As Erum Ikramullah prepared to head to National Airport on Thursday for a flight out of town, she mulled over two distasteful choices: The body scanner or the pat-down?
Ever since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a trip to the airport has been fraught for Muslims, who sometimes feel they are being unfairly scrutinized because of their religion. The addition of full-body scanners, which many say violate Islam’s requirements for modesty, has upped the stakes, especially for women.
Ikramullah, who is 29 and wears a headscarf, was reluctant to go through the new scanners, which reveal the contours of the human body in glaring detail.
In Islam, “a woman’s body and a man’s body are both pretty much private,” she said. “I choose to cover myself and dress in loose-fitting clothing so the shape of my body is not revealed to everyone in the street.”
The other choice, an “enhanced” pat-down in which security agents touch intimate body parts, was hardly more appealing, said the College Park resident. In recent years, she said, she has been pulled aside for a milder version of the pat-downs almost every time she flies. The reason, she believes, is her headscarf.
“It can be humiliating when you’re standing there and people are walking by, seeing you get the pat-down,” she said. “You just feel like you have a target on your head.”
Muslims aren’t alone in their antipathy toward the new security measures. A number of other religious groups, including Sikhs, Orthodox Jews and some evangelical Christians, say the measures also make them uncomfortable or violate the tenets of their faith.
About 430 advanced imaging technology machines are in use in the United States, with plans for 1,000, in roughly half the nation’s security checkpoint lanes, by the end of 2011.
Opponents and civil libertarians have likened the scanning to a virtual strip search, and it has caused some to rethink their holiday travel.
“I’ve had a lot of Muslims, and particularly Muslim women, say they’re going to put off travel plans as much as is humanly possible because they just can’t take the humiliation of it all,” said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). “They’re tired of being singled out for their attire. We have reports of Muslim women in tears.” (More)