(WASHINGTON, D.C., 1/7/2010) – A prominent national Muslim civil rights and advocacy group today sent a letter to President Obama seeking action on concerns that Muslim travelers wearing religious head scarves, or hijab, are now being automatically singled out for additional security measures and may face mistreatment at airports.
[NOTE: President Obama will address the nation today at 4:30 (Eastern). He is expected to outline new procedures intended to head off potential airline terror attacks.]
The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) sent that letter following another report of a Muslim traveler allegedly being treated harshly during a four-hour interrogation by U.S. officials at the Canadian border.
The Muslim woman, who holds a Canadian passport, says she was held for questioning Monday at Halifax Stanfield International Airport, during which she was allegedly shouted at and made to feel like a “terrorist.” She was trying to board a plane to Ohio to visit her husband, but was ultimately denied entry to the United States. When the Muslim traveler asked whether she had been singled out because she was the only woman wearing a head scarf, she reportedly received no answer.
SEE: Muslim Woman Treated Like ‘Terrorist’ at U.S. Customs (CTV)
In his letter to the president, CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad stated:
“The American Muslim community appreciates your administration’s efforts to keep our nation safe and secure. American Muslims offer their full support in that effort. We believe however that airport safety is not enhanced by singling out travelers based on their ethnicity, race or religion. In fact, we believe profiling is both ineffective and counterproductive. Racial and religious profiling serves to alienate and stigmatize entire groups of travelers, while providing only a false sense of security for the traveling public.
“Effective alternatives to ineffective profiling include better coordination between law enforcement and security agencies, more bomb-sniffing dogs and bomb-detecting devices at airports, better pay and training for TSA personnel, and – most effective of all – screening of passengers based on analysis of suspicious behaviors, not on their skin color or religious attire.”
Awad’s letter also cited the president’s address to the Muslim world last year in Cairo, in which he stated: “[F]reedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one’s religion…That is why the US government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab, and to punish those who would deny it.”
Yesterday, CAIR called on the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to clarify whether Islamic head scarves 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 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.
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.”
SEE: Muslims Question Full-Body Search of Woman in Head Scarf (Detroit News)
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.
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.
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CONTACT: CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper, 202-488-8787, 202-744-7726, E-Mail: email@example.com; CAIR Communications Coordinator Amina Rubin, 202-488-8787, 202-341-4171, E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org