For Immediate Release
TSA Tells Muslim Traveler Hijab Now Triggers Security Checks
Muslim civil rights group seeks confirmation of ‘troubling’ new policy
WASHINGTON - 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
In a letter to TSA Acting Administrator Gale D. Rossides, CAIR National Executive Director Nihad 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."
A CAIR Spokesperson also debated airport profiling last night on Fox's ‘O'Reilly Factor."
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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.