WASHINGTON A prominent Muslim civil rights group has asked the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to clarify whether Islamic headscarves, or hijab, will now automatically trigger additional security measures for Muslim travellers.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) made that request after a Muslim woman traveller taking a flight Tuesday from Washington to Los Angeles reported that TSA personnel first asked that she take off her hijab, then put her through a 'humiliating public full-body pat-down search when she refused, according to a news release.
After the pat-down, the Muslim travellers luggage, coat, shoes, laptop, and cell phone were searched and tested for bomb-making chemicals, it said.
When the traveller, a resident of Maryland, questioned TSA staff about the way she was being treated, she was allegedly told that a new policy went into effect that morning mandating that 'anyone wearing a head scarf must go through this type of search, the news release said.
In a letter to TSA Acting Administrator Gale Rossides, CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad, said, If this troubling new policy is indeed in effect, it represents religious profiling in its most egregious form.
We respectfully request that you clarify whether Islamic head scarves will now trigger automatic secondary screening for Muslim travelers.
If so, does this new policy apply to all those who wear religious head coverings, such as Sikh men, Catholic nuns and orthodox Jewish women, or will it apply exclusively to Muslim travellers? If the issue is concealment of potentially dangerous items, the clothing worn by travellers of all faiths, such as skirts, loose pants and sweatshirts, has more areas to hide items than hijab.
Awad noted that previous TSA policy placed hijab in the category of bulky clothing that would not automatically lead to additional screening.
Under previous policy, even if that screening were to take place, it would be carried out in a private screening location.
On Monday, CAIR said new TSA guidelines, under which anyone travelling from or through 13 Muslim-majority nations will be required to go through enhanced screening techniques before boarding flights, amount to religious and ethnic profiling.
In a commentary distributed by CAIR challenging calls for profiling, Awad suggested security-enhancing alternatives to ineffective religious profiling: First look at behaviour, not at faith or skin colour.
Then spend what it takes to obtain more bomb-sniffing dogs to install more sophisticated bomb-detection equipment and to train security personnel in identifying the behaviour of real terror suspects.

This news was published in The Nation newspaper. Read complete newspaper of 08-Jan-2010 here.