Medill Reports: ‘People look at us and get the wrong impression’

Students protested outside the Greyhound terminal in support of Jacqueline Pasha

Jacqueline Pasha did not go to Arkansas. Pasha knows it and Greyhound accepts it. But that’s the only point of agreement between the two parties.

The Chicago resident alleges she was denied travel on a Greyhound bus in December because she was wearing a burqa. According to her, a staff member at the bus terminal said she looked scary and, when she requested to be checked in a separate room, the employee refused, citing security concerns.

Greyhound denied any form of discrimination.

A company spokeswoman referred Medill Reports to an earlier statement, which read in part, “the customer indicated she no longer wanted to travel that day.”

But Pasha is not letting go, and a complaint on her behalf has been lodged with the Department of Human Rights by the Council on American-Islamic Relations. The investigation could take up to six months.

“I am shocked that this happened in Chicago,” Pasha said. “I am not the only Muslim woman wearing a burqa out here.”

But it doesn’t come as a surprise to the Council’s spokeswoman, Amina Sharif. Anti-Muslim discrimination is not limited to a specific group or city, according to Sharif.

“Islamophobia is the last form of racism that is tolerated in mainstream America,” she said. “You won’t see Fox News go out of its way to defend anti-black or anti-Semitic comments but they went out of their way to defend an Islamophobic statement.”

Sharif was referring to the Juan Williams incident in October. News analyst Williams had said on Fox, “If I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

Sharif says there is no place for profiling based on physical appearance.

“Anyone can drive down a bridge or enter a skyscraper and set off a bomb,” she said. “And they are not going to be dressed up like Osama Bin Laden.”

Sharif says it would be difficult to quantify, but more Muslim women are starting to report incidents of discrimination as they learn more about their rights.

Amal Abusumayah was one among them. In 2009 she was attacked in a Tinley Park grocery store, two days after the Fort Hood shooting.

“People look at us and get the wrong impression,” said Abusumayah, who wears a Hijab. “We are somehow connected to terrorism and are easy targets.”

There isn’t enough education about the hijab according to her. “People are ignorant about it,” she said.

Has her life changed after she reported discrimination? No, she says.

“You are looked at differently or treated wrong,” she said. “It’s an everyday thing.”

But Abusumayah does not think her decision to put in a criminal complaint was futile.

“It sends out a strong message to other women and raises awareness,” she said. “It is also a message to racist people to stop and think before they discriminate.”

Copyright © 2011 Medill News Service