TSA Tells Muslim Traveler Hijab Now Triggers Security Checks Muslim civil rights group seeks confirmation of ‘troubling’ new policy
(WASHINGTON, D.C., 1/6/2010) - The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) today called on the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to clarify whether Islamic head scarves, or hijab, will now automatically trigger additional security measures for Muslim travelers.
CAIR made that request after a Muslim woman traveler taking a flight Tuesday from Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) to Los Angeles (LAX) reported that TSA personnel first requested that she take off her hijab, then put her through a “humiliating” public full-body pat-down search when she refused. After the pat-down, the Muslim traveler’s luggage, coat, shoes, laptop, and cell phone were searched and tested for bomb-making chemicals.
When the traveler, a resident of Maryland, questioned TSA staff about the way she was being treated, she was allegedly told that a new policy went into effect that morning mandating that “anyone wearing a head scarf must go through this type of search.”
In a letter to TSA Acting Administrator Gale D. Rossides, CAIR National Executive DirectorNihad Awad wrote in part:
“First, I would like to commend you on your efforts to maintain the safety of the travelling public. I would also like to offer the American Muslim community’s cooperation and support in preserving that safety and security…
“If this troubling new policy is indeed in effect, it represents religious profiling in its most egregious form. We respectfully request that you clarify whether Islamic head scarves will now trigger automatic secondary screening for Muslim travelers. If so, does this new policy apply to all those who wear religious head coverings, such as Sikh men, Catholic nuns and orthodox Jewish women, or will it apply exclusively to Muslim travelers? If the issue is concealment of potentially dangerous items, the clothing worn by travelers of all faiths, such as skirts, loose pants and sweatshirts, has more areas to hide items than hijab.”
Awad noted that previous TSA policy placed hijab in the category of “bulky clothing” that would not automatically lead to additional screening. Under previous policy, even if that screening were to take place, it would be carried out in a “private screening location.”
On Monday, CAIR said new TSA guidelines, under which anyone traveling from or through 13 Muslim-majority nations will be required to go through enhanced screening techniques before boarding flights, amount to religious and ethnic profiling.
In a commentary distributed by CAIR challenging calls for profiling, Awad suggested security-enhancing alternatives to ineffective religious profiling: “First look at behavior, not at faith or skin color. Then spend what it takes to obtain more bomb-sniffing dogs, to install more sophisticated bomb-detection equipment and to train security personnel in identifying the behavior of real terror suspects.”
The director of CAIR’s Michigan chapter published a commentary today in the Detroit News in which he wrote: “If we target people simply because of ethnicity or religion, it will not make us safer. And if we compromise our principles, we are fighting against the spirit of the Constitution itself. Either way, our enemies would win, and we all would be the losers.”
CAIR is America's largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.