Guns, Knives, Liquids, Gels, and Flash Cards


Philadelphia Daily News columnist Dave Davies marks the 9/11 anniversary with the story of Nick George, a Pomona College student from Wyncote, Pennsylvania, who recently was handcuffed and jailed for several hours at the Philadelphia airport because he made the mistake of trying to carry Arabic-to-English flash cards onto a plane. A TSA spokeswoman says George was flagged for a bag search by agents trained to notice "involuntary physical and physiological reactions that people exhibit in response to a fear of being discovered." The flash cards in his backpack, which included the Arabic words for terrorist and explosion (because George was learning to translate Al Jazeera broadcasts), prompted interrogation by TSA and FBI agents who wanted to know George's feelings about 9/11, his religion, his political sympathies, and his reasons for traveling to Jordan (where he studied for a semester) and to Egypt and Sudan (where he went backpacking). Although George had plausible and innocuous answers to all these questions, he was jailed for four hours, half of that time in handcuffs, before being cleared and released, without explanation or apology. The TSA spokeswoman claims George's "behavior escalated to a point where our officers deemed it necessary to contact the Philadelphia Police Department." But she could not be more specific, and George says he remained calm throughout the incident, while Davies reports that Philadelphia police "said nothing about 'escalating behavior.'"

Several of the comments after Davies' column are notably unsympathetic. "Boo-hoo," says iwantthecupinphilly, "subjected to a little extra scrutiny…grow up and grow a set. You dabble with that culture, you get what you deserve." Shabba Rommel asks, "Who carries flash cards with 'terrorist' & 'explosion' on them?" Probably not terrorists, except the ones in editorial cartoons.

[Thanks to Nicolas Martin for the tip.]