A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Getting it Wrong: TSA Stops Student With Arabic Flashcards

I don't usually get terribly exercised about stupid bureaucracy, since all bureaucracy tends toward stupid behavior, and I know we need the TSA to keep us from exploding underwear, but when you read a story like this one, where the main suspicious elements (assuming the CNN story is fair and accurate) seem to have been homemade Arabic flashcards and an ID card from a student stint in Jordan. (Jordan, not Yemen or Waziristan), you do wonder if the TSA has its priorities in the right place, or somewhere else entirely.

Favorite part:
Of the approximately 200 flash cards, about 10 had words such as "bomb," "explosion," and "terrorist," George said.
Let's see. 10 out of 200. Kid says he is learning to read the news. Hmm. Do those words ever appear in the Middle East news? Oh, right.

Oh, and at the risk of self-incrimination

إرهابي انفجار قنبلة

Qanbila. Infijar. Irhabi.

I didn't even need flash cards, so obviously I must be a lot more dangerous than this kid. (In a pinch I might even come up with some synonyms.) If you're reading newspapers or websites, those are words you are likely to need to know. (And sorry about the word order: Blogger gets weird when you mix right-to-left and left-to-right text too close to each other.)

Come on. If we have enemies (as well as friends) who speak Arabic, we need to encourage learning Arabic. During the Cold War did we round up students of Russian? Not to my knowledge.

Come on, TSA. This is stupid. You let a guy through who was on watch lists and whose father reported him to the Embassy, but you grab a kid for Arabic flash cards?


David Mack said...

Reminds me of my beginning Arabic text book and the model sentence at about lesson 10: "An unknown hand placed a bomb in the car." (ja'alat yadun majhuulitun qunbuulitan fiis-sayaara) (Charles Pellat Arabic grammar book, which my very archaic language program of 1962 used, greatly complicating matters for students like me, who knew either no or very little French.) At the time, it nicely summarized what I imagined to be the politics of the Arab world: conspiracies, violence and terrorism. As it turned out, that stereotype was uncomfortably close to at least part of the reality.

Anonymous said...

"A police official, meanwhile, was quoted as saying it was George's ID in Arabic that caught their attention - from his Jordanian studies - and police were suspicious that the student's hair was shorter that day than it was in his Pennsylvania driver's license photo. "That," Lt. Louis Liberati said, is "an indication sometimes that somebody may have gone through a radicalization."


I remember when long hair was a sign of being a radical.