On August 12, Iraqi peace activist Raed Jarrar was at JFK airport when he was forced to remove a T-shirt he was wearing that said We will not be silent in Arabic and English. JetBlue and airport security officials informed Jarrar that he would not be permitted to board his flight home to California unless he complied. In an astonishing exchange, one officer said to him, "You can't wear a T-shirt with Arabic script and come to an airport. It is like wearing a T-shirt that reads 'I am a robber' and going to a bank."
The offending T-shirt was designed in 2005 by New York-based Artists Against War. The slogan derives from the White Rose dissident group that opposed Nazi rule in Germany. The T-shirts have been seen widely in the United States at various events and until the incident at JFK, were not considered a "threat to public safety."
As the media started dissecting the incident, one of the things that came to mind is the manner in which popular culture has been signaling our nation's level of hyperparanoia. Take "Snakes On a Plane," the uber-hyped, internet-propelled, buzz film of 2006. Long before the film even opened, internet discussion of the film was at a fever pitch and the studio capitalized by adding scenes in response. The most-quoted dialogue from the script actually originated as an online parody of Samuel Jackson's pistol-whipping persona.
"Enough is enough! I have had it with these muthaf*ckin' snakes on this muthaf*ckin' plane!"