Good Reason

It's okay to be wrong. It's not okay to stay wrong.

The War on Writing Systems suffers a setback

How are we going to defend ourselves against terrorism if we’re not allowed to discriminate against different-looking people with weird writing on their shirts?

An air passenger forced to cover his T-shirt because it displayed Arabic script has been awarded a payout of $240,000 (£163,000), his lawyers say.

Two Transportation Security Authority officials and JetBlue Airways will be forced to make the payout.

Raed Jarrar, a US resident, had accused them of illegally discriminating against him based on his ethnicity and the Arabic writing on his T-shirt.

The payout is the largest of its kind since the 9/11 terror attacks.

Here’s the shirt.

Okay, I have to admit that this is not the least threatening t-shirt I have ever seen in an airport. Vaguely militant slogan plus Arabic script. I would probably think twice about wearing that for a flight.

And yet, isn’t that the lesson of this whole thing? These officials are in the business of creating a security state. It’s hard to monitor everyone all the time, so it’s useful to them if they can get individuals to do a lot of self-monitoring — to make lots of little decisions not to wear this, or not to say that, to censor themselves in a hundred ways just so they won’t fall afoul of some arbitrary and unwritten code of conduct.

And so Raed’s question that day was very appropriate:

I once again asked the three of them : “How come you are asking me to change my t-shirt? Isn’t this my constitutional right to wear it? I am ready to change it if you tell me why I should. Do you have an order against Arabic t-shirts? Is there such a law against Arabic script?”

No, there is not. The good guys won this time.


  1. “It’s hard to monitor everyone all the time, so it’s useful to them if they can get individuals to do a lot of self-monitoring”

    you been reading Foucault or something?

  2. Kind of a psychological Panopticon, eh?

  3. yup – that’s essentially his thesis.

    Of course that’s exactly why Constantine chose Christianity – it meant that he didn’t have to police his subjects – they were all busy doing that themselves and then when he needed an army he could muster them all under the banner of God with ease.

    Nowadays the media does a good job of getting women to self-monitor appearance and us all to self-monitor because we are living in the panopticon state with all the surveillance equipment around us – don’t know if it’s as bad in Oz?

    But then you knew all that anyway.

  4. Daniel

    I am interested in the linguist's view of poetics and classic literature.

    It seems like there is this weird break between lit and linguistics.

    I'm quite new to blogging, so my blogs are "under construction" including one for our Uni poetry group just starting.


  5. Welcome, OT.

    Yeah… linguists would be more into analysing the structure of languages proper.

    The only convergence that I can see is if you're doing some kind of discourse analysis, or if you're some kind of weird philosophical Saussurean structuralist.

    Wish I could help you more.

  6. Sounds like its not really in your zone. What would a "wierd Saussurian structuralist" look like? I think all linguists should be required to develop an aesthetic view of language that might suggest say, poetics is the highest form of language as art; then the mainstream systems stuff of day to day usage can just run wild of its own accord.


  7. Interesting.

    Linguists probably wouldn't view poetry as a 'higher form' of language, except as far as it's considered to be so by members of a speech community.

    In fact, linguists would probably be more interested in the day-to-day talk, since that's where most of the language arises, and it would have a lot to tell us about the kinds of language choices people make in everyday speech.

    Gotta love poetry though. That's where all the interesting syntactic rule-breaking happens. That, and restaurants.

  8. Yeah… wasn't trying to sound elitist, but I can understand that linguists aren't so much interested in language as art (in contrast to my literature-loving friends). You could argue that art has also been responsible for making a fair amount of language; consider all the Shakespearean cliches that still get kicked around, and James Joyce, for example, who consciously set out to create language in Ulysses, which reputedly has a lexicon of 30,000 words (enought to impress even a linguist), many of them made up by Joyce in a process of subverting the English language in line with his Irish nationalist sympathies. I can think of at least one Oz aboriginal poet who also does this – Lionel Fogarty, who in eg "Frisky Poem and Risky" really subverts English and the Western sense of the subject/self. Just an angle. Rgrds.

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