“Fireman Sam” Author Detained For Making “Racist” Comment At Airport Security About Hijab

I recently came across this story out of England over a confrontation at Gatwick Airport between security and David Jones, the creator of the popular animated children’s character Fireman Sam. Jones was detained for an hour for making a comment about a Muslim woman’s hijab at a security checkpoint — a comment deemed racist by a Muslim security guard. The incident is the latest in a series of stories that have raised serious concerns over the state of free speech in England, particularly over the enforcement of hate speech and anti-religious speech (here and here and here and here and here and and here and here and here and here).


The incident occurred when Jones, 67, was going through security. As someone with an artificial hip, he was put through an added search. While this was going on, a woman in a hijab covering her face was allowed through security without having to remove the scarf. Jones reported said “If I was wearing this scarf over my face, I wonder what would happen.” When he cleared security, Jones was pulled to the side and told that he was being detained for a “racist” comment overheard by a Muslim security woman. Security demanded that he apologize and when he refused, Jones says that he was told by an airline administrator and police officer that “we now live in a different time and some things are not to be said.”

He was not allowed to leave until he said that he understood how such a comment “could” have been taken to be offensive. Even if the security officers were found to have exceeded their authority, there still remain the disconcerting glimpse into what the officers thought was the applicable standard.

While Jones said that he was going to file a complaint over the incident, I have not been able to find any copy of the complaint or news report since February. I hope that he does file. While many may find the comment offensive, he did not say it to the woman and is not accused of disrupting the security process. Moreover, I do not see how it is racist if that is the only thing that he said. His comment could be viewed as anti-religious or anti-Muslim. However, I fail to see why such comments are not protected speech. We are seeing a growing trend in the West toward criminalizing speech, as I have discussed in prior columns (here and here and here). This encounter, if proven, would seem a prototypical example of a speech police. “Some things are not to be said” is a chilling message for an officer to give to citizens. Even if detained for only an hour, the clear intent is to deter people from expressing unpopular or divisive thoughts.

The standard for free speech is different in England, where speech has been traditionally more limited than in the United States under the first amendment. However, the loss of freedom in places like England is felt profoundly around the world. When free speech is curtailed in a place like England, it has little chance among nations with less commitment to civil liberties. Indeed, such crackdowns in Western nations serve to legitimate the actions by other countries to deny free expressions to their own citizens.

History has shown that once you yield to the temptation to regulate speech, you quickly find yourself on a slippery slope as other divisive subjects are added to the list. This year, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) declared ominously that “free speech is a great idea, but we’re in a war.”

The irony is that speech is now being criminalized in the name of pluralism and tolerance. Speech itself is not protected as one of those guarantees of pluralism. Western government are increasingly applying the circular logic that they will fight intolerance by warning citizens that some speech will not be tolerated. The fact that this simply creates an artificial appearance of unity does not appear to concern governments.

The West seems to have grown weary of free speech. After all, less speech means less division and discord. The growing number of confrontations and arrests for speech violations leaves citizens unsure of what thoughts may be expressed. The result is obvious: a chilling effect for citizens where many avoid the risk of arrest by remaining silent. It is not that Jones’ comment was of any value to society. Indeed, it can be denounced as intolerant. However, it is his right to such speech that holds considerable value for England and other countries.

Source: Daily Mail

35 thoughts on ““Fireman Sam” Author Detained For Making “Racist” Comment At Airport Security About Hijab”

  1. AN.,Thanks for the links

    Most of the surveillance theatre, especially at airports, is just a hit or miss show. Anyone who travels knows the inconsistencies in procedures from airport to airport, and has had the experience of inadvertently slipping through security with contraband — though they sure are sharp at making you jettison your bottle of water.

    My wife likes to point out that you ca waltz into Grand Central Station in NY carrying or rolling about anything you want, and no one will challenge you.

    So what do we gain, for the incredible reduction of freedom, by way of actual security. Not much that I can see. But it gives politicians meaningless crap to blather about.

  2. We travelled to Turkey recently, along with my wife’s brother. He is an opinionated guy who tends , shall we say, toward the anti-egalitarian (which I have gingerly noted), though in most respects he is totally harmless. Anyway, he hasn’t traveled much for years, and he started making some asides as we were going through security checks, like about the possibility of concealing handguns versus other things. My wife and I basically cautioned him to bite his tongue if he wanted to get on the plane without hassle. He seemed to think WE were overreacting.

    Airports are definitely among the places I most clearly feel the chilling effect. And, yes, I too am getting overly tired of our political masters and the fear industry defining the parameters of democracy. And I note that the big wigs get waved through security with a good morning and a smile.

  3. “But that will never happen either, most people dont even care about being searched.”

    Of course not, Bron, most of us are more than happy to be searched because as we’ve been ‘taught’ being searched protects our ‘freedom’.

  4. Sadly, we are not far behind them. -rafflaw

    I’m not so sure that we’re “behind them”, rafflaw…

    http://timshorrock.com/?p=1549

    The Ruling Class of U.S. Intelligence
    Posted on April 5, 2012 by Tim Shorrock

    Our nation is in an intelligence war. Externally and internally.

    “On April 4, 2012, I spoke on a panel discussion on National Security, Secrecy and Surveillance in New York City. The event was sponsored by the Open Society Foundations and the Government Accountability Project…

    But that doesn’t mean that contracted intelligence isn’t secret – it most certainly is. Most contracts are classified and there’s no requirement to disclose them. The use of earmarks in the conventional budget process, in which congressmen can secretly insert contractor projects without fear of any disclosure, allows agencies to further hide programs, including highly sensitive Special Access programs, from both congressional overseers and the public. And for the most part, these contractors toil on without recognition of the press and are thus hidden from the public (unless you know what you’re looking for: don’t forget to scroll through my 2010 posting, “The Corporate Intelligence Community: A Photo Exclusive.”)

    Worse, Congress has refused to investigate. There’s been only one hearing on intelligence contractors that I can remember – a desultory event sponsored by the Senate Homeland Security Committee last year. And only a couple of concerned lawmakers in the House, Jan Shankowsky of Illinois and David Price of North Carolina – have bothered to ask serious questions about the implications of intelligence contracting. But without Congressional oversight, fraud waste and abuse – as exemplified by Trailblazer – continue. And the real actors in intelligence, the private sector, remain hidden from the American people.

    So, to conclude, what we have here is a revolving door of the highest order. And, as Tom Drake will tell you based on his own experience as an NSA employee and a contractor, it’s all part of a massive transfer of wealth from government to business the likes of which we’ve never seen. As I revealed in SPIES FOR HIRE, 70 percent of the intelligence budget goes to contractors. You can do the math – if the intelligence budget is $100 billion, that’s $70 billion going straight to the private sector.

    As you listen to our discussion tonight, keep in mind that everything we talk about has a private component. That includes covert operations, rendition, torture, illegal surveillance and wiretapping, targeted assassinations, drone wars: everything.

    And here’s a plea to the other reporters in the room: without considering the private sector component, the concept of intelligence “community” is a misnomer. In reality, the IC is a joint venture, probably the most profitable secret business in the world. And I don’t think we’ve come close to grasping the full implications of these private companies sharing – and making money from – the nation’s most classified programs. For my part, I’m going to do all I can to expose this industry and its part in diminishing our rights as American citizens.

    Tim Shorrock
    New York City
    April 4, 2012

  5. anon nurse:

    where was Glenn when political correctness started? All that did was soften people up for this. All well and good to abhor racism and sexism, etc but when you start throwing people out of school or sue them for making a stupid statement everyone starts “behaving” and stops speaking their mind.

    Years of political correctness made us fearful and here we are.

  6. James in LA:

    I am in complete agreement.

    That Patriot Act was the most irrational act ever passed by congress. It isnt patriotic and it sure as hell isnt constitutional.

    I do not understand how an American citizen could do this work in good conscience. I suppose they tell themselves they are protecting people but all they are doing is promoting a police state. All across our country government workers are out of control and trying to consolidate power to protect their jobs. It is scary to think our rights are in conflict with their jobs. This is what happened in the Soviet Union, the bureaucrats, I think they called them nomenklatura, help disproportionate power. Our nomenklatura step on our rights on a regular basis.

  7. As is true for all states that expand and abuse their own powers, that’s what the U.S. Government counts on: that it is sending the message that none of this will affect you as long as you avoid posing any meaningful challenges to what they do. In other words: you can avoid being targeted if you passively acquiesce to what they do and refrain from interfering in it. That’s precisely what makes it so pernicious, and why it’s so imperative to find a way to rein it in.” -Glenn Greenwald

    More from Greenwald’s Salon article, highlighted by Dredd in an earlier comment:

    http://www.pen.salon.com/2012/04/08/u_s_filmmaker_repeatedly_detained_at_border/singleton/

    “It’s hard to overstate how oppressive it is for the U.S. Government to be able to target journalists, film-makers and activists and, without a shred of suspicion of wrongdoing, learn the most private and intimate details about them and their work: with whom they’re communicating, what is being said, what they’re reading. That’s a radical power for a government to assert in general. When it starts being applied not randomly, but to people engaged in activism and journalism adverse to the government, it becomes worse than radical: it’s the power of intimidation and deterrence against those who would challenge government conduct in any way. The ongoing, and escalating, treatment of Laura Poitras is a testament to how severe that abuse is.

    If you’re not somebody who films the devastation wrought by the U.S. on the countries it attacks, or provides insight into Iraqi occupation opponents and bin Laden loyalists in Yemen, or documents expanding NSA activities on U.S. soil, then perhaps you’re unlikely to be subjected to such abuses and therefore perhaps unlikely to care much. As is true for all states that expand and abuse their own powers, that’s what the U.S. Government counts on: that it is sending the message that none of this will affect you as long as you avoid posing any meaningful challenges to what they do. In other words: you can avoid being targeted if you passively acquiesce to what they do and refrain from interfering in it. That’s precisely what makes it so pernicious, and why it’s so imperative to find a way to rein it in.”

    “Rein it in” we must. (By the time that the truth about what’s going on in America is fully known, I fear that it will be too late.)

  8. One of the reasons we revolted and through the slimy limeys out of this set of colonies and founded a nation with a Constitution and a Bill of Rights with the First Amendment being one of them is the so called Mother country was the mother of all evil. They yet do not have a Constitution. I would not get on a plane with a person with a veil on their face and those who do are dumb.

  9. Bron, I refuse to fly. There is no geographic location on this earth requiring my presence to the extent I must routinely set aside my rights to get there. And though I stopped driving for economic concerns, not being at the wheel means I do not encounter our poilce-state enabled police.

    Derbyshire wrote about the wrong people to avoid. Anyone doing the bidding of these institutions are the actual problem.

    Repeal the Patriot Act, remove the DHS, and remove utterly from the executive the power to kill on a whim.

  10. This was an unnecessary restriction on Free speech in England. I think the underlying problem in England is not pluralism, it is laziness. They are too lazy to fight the battles that need to be fought to protect the rights of all. Sadly, we are not far behind them.

  11. Dredd,
    Thanks.
    Do we dare warn our visitors from America? That their return from their first foreigh trip will meet this ordeal. I fear my niece and husband will cancel their plans.
    Or those we know who are planning an overseas trip?

  12. As what could be regarded as actions meant to quench free speech, I offer this record of what I was subjected to here on the Patriarch’s wristwatch thread yesterday:
    Quote:.
    “While I sleep, others post.

    Take Idealist707.5. He uses my moniker to denigrate me. NOT, my ideas, or my opinions, but my weaknesses. Not my offensively used weaknesses, but my innocuous ones.

    Where? On the patriarch photo comparison puzzle thread. Yesterday!

    Denigrating the handicapped, boring, mentally challenged, taking over threads “always”, and being one seeking too obviously friendship are his accusations.
    Assuming all this and more. what kind of humanity does he demonstrate?

    Doing it together with like-minded, pre-arranged or spontaneous, is more fun. So gather the other vultures, bitng away at the vitals.

    Later, yesterday evening, he keeps the name to show he belongs to the sockpuppet gang.
    Why, because like all bullies he belongs to a gang. needing its support, not being able to attack in daylight under his own name without a mask.
    So, clad in an obviously sockpuppet name, he struts and swaggers to cast a chill among “the ordinary” people. Even casting snarks at GeneH.

    His digs may have some merit. I am the first to admit and am thankful for them. But am doubtful that was his intention, but as GeneH of recent fame vv MM, would remind me, I am drawing too much out of too little evidence.

    Be what it may, that is my last acknowledgement of his existence.
    So those who read this, now know something of the mysterious appearance of an Idealist707 lookalike——calling itself 707.5
    Will he pop up again under the same puppet name?

  13. people ought to refuse to fly until the DHS is disbanded. You shut down air traffic in this country and that may raise some eyebrows and put a bit of political heat under their collective backsides.

    But that will never happen either, most people dont even care about being searched.

  14. Dredd:

    wow, that is beyond belief. Time to dismantle DHS, I wonder if we can at this point?

    What were those stupid f’ers thinking when they created that department? I remember many on the left and right thinking it was such a great idea. What a bunch of morons. I think only a few voted against it.

  15. Glenn Greenwald has an interesting piece that shows the massive version of this ongoing in the U.S.eh? post 911:

    One of the more extreme government abuses of the post-9/11 era targets U.S. citizens re-entering their own country, and it has received far too little attention. With no oversight or legal framework whatsoever, the Department of Homeland Security routinely singles out individuals who are suspected of no crimes, detains them and questions them at the airport, often for hours, when they return to the U.S. after an international trip, and then copies and even seizes their electronic devices (laptops, cameras, cellphones) and other papers (notebooks, journals, credit card receipts), forever storing their contents in government files. No search warrant is needed for any of this. No oversight exists. And there are no apparent constraints on what the U.S. Government can do with regard to whom it decides to target or why.

    (Salon). What may link these two stories is a lack of training about the quaint traditions our two nations were once noted for.

  16. Not to defend Pommy-land, but if Jones had said something similarly skeptical and scathing about the state of SSecurity at an American Heimat Seicherheit “Show Us Your Nakedness!” checkpoint, wouldn’t he have been jacked around just as much? Authoritarianism is winning in so many bed-wetting English-speaking countries. It’s not so bad in Canada and Australia, two other places I’ve lived since fleeing the U.S., but I can see the brown-shirted tide rising there, too.

    Nikita Krushchev would have been so proud as he took his shoe off at the airport to bang it on the table. Only he wouldn’t be saying “We will bury you.” He’d say “You will become us!”

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