On body scans and pat downs


My family and I will be going on vacation in a few weeks.  But rather than looking forward to the trip, I’m actually nervous about navigating airport security.  My anxiety has little to do with my fear of a terrorist attack mind you, although that remains a real concern.  I’m mostly concerned with the intrusiveness we Muslims face when going through airports these days.

I understand that travel by commercial airline suddenly got more intrusive for everyone with the introduction of full-body scanners and enhanced pat downs.  But I can’t help but worry that Muslims will continue to get most of the unwarranted attention.

While traveling with my family in the past, we routinely have been “randomly” selected by TSA officers for additional screening, including pat downs, even though the metal detectors did not go off.  I should mention that my wife wears what Fox News’ Juan Williams refers to as “Muslim garb.”

My family and I have concluded through our own experience that part of the intense training TSA officers go through includes being taught to look at travelers in Muslim attire with wide eyes then nervously raise their hand to call over a colleague.  The colleague then explains to those “traveling while Muslim” that they have been randomly selected for enhanced security.

I recall going through Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport a few years ago.  My wife and I were told at check-in counter that we had been randomly selected for enhanced security.  We were escorted to an area where we stood at the back of a line of about a dozen people.

I noticed that many of the people in line were speaking Arabic while the remainder appeared to be speaking Urdu.  I don’t speak Urdu but I can recognize some of the words.  It was obvious that everyone in line fit a certain stereotype.

While standing in line I chatted with one of the TSA officers and asked him how they randomly select me.  “It’s just randomly done by the computer,” he explained.  “So, you mean to tell me that it’s a coincidence that everyone in line looks alike?” I asked.  The young officer smiled without replying.  I pressed the issue for a few more minutes as those of us in line joked about being randomly selected for this, but never getting randomly selected to win any sort of prize.

I continued to chat with the TSA officer as I waited my turn when finally, unprompted, he looked at me and nodded his head.  He grudgingly explained that people who look Muslim or have Muslim names are usually the ones selected for the enhanced, so-called random security and that he was just doing his job.

I couldn’t help but think that the whole exercise was a big waste of resources and time.  Shouldn’t enhanced security mean that real terrorist threats are thwarted long before a terrorist reaches an airport?

My question now is; with the introduction of full-body scanners, will Muslims continue to be selected “randomly” for enhanced security measures?  And if we are, doesn’t that speak to the ineffectiveness of full-body scanners?  After all, if they perform the intended function, there should be no need for an additional pat down.

I spoke to a TSA official and asked about the new, full-body scanners and enhanced pat downs.  I was told that even if I go through the full-body scanner and it shows nothing, except maybe that I need to buy new underwear, TSA officers still reserve the right to subject me to the pat down.

I can’t help but wonder if this TSA policy is reserved only for those who appear to be Muslim.  Does the TSA not realize that with all of the attention Muslims get in airports that determined terrorists would likely try to blend in by not appearing Muslim?  Isn’t that what the terrorists did on 9/11?

So, while most travelers who go through the full-body scanners will not have to be subjected to a pat down, it is likely that not only will a TSA officer be able to see naked images of me and my family (if we opt for the scanner), they will then be authorized to pat us down in a manner that many have compared to legalized molestation.  In other words, we Muslims stand to continue to suffer greater indignation at airports than the rest of the traveling public.

I take airport security as seriously as anyone.  I don’t want another plane to go down in a terrorist attack on U.S. soil, or anywhere else for that matter.  But, frankly, it is getting increasingly difficult for me to continue to take the TSA seriously.  I am no expert on matters of airport security, but their methods seem flawed and reactionary while travelers continue to have our rights chipped away.

After Richard Reid, otherwise known as the shoe bomber, tried to detonate explosives hidden in his shoes while on a commercial airliner, travelers were required to remove their shoes for inspection as an added security measure before boarding a plane.

The full-body scanners now seem to be a knee-jerk reaction to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s failed attempt to allegedly try to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight by hiding explosives in his underwear.

The question I’m afraid to ask is: Since full-body scanners cannot detect objects hidden in a body cavity, what will the TSA’s security response be if a terrorist tries to smuggle explosives onto a plane in that manner?