Muslim Americans Experience Greater Scrutiny than Other Travelers at U.S. Airports

Tuesday, November 08, 2016
(photo: Getty Images)




By Michael T. Luongo, New York Times


Passing through airport screening can be time-consuming for any business traveler. But Nafees Syed, a lawyer and writer in New York, has additional obstacles.


“I have to go an extra hour earlier than anybody else, because it’s not random checking,” Syed said.


An American and a Muslim, Syed wears a hijab, or head covering. More often than not, she said, she is pulled aside at security check-in for secondary screenings and pat-downs, the examiner feeling her head through the hijab.


Syed and many of her American Muslim friends and Islamic-rights advocates are all too familiar with what many refer to as the stigma of traveling while Muslim.


Officials of the Transportation Security Administration, which conducts airport screenings, say the extra scrutiny is not a matter of focusing on religious groups but can be necessary because scanners can have trouble getting clear images under some types of clothing.


“Persons wearing head coverings, loose fitting or bulky garments may undergo additional security screening, which may include a pat-down,” Mike England, a TSA spokesman, said in an email interview.


“A pat-down will be conducted by a TSA officer of the same gender.”


But many Muslim Americans contend that, too often, they are simply targets.


“Unfortunately, the global terror network created racial profiling against Muslims,” said Hilal Elver, a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara and author of “The Headscarf Controversy: Secularism and Freedom of Religion.”


“It is a right for all of us as Americans to travel freely,” said Brenda F. Abdelall, an official with Muslim Advocates, a national legal defense group based in Oakland, California. “For individuals to have to modify behavior, or be concerned before they are traveling about what they may wear or what they may say is problematic.”


Some travel hubs, including Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, have noticeable numbers of Muslim women with headscarves working at security checkpoints.


But Asha Noor, an official with Take on Hate, a Muslim-rights advocacy group in Dearborn, Michigan, compared the situation to police departments hiring African-American officers while ignoring systemic bias. “Just because there might be a few more Muslims or Arab-Americans working at the Detroit airport, doesn’t change the culture of suspicion,” said Noor, who covers her hair.


To Learn More:

Trump and Cruz Want Muslim Neighborhoods in U.S. “Patrolled and Secured” by Law Enforcement (by Vivian Salama and Jonathan Lemire, Associated Press)

Disneyland-Bound Muslim Family of 11 Barred at London Airport Gate (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

Anti-Muslim Rhetoric, Once Used Only by Far-Right, Has Now Gone Mainstream Republican (by Steve Straehley, AllGov)

FBI Anti-Extremism Program Criticized for Targeting Muslims Over Right-Wing Extremists (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

TSA Settles in Arabic T-Shirt Case (AllGov)


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