Banner Bearing Arabic Message of Love Reported to Homeland Security and FBI

A banner bearing the Arabic expression “Love is for all,” touched off a massive security crackdown this week in Lubbock, Texas, where city officials shut down traffic and called for an investigation by Homeland Security, the FBI and police. First spotted the morning after Valentine’s Day, the banner was hung from the top of the publicly owned Citizens Tower in the downtown area of the city, which is located in northwestern Texas. The Arabic script spelling out the message of love was framed with a red heart. It was not immediately clear who hung the item.

But to Mayor Glen Robertson, the “Arabic flag” was cause for alarm. Robertson instructed the city manager to remove the banner and “take all steps necessary to secure the building and that Chief [Greg] Stevens notify the Department of Homeland Security, FBI and the Lubbock Sheriff’s Office,” according to a public statement.

Robertson implied there was a threat to public safety. “It is premature to come to conclusions before we can gather more facts but I believe that we must take this situation seriously in light of current national and international events.”

According to the local media outlet Lubbock Online, “After evaluating the situation and blocking traffic on a portion of nearby Avenue K, city crews cut down the flag shortly after noon [on Monday].”

The banner has already attracted some national press, including Fox News, which ran the foreboding headline, “Arabic banner mysteriously appears on Texas building.”

Raed Jarrar, government relations manager at the American Friends Service Committee, told AlterNet that the fear-mongering response “is another unfortunate example of how an entire language is criminalized in the United States, even when there is a love banner on Valentine’s Day.”

Ten years ago, Jarrar, who was born in Iraq, was prevented from boarding a JetBlue flight in New York because he was wearing a shirt which said in Arabic, “We shall not be silent.” He sued the airline and TSA screeners, eventually winning a large settlement in 2009.

Jarrar emphasized that the discrimination and suspicion he faced is not a thing of the past, noting a disturbing spike in recent incidents.

In late December, Palestinian-American artist Leila Abdelrazaq was arrested and interrogated in Arizona for notebook sketches with the themes of immigration and borders that included Arabic script. Also in December, a high school teacher in Augusta County, Virginia was met with fierce backlash after teaching a lesson in Arabic calligraphy. The angry emails and phone calls were so threatening that the entire school district decided to temporarily close over safety concerns.

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