I’m deeply troubled by some of the memes surfacing in the right-wing discussion of the TSA invasion of privacy. The worst is the claim that Muslim women are exempt. That simply is not true.
What is the truth? Well, the Council on American-Islamic Relations has issued some recommendations for Muslim women:
- If you are selected for secondary screening after you go through the metal detector and it does not go off, and “sss” is not written on your boarding pass, ask the TSA officer if the reason you are being selected is because of your head scarf.
- In this situation, you may be asked to submit to a pat-down or to go through a full body scanner. If you are selected for the scanner, you may ask to go through a pat-down instead.
- Before you are patted down, you should remind the TSA officer that they are only supposed to pat down the area in question, in this scenario, your head and neck. They SHOULD NOT subject you to a full-body or partial-body pat-down.
- You may ask to be taken to a private room for the pat-down procedure.
- Instead of the pat-down, you can always request to pat down your own scarf, including head and neck area, and have the officers perform a chemical swipe of your hands.
Note that these are recommendations for how Muslim women should respond! I have copied them verbatim. They are not phrased as policy demands on the TSA, and CAIR is most assuredly not a major Beltway player. The recommendations focus solely on how individual women can respond, and they’re almost painfully polite: “you may ask” and “you can always request.” Even Miss Manners would be more assertive! (In fact, Miss Manners has a keen sense of social justice. She would surely note that “a private room” is actually a right that already exists under TSA rules.)
And yet, the headlines at right-wing sites announce “CAIR: TSA Can’t Pat Down Muslim Women” (that’s Fox News, not the extreme fringe).
How is the TSA actually responding? Here’s how Janet Napolitano answered when a reporter asked whether Muslim women would be exempt:
Napolitano’s key quote from the video:
Adjustments will be made where they need to be made. With respect to that particular issue [the sensitivities of Muslim women], I think there will be more to come.
That’s a far cry from announcing an exemption.
Meanwhile, during yesterday’s Senate Commerce Committee hearings, TSA chief John Pistole clearly stated that no one would be exempted from the new screening protocols on religious grounds.
SEN. JOHN ENSIGN (R-NEVADA): Are you going to, you know, allow certain groups to be exempted from that because of, you know, religious beliefs?
PISTOLE: Senator, we try to be sensitive to each individual and in groups that have particular sensitivities as to whether it’s head-wear or certain garb or sensitivities about being viewed or touched and everything. So we try to be sensitive to those issues. At the same time, the bottom line is we have to ensure that each person getting on each flight has been properly screened. And so we have options such as, if somebody does not want to go through the advanced imaging technology, it is optional. They would just do the walk- through metal detector and then–and have a pat-down that would identify any possible items.
They can request private screenings. So if they don’t want to be screened in public, they can go to a private area, have a witness with them.
And so we try to address those concerns in every way possible, recognizing, again, in the final analysis, everybody on that flight wants to be assured with the highest level of confidence that everybody else on that flight has been properly screened, and including me and you and everybody.
ENSIGN: I realize this is a difficult question for you, but–so are you going to make no exceptions, then?
ENSIGN: No, no, I–let me–maybe not (inaudible) my question. If somebody is–a random screening. I just got randomly screened at the airport. For whatever reason, my number seems to come up quite often.
But if that, you know, happens and either the imaging, OK, was one of the options or, you know, the pat down–let’s just say I don’t–I don’t want either of them because of religious–because of religious reasons. What happens to me?
PISTOLE: So while I respect and we respect that person’s beliefs, that person’s not going to get on an airplane.
ENSIGN: OK. And there will be no exceptions because of religion.
(I trimmed this for length; see the uncut transcript here.)
Despite the fact that Ensign has trouble spitting out the question, Pistole’s response is clear: Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, no one gets to opt out of both the strip-search scanner and the grope-down.
The right-wing outcry over Muslim women even asking for religious sensitivity is ironic, given the way Muslim women are treated when flying. Consider this incident, which happened to a native-born American citizen before the new protocol was implemented:
Nadia Hassan, 40, a suburban Washington, D.C., real estate agent, says she was traveling from Dulles International Airport to California on Jan. 5 when she was ordered to remove herhijab before going through a metal detector. She refused and a security officer conducted a full-body search in view of other passengers, even though she had not set off the metal detector. She says another officer told her she had to go through the added security because of her scarf.
“To target women in head scarves blindly, it’s ignorance,” she says.
(Source: USA Today)
Of course, the TSA denies it does this (see the article just linked). The TSA denies pretty much everything. (And did you know they’re just trying to keep up safe?)
The new policies spread the humiliation Hassan endured to all Muslim women. CAIR reports:
CAIR offices have already received complaints, particularly from female travelers who wear hijab, about being subjected to the new pat-down procedure. …
One traveler wearing hijab, a 56-year-old Muslim flying out of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, told CAIR the TSA screener patted-down her entire upper body, including, head, neck, chest, and hips, with the backs of her hands. The Muslim woman said she had “no idea” how invasive the procedure would be and would otherwise have opted for a private room or demanded to know why she was selected for secondary screening.
[NOTE: The woman had been referred to secondary screening even though the metal detector did not go off, a phenomenon reported frequently to CAIR by female Muslim travelers.]
Bear in mind, that Islam calls all believers to modesty, men as well as women. Not all Muslim women choose to wear hijab as expression of modesty and piety. However, even those women with bare heads still regard modesty as a virtue. The new procedures trample on all Muslims’ religious sensibilities, along with their basic human right to privacy.
Update 11/18/10, 4:30 p.m.: This should already be clear from my comment policy in the sidebar, but any comments hating on Muslims, women, or anyone else will not be permitted. Let’s keep it civil. Also, comments that are grossly ignorant of Islam won’t be approved, either, because they amount to anti-Islamic propaganda even if that’s not the author’s intent.
Update 11/22/10, 9:50 p.m.: If you liked this post, you might want to check out my other commentary on TSA violations of basic rights to privacy, dignity, and bodily autonomy.
- My initial outrage at the new policies
- Do “enhanced” patdowns = sexual assault?
- Hearing the grope-down victims’ voices
- Might the TSA be violating child porn laws?
- What do we know about the scanners’ safety?
- Not everyone is affected equally: on kids and trans people
- Privacy is not a partisan issue!
- The unfair impact on people with disabilities
- The TSA abuses and the long shadow of Abu Ghraib
- Action you can take (as of mid-November 2010)
- And a little comic relief