Recent Upsurge in Anti-Muslim Travel Incidents

By Christina Abraham

CAIR-Chicago has recently seen a rise in civil rights violations against Muslims who are traveling. The rise comes not only in number, but also in the severity of the incident.

The most recent incident involved a Muslim American businessman who was detained by federal agents upon reentry into the U.S. from Canada. The Muslim man was subjected to a demeaning strip search, was questioned by federal agents, and had his car searched and dusted for fingerprints.

Another incident involved A Muslim family who was subjected to racial and religious based verbal and physical assault during an international flight. The flight attendants on duty initially refused to deal with the issue when the Muslim family complained to her. The man was eventually moved to another seat on the flight after several complaints were made to the supervising flight attendant.

Another Muslim family was also recently denied passage on an airplane. The family first had their flight switched without explanation, and then waited the remainder of the day to be put on another flight. After having boarded another plane later that evening, the family was escorted off the plane before take-off and bags that had already been loaded onto the plane were returned to them. They were later told that the reason for being refused service was because of a problem in the name check, although they had previously cleared federal security checks. An employee of the airline also later informed the family that the airline may have decided to refuse them service for security purposes, despite security clearance from federal officers of the Transportation and Security Administration (TSA).

Less severe, but also in violation of the civil rights of Muslims, are the several incidents involving federal agents asking Muslim women to remove their headscarves for photographs upon entry into the United States, which go against U.S. State Department policy.

These violations go beyond the issue of mere profiling, and stem into a greater issue of the dehumanization of Muslim Americans. These incidents tell of a pattern of both government officials and individuals representing commonly used businesses, such as airlines, treating Muslim Americans as criminals without cause.

For example, common knowledge would tell us that for an individual to be searched, interrogated, and have his personal property confiscated and searched, there should be probable cause – a reason for law enforcement agents to violate that individual’s self-interest. However, the reason given today is inherently bigoted: the sole reason is that the person is a Muslim or an Arab.

When such racism governs the way security procedures are implemented, the entire notion of civil liberties is compromised. Security itself is bogged down with inefficient and unnecessary practices that serve no purpose other than to criminalize a group of people for their association with a particular religion.

The same point keeps being shouted out by Muslims and supporters of civil liberties in this country, but continues to go ignored, and so we say again: Islam is not the only religion in history, nor even in recent times, that has had people carry out acts of violence in its name. Christianity, Catholicism, Judaism, Hinduism, even Buddhism have all experienced this phenomenon. To live in a world where entire groups of people would be criminalized for their identity would be chaotic, and would serve to deepen divisions that should be blurred for their insignificance.

Security should never be used as a guise for bigotry. The incidents that have been occurring to law-abiding Muslims are unacceptable in a country that claims to lead the world on ideas such as freedom and justice. There is no freedom when you are singled out because you wear a Muslim headscarf (hijab) and no justice when you are treated like a criminal simply because your name is Mohammed.

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