The next time Maryam Al-Zoubi travels, she just might take the train. The reason: The physical pat-down she received at a North Carolina airport before a recent flight to St. Louis, a result of recent anti-terrorism measures imposed by the U.S. Transportation Security Agency.
For Al-Zoubi, the experience at the airport forced a choice between two unpleasant options. Either a pat-down, in which a female TSA worker touched her body, or a X-ray body scan. She chose the pat-down.
“For me a pat-down is one moment in a lifetime, and a full body scan could potentially be your naked picture for your whole lifetime. You don’t know what’s going to happen to it,” Al-Zoubi said. “We should have strict security at airports, but I think it should be reasonable.”
Al-Zoubi, a Muslim who wears a head scarf, also had a chemical scan of her clothes for explosives.
While protests of the new TSA policies failed to attract significant support during the busy Thanksgiving travel weekend, some travelers continue to see the measures as intrusive, even as others give a shrug of acceptance. Still others say the procedures make them feel safer.
On a busy weekday night at O’Hare International Airport, a woman who identified herself only as Alisa was one who welcomed the security measures.
“I think it’s great. If they don’t implement something and terrorists take over another plane or two and it crashes, then everybody is going to be complaining about it,” she said, as she awaited a flight to Atlanta. “So, now that something is being done people still complain about it.”
She is accepting of the pat-downs “as long as I am safe.” If a TSA official is “not being professional,” she said, “then I will know how to address that.”
Sherry and Fred Steinbeck, arriving on a flight from Cincinnati, support the regulations. Both prefer the pat-down to the scanner because they worry about radiation exposure.
“I have no problems with the security measures,” Fred Steinbeck said. “I am not a particularly fond of walking through a scanner all the time because I don’t really know what the radiation dangers are.”
While some of the criticism of the intrusive security measures is coming from libertarian groups and civil liberties organizations, many Muslims – especially women who wear head scarves — say they are frustrated by the way the regulations are enforced and at times feel singled out.
“A particular concern would be women who wear the hijab because obviously their standards of modesty are probably higher than most people and so they are more concerned about the groping, they are more concerned about the invasion of privacy,” said Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Council on Islamic Relations in Chicago.
As for the full-body X-ray machines, Rehab said, “I’d rather see machines that are able to detect explosive material period rather than seeing the details of the body.”
The criticisms and concerns of Muslims and non-Muslims are different, said CAIR civil rights director Christina Abraham.
“Non-Muslims are critical of the body scanners because they don’t want to have to go through this security, but they want Muslims to have to go through the extra security,” Abraham said, referring to reactions delivered to CAIR by telephone and email. “So they are saying why should I have to go through the extra security measures when I’m not a Muslim.”
Under the new procedures at airport checkpoints nationwide, the TSA requires all travelers go through security measures that have become standard in the nine years since the 9/11 terrorism attacks that brought down New York’s World Trade Center. Some passengers can then be required to undergo a more thorough search.
One passenger arriving from North Carolina said he objected to the new procedures, but not because he found them overly intrusive. Rather, he questioned whether the measures are effective.
“I think most of this is for show, to make the American people feel safer,” said the passenger, who gave his name only as Jim D. “But I don’t think it really does much to improve security.”