Flying while Muslim at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport
By Lori Saroya, Star Tribune
The 4-year-old boy stood as still as he could. His knees were shaking. His arms were raised up high; “hands up, don’t shoot”-style. His eyes were shut tight. The lady with the purple gloves patted his head. Then she moved her hands down to his neck and shoulders. She patted his tummy and worked her way down. She touched him everywhere. There was a momentary pause when the little boy’s father threatened a lawsuit (he later told me that he knew there wasn’t a case). A fourth police officer was called. They were officially a scene. They were the Minnesota Muslim family traveling to Washington, D.C., to visit the Lincoln Memorial and the Natural History Museum.
The Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP) is a hotbed for religious profiling. Some Minnesota Muslims would rather drive 7 hours and fly out of Chicago than endure the profiling, humiliation and degradation they are often subjected to at MSP. I can relate.
From January to April 2015, I took five domestic trips and one international trip. My visibly Muslim family and I were “randomly selected” for extra screenings every single time we flew out of MSP. It’s not random.
Sometimes the TSA agents are ignorant and rude. Like the agent who started patting my hijab after I was cleared by the full-body scanner. She had to “make sure there aren’t any explosives” inside it, she said.
Or the agent who wouldn’t let me pass security unless I removed both layers of my hijab and showed her my hair.
We all want to be safe while traveling. I fly frequently. I use carefully crafted language with my family before every trip, making a special point of saying how much I love them. I’m scared just like everyone else.
But profiling people based on their religious dress and religious names does not make us any safer. While TSA agents are fixated on hijabs, beards and Arabic names, they overlook concerning behavior that requires scrutiny.
Lori Saroya is a civil rights activist, nonprofit leader, writer and mother. She has received several awards and recognitions for her community work including a Congressional Tribute, the Governor’s Distinguished Service Award, and the Ten Outstanding Young Minnesotans. She is writing her first memoir, a reflective piece on her identity as an American Muslim woman and the civil rights challenges facing her community.
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