Airport screening for 'Flying while Muslim'

Category: Americas, World Affairs Topics: Barack Obama, Racism Channel: Opinion Views: 4348

It seems that now someone called "Barack Hussein Obama" can be pulled aside and patted down merely because of his name. But while our president has the benefit of Air Force One, millions of us with a "funny name" (Muslim and otherwise) do not. Like me.

I've consistently faced "random" selections for extra screening at the airport after I decided to wear the hijab, or Muslim head covering. I've been told to take my head scarf off or have my head probed while the passengers in front of me offered pitying smiles as they rushed to their flights.

One time, the woman in front of me had a hairdo that could pose more of a security threat than any head scarf could. Muslim women wear the hijab as a symbol of modesty, to be judged not by their appearance.

The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed that people would be judged for "the content of their character." However, the Transportation Security Administration is judging me and other Muslims by the way we look.

The TSA uses the hijab to profile Muslim women, and passengers can now expect a full-body pat-down, an appallingly invasive "enhanced pat-down search that could include the chest and groin, or a planned "mind-scan" that would track people's reaction

 At an airport with a full body scanner, I can have the image of my body displayed before a stranger -- virtual nudity. Do they seriously have a blank check on our bodies? Of course I care about profiling partly because I'm affected. But does one have to face this issue to feel that it's wrong? After all, it is difficult to imagine ourselves in other people's shoes when we don't have to.

It's hard for me too. Especially over the past month, I've been shocked at the comments about my faith, and the sometimes-prejudiced support for racial profiling. Radio host Mike Gallagher said, "There should be a separate line to scrutinize anybody with the name Abdul or Ahmed or Mohammed." Sorry Paula Abdul and Muhammad Ali, or anyone with the world's most common name, Muhammad.

For people who aren't affected by racial profiling at airports, imagine this: The TSA implements a new rule to counter drunken driving, which kills over 13,000 Americans every year. People who are not Muslim have to go through a Breathalyzer test before they can enter their vehicle. Muslims don't drink alcohol and are, therefore, exempt. Ridiculous? I agree.

I know that what I am going through is just the tip of the iceberg of racial profiling in our country. Thirty-two million Americans report that they have been the victims of racial profiling. Racial profiling violates the U.S. Constitution, is ineffective and trickles down to the workplace, schools and elsewhere.

You also run into problems when you justify profiling nearly one in every four people in the world. There are Muslims of every possible race, making profiling practically futile. Fareed Zakaria said it best: "When you're trying to find a needle in a haystack, adding hay does not help you."

Putting ethical and pragmatic reasons aside, it's hard to justify not caring. Even if racial profiling doesn't affect us, it affects our friends, family members, co-workers, doctors, television personalities -- the list goes on. There are some people who don't know Muslims and are numb to realizing the effects of profiling. Therein lies the problem.

According to the Pew Research Center, people who know Muslims are less likely to have negative views of them. Co-existence is a dismal possibility unless people go to the source to find out about Islam, not skewed Web sites.

And Muslims, here's something to think about: If your knowledge of Islam came from common stereotypes, wouldn't you also be misinformed about the faith and its followers? The Quran says, "[God has] made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another (49:13)." So get to know your fellow Americans.

There are some Americans who think Muslims are terrorists and some Muslims who think that other Americans are willfully ignorant. Neither group deserves such a label. Psychologist Henri Tajfel, who was a Holocaust survivor, explained how we isolate ourselves into an "in-group" and facilitate discrimination of an "out-group."

Religious profiling boxes Muslims into a category separate from Americans. We can't accept that distinction. Let's all think outside of the box.

It's essential for U.S. security that airport screening be done. But we need to stop the inflation of procedures that make our society more afraid and less secure. The TSA needs to stop and evaluate methods that are more effective, less invasive, and don't discriminate based on religion or race.


The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Nafees A. Syed.

Nafees A. Syed, a senior at Harvard University majoring in government, is an editorial editor at The Harvard Crimson as well as a senior editor and columnist for the Harvard-MIT journal on Islam and society, Ascent. She is chairwoman of the Harvard Institute of Politics Policy Group on Racial Profiling.

  Category: Americas, World Affairs
  Topics: Barack Obama, Racism  Channel: Opinion
Views: 4348

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Older Comments:
With regard to the comment casting STEREOTYPING (etymologically analogous to profiling) as FEARacial profiling, that is quite facile. Just consider the case of a similar example i.e. fear of young black males amongst many whites. Can one so easily blame the victim of stereotyping in this case too, or is it the problem with those that irrational fear? The fear is irrational & the question must be addressed who is perpetuating this irrational fear & to what ends? The global corporate MSM is not a balanced "mere reporter of the facts," but operates to a SELECTIVE agenda. (read John Pilger's works). In a rational analysis threats would be seen in proportion & scale relative to one another. In the real world auto accidents cause far more deaths per year than Muslims in Western nations, but there isn't a "War on cars" is there with the MIC spending so much & the incestuous MSM spouting sensationalist 24/7 propaganda cycles. Some individuals are making fortunes from it (Terror Entrepreneurs) & are seeking to Divide & Rule, in order to advance old style imperialist colonial narratives.The famous documentary "The Power of Nightmares" is quite revealing - . Rationality & the craven venality of parroting of imperialist narratives by the weak-minded Uncle Toms is an embarrassment.

As for so-called "Biblical" Christianity - exactly which Bible, & which Christianity? Obviously never heard of Nicaea...!

well sister its not all racial profiling. the ppl who work at the airpot security would like nothing more than to just leave us alone and let us pass thru. but they cant and mostly because of orders from the chain of command who by the way mostly isnt intrested in this kind of profiling either, but the biggest reason tht makes everyone racially profile muslims is FEAR!! Y? cuz of the fools who kill innocent people in the name of islam and in the name of allah. for example if u look at the recent events, the under pants bomber (im sure uve heard abt this guy a lot) and justt recently, (i give u this link cpy to ur adrs bar)
so as u can see in the eyes of a non muslim tht is just like a muslim killing another muslim who has a minor faith difference, so they think if they can do tht to themselves we arent even muslims. so what would we do if it were the other way around. and u are right the more we introduce the real ISLAM the more we'll be able to avoid this "FEARacial" profiling, as i like to call it. but it shouldnt stop there this is a time to think deeply and throughly abt this situation at a very scholarly level. cuz seriously its getting ridiculous some idiot thinks hes want to get a fast track to heaven and blows hiself up in the name of allah while doing the thing tht is forbidden by allah, killing innocent ppl. and we, law abiding, allah fearing muslims, have to pay the price. so we realy need to do something abt this at an international level or something i mean we all have ideas im sure. thank you for your time.

How about propagating Biblical Christianity among Muslims in the US as well as other people. Now that's thinking outside the box. No whether Muslims will like that or not is another question?

FYI--Paula Abdul is from a Syrian Jewish background on her
father's side. Her mother is also Jewish. But that helps prove the
point of this article about racial profiling. A solution is for people
like the author, and other Muslims in the West, to make a
concerted effort to reach out to all sorts of people.

Excellent article! Extremely important to add that wearing of hijab can be a choice, but it is a directive from the Lord of all the Worlds, Allah (swt) and backed up by the Prophet Muhammad (puh).

Good article, but I wish Ms. Sayed had also offered solutions.

This is typical of the hysterical over-reaction, that is worthless security-wise & is in fact counter-productive. Many of those majority upstanding citizens subjected to "Profiling" i.e. a euphemism for STEREOTYPING, will see this as public humiliation in front of their children & other loved ones as 3rd class citizens. After this kind of event, Muslims are more likely to be sympathetic to those who claim to be defending them & less sympathetic to those governments who try & justify this useless excercise. It is reminiscent of the Jewish Yellow star & queus. It is playing to the "Us & them" divisive rhetoric of those extremists who do not wish for human solidarity e.g. Zionists, AQ & racists. The only decent people who advocate are those who are hysterical & scared out of their wits by exaggerated propaganda by the merchants of fear. I used to say that the British WASP were far more pragmatic than continental French Vichyists to my fellow work English colleagues. Now I underwent this in a line where the only 2 brown faces were picked out of a returning flight from a great relaxing holiday where it was all Englishmen together! The reality of the situation had me incensed. I think a peaceful humorous protest is the English answer at the jackbooted jobsworth authoritie i.e. why not a green crescent & star sticker with a No to AIRPORT APARTHEID vaguely resembling an anti-semitic Yellow star stitched pattern of the Nazi era?