by airport security. This is in the United States, not our lax security in Canada – these are people who tell you to take off your shoes surrounded by hundreds of other people taking off their shoes (it is little wonder that the United States has the smelliest airports). Jaffar had been cleared by airport officials, but it was other passengers who forced the confrontation.

Two weeks ago I posted some statistics from a USA Today/Gallop Poll stating that approximately 40% of Americans acknowledge prejudice against Muslims and 44% believe Muslims are too extreme in their beliefs. At the same time almost 60% of the poll takers did not even personally know a Muslim (of course those who actually knew a Muslim polled much more favourably for Muslims). I wonder what we are going to call this era of prejudice. Combine a little political McCarthyism with some racial stereotyping (be it African-American segregation, South African apartheid, or hell, Nazi’ Germany’s Final Solution). The rhetoric is all there. The “reasoning” is there. Racial screening. Mass manipulation. Propaganda. Do the motivations matter, be it eugenics or religious difference?

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