Man questioned and misses flight for speaking Tamil

Beeman, William William_Beeman at
Wed Oct 4 12:36:42 UTC 2006

I speak Persian and Arabic all the time on my cell phone, and have never been stopped or detained, and I have a black beard. (knock on wood).
Bill Beeman 
William O. Beeman
Professor, Anthropology; and Theatre, Speech and Dance
Brown University
Providence, RI 02912
Tel: (401) 863-3251
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(2004-2005 Visiting Professor, Cultural and Social Anthropology, 
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My latest book: The "Great Satan" vs. The "Mad Mullahs": How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other. (Praeger/Greenwood).
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From: owner-lgpolicy-list at on behalf of Harold Schiffman
Sent: Wed 10/4/2006 6:33 AM
To: lgpolicy-list at
Subject: Re: Man questioned and misses flight for speaking Tamil

I wonder if  a "white" Euro-American speaking Tamil on a cellphone at Sea-Tac Airport would have suffered the same indignity? I should try it some time and see what happens...

On 10/3/06, Harold F. Schiffman <haroldfs at> wrote: 

	Man questioned and misses flight for speaking Tamil
	A 32-year-old man speaking Tamil and some English about a sporting rivalry 
	was questioned at Sea-Tac Airport and missed his flight Saturday because
	at least one person thought he was suspicious. The Port of Seattle
	dispatched its police officers to investigate the case, which occurred
	Saturday around noon, said Bob Parker, airport spokesman. The Chicago man
	was preparing to board an American Airlines flight to Dallas/Fort Worth
	International Airport. The man was speaking Tamil, a language largely used 
	in India, Sri Lanka and Singapore, on his cell phone at the departure gate
	and on the aircraft. An off-duty airline employee heard the conversation
	and informed the flight crew.
	The man also apparently said something in English about a sporting rivalry 
	at his alma mater. "It's a big misunderstanding," said Parker. "He had a
	perfectly innocent explanation that all added up." Parker said it is
	incumbent on airport officials to investigate reports of suspicious 
	activity. "It's hard to triage over the phone," he said. But Parker had no
	explanation as to why a man speaking Tamil, which is spoken worldwide,
	would be considered suspicious. The person who contacted airport officials 
	could give an answer to that question, he added.
	Parker said the man was cooperative and boarded a later flight to Texas.
	He told officials that he would not speak in a foreign language on his
	cell phone at an airport in the future.
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