TSA: Naked Body Scanners & Sexual Assault

I normally try to dedicate my blog to purely religious or pschologically-related posts, but like many other Americans, I am incredibly outraged over the naked body scanners the US Transportation & Security Administration (TSA) began implementing last December. 

Conveniently, immediately after the Underwear Bomber incident last December, Michael Chertoff (former homeland security secretary, no conflict of interest there of course), now the lobbyist for Rapiscan, manufacturer of the scanners, began loudly peddling the product on all news outlets, declaring the scanners to be the end-all solution to the problem.  Of course, it seems doubtful that he’s really interested in doing what’s best for American citizens, as he and many others are making a ton of money from all this – a frustratingly similar pattern to practically everything else going on in this country these days.

The scanners have been intensely criticized by scientists, professors, lawyers, those involved in security operations, and of course, by many every day Americans.  The TSA’s response to all of that was to ‘kindly’ provide an opt-out option, which allows the individual to bypass the scanner and be treated instead to an ‘enhanced patdown’.  Ooh a patdown – well that doesn’t sound too bad, right? 

Wrong.  This patdown involves the TSA employee (not a security guard or police officer who has been trained to do routine searches, mind you) reaching INSIDE your clothes and touching you everywhere, private parts included.  Women’s chests and both men’s and women’s nether regions are to be squeezed and firmly explored.  There have been reports of women being asked to actually raise their shirts and expose their breasts to the public while they are being groped, and others have been asked to raise their skirts over their heads.  Some women who have been victims of rape have experienced panic attacks or have outright refused, which has been met with savage responses (laughing, more aggressive groping, and one woman recently was knocked to the ground, dragged away to jail, and forbidden from using the airport).

http://amarillo.com/news/local-news/2010-10-11/lawsuit-airport-search-indecent

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c3UWSgGI2TQ

Do a simple google search and you’ll find numerous other similar stories.  TSA agents aren’t properly trained, and apparently aren’t undergoing thorough background checks, as one TSA agent who has recently been accused of sexually assaulting, kidnapping, and stalking a woman, had been previously in jail for sexual assault and stalking – yet he still got a job as a TSA agent… I guess those transferable life skills come in handy at this particular job…

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2010/11/tsa-worker-accused-assault-jail-time-stalking-harassment/

I’m flying in the next few days to visit my family for the holidays, a decision I now intensely regret (I would rather drive the 10 hours to their house than be forced to endure any of this!).  I had been vaguely following the story regarding the body scanners previously, but I hadn’t experienced any immediate alarm until just after buying my ticket, when my local airport announced the installation of the body scanners.  Great timing.  It appears thus far that passengers are being ‘randomly selected’ to go through the body scanners, but from what I’ve read, attractive women, children, and Muslim women are being particularly targeted. 

Well.  At first I had planned to just wear a hat and a scarf around my neck to avoid any unwanted attention to my headscarf, but it seems that I’ll be just as a likely target without it, being that I’m in my 20s, slim and in good physical shape (as I’m an avid runner).  Neither can I wear baggy clothes to diguise my shape, as that will also make me look suspicious.  Last night I entertained the thought of just showing up in a black abaya and burka… but in the end, what does it matter?  No amount of baggy clothes will prevent the machine from displaying my naked image. 

Quite clearly, the promoters of the naked body scanners are trying to force people to give up and resign to going through them in order to avoid the much worse option of sexual assault, but the naked body scanners also pose serious concerns.  For one, many scientists are speaking out against the health threat from the large amount of cancer-causing radiation emitted from the scanners (and some have wondered if the TSA isn’t even being truthful about the amount emitted).

http://www.rutherford.org/articles_db/commentary.asp?record_id=685

Health risk aside, giving minimally trained strangers full view of your naked image is completely against Islamic beliefs – not to mention against Christian and Jewish beliefs as well!  Muslim men and women are not allowed to expose themselves to anyone except their spouses, and to medical personnel in cases of absolute necessity.  Further, most people, and women in particular, find the thought of the virtual strip search invasive and an affront to their human dignity. 

Finally, and the strongest point of all: both the scanners and ‘grope-downs’ are ILLEGAL as per our 4th amendment rights, which state:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and Warrants shall not be issued, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Such extreme searches against everyday American travelers are indeed unreasonable.  Old ladies, small children, rape victims – are they really our enemies?  Come on.  Several lawsuits are being filed now against the TSA – one such example is here: 

http://www.koat.com/r/26198724/detail.html

On top of all that, security experts are also weighing in, stating that the body scanners don’t even work that well anyway (there have been reports of weapon-like objects getting through without detection; further, studies have shown that the scanners “have difficulty differentiating between plastic explosives and human flesh, says a study that appears in the Journal of Transportation Security.”

http://www.usatoday.com/travel/flights/2010-12-27-bodyscan27_ST_N.htm

Some security experts recommend going to the Ben Gurion airport security model, which simply entails behavioral observation (a highly effective and routinely used technique by psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and mental health counselors when assessing clients).  Apparently this Israeli airport is also one of the safest in the world, despite being in an obviously dangerous and volatile area.  More on this and other experts and organizations weighing in can be found here on Democracy Now (click “Real Video Stream” to view the video of the discussion): http://www.democracynow.org/2010/11/19/national_outcry_over_tsa_body_scanners.  

The evidence is overwhelmingly against the body scanners.  Any rational human being would object to being stripped of their human dignity and basic human rights as given by US law.  Further, for those still actively brainwashed to believe that the government only has the best of intentions toward its citizens, and who may readily fall in line like sheep being led to the slaughter all in the name of “security against terrorists”, the scanners, as previously mentioned, don’t do anything to keep us safe.  Benjamin Franklin also had something to say to such mindless sheeple: “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Don’t give up your rights and liberties.  Our government has only big corporate interests in mind, and has little regard for its citizens.  Once you give up your rights, you give up your power to fight back against corruption, greed, tyranny, and oppression.  Don’t think the US government is an infallible, holy entity eternally protected by God Himself.  No, powerful and mighty nations have fallen into corrupted, evil hands countless times in human history.  Don’t fool yourself into thinking the US is any exception. 

More instances of TSA assault against passengers:

http://freedominourtime.blogspot.com/2010/11/daedalus-shrugged-mounting-resistance.html

Christmas: Jesus is the Reason for the Season… Right?

I have to admit that Christmas has always been my most favorite time of year.  Growing up, I always had a running countdown of the days left until Christmas – in fact, my countdown started even before my mom put up the handmade advent calendar in the shape of a Christmas tree, on which we would hang one bell for each day that passed.  On Christmas Eve, my brothers and I would stay up all night, eagerly anticipating Christmas morning – when we could wait no longer, we would rush into our parents’ room and terrorize them until they got up (5 am isn’t early for Christmas, is it?).  And yes, even now, I still enjoy the festivity of the season, with all the bright lights and beautiful colors and music, and the overall bustle and thrill of anticipation that seems to run through nearly everyone.

Of course, Christmas these days seems to be carried out to the extreme – people rushing from one place to another, spending too much money, desperately searching for discounts, feeling overwhelmed and stressed with all the parties, performances, traveling, and various obligations we have this time of year.  Amidst it all, it is easy to lose sight of the bigger picture and get swept away by the tide of commercialism, consumerism, and decadence, causing many religious observers of the holiday to feel obligated to bring things back into perspective by echoing the well-known phrase: “Jesus is the reason for the season.”  Indeed, we wouldn’t even have Christmas if it weren’t for the birth of Jesus….  right…?

My investigation into the history of Christmas began by accident back when I was in college (and still a Christian).  My friend and I were musing over the purpose of Christmas trees, since it seemed unlikely evergreens would be that common in Palestine during the time of Jesus.  I decided to look it up on the Internet, and immediately saw that indeed, the Christmas tree was of pagan origin.  I didn’t feel too good about that, so I stopped any further searching as I didn’t want to know what else might have pagan origins as well!  Of course though, over time, my curiosity got the better of me and I did begin to look into the origins of Christmas, which became easier to face as I had begun having doubts about Christianity anyway at that point.

So is Jesus the reason for the season?  Well, although it sounds nice and feels good to say, unfortunately, Jesus is not the reason for the season.  In reality, Jesus is more of an afterthought, added to the holiday several centuries later.  The real reason for the season comes not from one sole source, but from a variety of other religions and traditions, the majority stemming from pre-Christian ancient Roman religious practices.  For instance:

Christmas day (Dec. 25th):

In ancient Babylon, this day was a celebration of the son of Isis, during which people would have a feast, throw wild parties, and engage in gluttonous drinking and eating.

Later, in pre-Christian Rome, the holiday, termed Saturnalia, was celebrated in honor of the god Saturn.  This was a time of hedonistic debauchery, celebrated with large feasts, drunkenness, and even orgies.

Another pre-Christian Roman religion was that of Mithra, the sun (or “son”) of God (in fact, much of Paul’s teachings about Jesus are exactly the same as the teachings of this religion).  December 25th was celebrated as the birthday of Mithra.

Christmas caroling:

In celebration of Saturnalia, some ancient Roman people (known as Mummers) would dress up in costumes and travel from house to house, entertaining people with songs and dances.  Incidently, when Christianity came on the scene, caroling was actually banned by the church.

Christmas trees:

Trees were worshipped by the ancient Druids in Northern Europe, and during the winter, people would often bring evergreen trees (and sometimes decorate the trees) inside to remind themselves of the hope of the new life to come in the springtime.  Early Christians abhorred the practice, and believed it to be blasphemy.

Gift-giving

Even giving family and loved ones gifts on Christmas has pagan roots – during the celebrations of the god Isis, people would commonly give each other gifts.  For Saturnalia, the rich often gave to the poor and less well-off people around them.   Gift-giving was also banned by the early church.

Santa Claus

The origin of Santa Claus comes from 4th century bishop, St. Nicholas, who was known for giving gifts to others secretly.  When the church realized the difficulty of preventing people from celebrating the traditions of the popular culture around them, they allowed gift-giving on the rationale that St. Nicholas, a Christian, had done it.  The mythical figure of Santa Claus was modeled after St. Nicholas, and in the 1800s, American cartoonist Thomas Nast began drawing yearly pictures of him (initially in religious robes), which thus began the transformation into the bearded, plump, short man in a red suit that we are familiar with today.   Ironically, the only originally Christian Christmas tradition just so happens to be Santa Claus, whom many modern-day Christians now bemoan and even refuse to include in their Christmas celebrations.

Jesus

Jesus was later added into the well-established tradition of Christmas celebrations about 300 years after his death, as church leaders decided that it was too difficult to fight against the tide of Roman culture, and determined instead that it would be better to add a Christian element to the mix to better attract non-Christian Romans to the religion with the promise of allowing them to retain their popular religious traditions.  In reality, however, Biblical historians believe Jesus to have been born sometime in September, nowhere near the date of December 25th.

The Real Reason for the Season

So, the real reason for the Christmas season is exactly what we see today (minus Santa Claus and the actual name, which stems from “Christ-mass”).  Overindulgence, gluttony, excess spending and the materialistic emphasis on gift-giving (or rather, gift-getting), wild parties, drunkenness, and debauchery.  Excess and frivolty is the reason for the season.

If Christians want to truly celebrate the birth of Jesus, then they should celebrate it in September, but should take care to remember that there should be no caroling, no Christmas trees, or presents (unless you’re Catholic, in which case Santa Claus and gift-giving is allowed as per St. Nicholas).

The fact that so many Christians ignore the history of the development of their OWN religion and religious holidays is astounding.  Admittedly, I was once one of them, and in retrospect, I know exactly why I chose to remain blissfully ignorant.  The truth will force one to face the reality of one’s beliefs, much of which is based on mere fantasy and fairytales.  Logic and fact should therefore be avoided at all costs in order to avoid shattering the fragile glass house constituting one’s beliefs.

In the end, celebrating Christmas for what it truly is – a purely cultural holiday – is certainly not something horrific or satanic.  Rather, Christmas is a cultural tradition deeply embedded in Western societies, with a rich and diverse history extending back thousands of years.  It is doubtful that modern Westerners worship Christmas trees, Saturn, or Mithra, nor do they sing songs to Roman deities or engage in mass orgies (well, the majority probably doesn’t anyway).  On the contrary, it is a wonderful holiday during which people gather together with family, give each other presents as a sign of our appreciation and love for one another, and make unforgettable, warm memories that will stay with us to the end of our lives.  Certainly, there is nothing un-Islamic or un-Christian about that.

So, to that end – Merry Christmas everyone!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas

http://www.essortment.com/all/christmaspagan_rece.htm

http://www.history.com/topics/christmas

Lauren Booth: Tony Blair’s Sister-in-Law Converts to Islam

Lauren Booth: I’m now a Muslim. Why all the shock and horror?

News that Lauren Booth has converted to Islam provoked a storm of negative comments. Here she explains how it came about – and why it’s time to stop patronising Muslim women

It is five years since my first visit to Palestine. And when I arrived in the region, to work alongside charities in Gaza and the West Bank, I took with me the swagger of condescension that all white middle-class women (secretly or outwardly) hold towards poor Muslim women, women I presumed would be little more than black-robed blobs, silent in my peripheral vision. As a western woman with all my freedoms, I expected to deal professionally with men alone. After all, that’s what the Muslim world is all about, right?

This week’s screams of faux horror from fellow columnists on hearing of my conversion to Islam prove that this remains the stereotypical view regarding half a billion women currently practising Islam.

On my first trip to Ramallah, and many subsequent visits to Palestine, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, I did indeed deal with men in power. And, dear reader, one or two of them even had those scary beards we see on news bulletins from far-flung places we’ve bombed to smithereens. Surprisingly (for me) I also began to deal with a lot of women of all ages, in all manner of head coverings, who also held positions of power. Believe it or not, Muslim women can be educated, work the same deadly hours we do, and even boss their husbands about in front of his friends until he leaves the room in a huff to go and finish making the dinner.

Is this patronising enough for you? I do hope so, because my conversion to Islam has been an excuse for sarcastic commentators to heap such patronising points of view on to Muslim women everywhere. So much so, that on my way to a meeting on the subject of Islamophobia in the media this week, I seriously considered buying myself a hook and posing as Abu Hamza. After all, judging by the reaction of many women columnists, I am now to women’s rights what the hooked one is to knife and fork sales.

So let’s all just take a deep breath and I’ll give you a glimpse into the other world of Islam in the 21st century. Of course, we cannot discount the appalling way women are mistreated by men in many cities and cultures, both with and without an Islamic population. Women who are being abused by male relatives are being abused by men, not God. Much of the practices and laws in “Islamic” countries have deviated from (or are totally unrelated) to the origins of Islam. Instead practices are based on cultural or traditional (and yes, male-orientated) customs that have been injected into these societies. For example, in Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to drive by law. This rule is an invention of the Saudi monarchy, our government’s close ally in the arms and oil trade. The fight for women’s rights must sadly adjust to our own government’s needs.

My own path to Islam began with an awakening to the gap between what had been drip-fed to me about all Muslim life – and the reality.

I began to wonder about the calmness exuded by so many of the “sisters” and “brothers”. Not all; these are human beings we’re talking about. But many. And on my visit to Iran this September, the washing, kneeling, chanting recitations of the prayers at the mosques I visited reminded me of the west’s view of an entirely different religion; one that is known for eschewing violence and embracing peace and love through quiet meditation. A religion trendy with movie stars such as Richard Gere, and one that would have been much easier to admit to following in public – Buddhism. Indeed, the bending, kneeling and submission of Muslim prayers resound with words of peace and contentment. Each one begins, “Bismillahir rahmaneer Raheem” – “In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate” – and ends with the phrase “Assalamu Alaykhum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh” – Peace be upon you all and God’s mercy and blessing.

Almost unnoticed to me, when praying for the last year or so, I had been saying “Dear Allah” instead of “Dear God”. They both mean the same thing, of course, but for the convert to Islam the very alien nature of the language of the holy prayers and the holy book can be a stumbling block. I had skipped that hurdle without noticing. Then came the pull: a sort of emotional ebb and flow that responds to the company of other Muslims with a heightened feeling of openness and warmth. Well, that’s how it was for me, anyway.

How hard and callous non-Muslim friends and colleagues began to seem. Why can’t we cry in public, hug one another more, say “I love you” to a new friend, without facing suspicion or ridicule? I would watch emotions being shared in households along with trays of honeyed sweets and wondered, if Allah’s law is simply based on fear why did the friends I loved and respected not turn their backs on their practices and start to drink, to have real “fun” as we in the west do? And we do, don’t we? Don’t we?

Finally, I felt what Muslims feel when they are in true prayer: a bolt of sweet harmony, a shudder of joy in which I was grateful for everything I have (my children) and secure in the certainty that I need nothing more (along with prayer) to be utterly content. I prayed in the Mesumeh shrine in Iran after ritually cleansing my forearms, face, head and feet with water. And nothing could be the same again. It was as simple as that.

The sheikh who finally converted me at a mosque in London a few weeks ago told me: “Don’t hurry, Lauren. Just take it easy. Allah is waiting for you. Ignore those who tell you: you must do this, wear that, have your hair like this. Follow your instincts, follow the Holy Qur’an- and let Allah guide you.”

And so I now live in a reality that is not unlike that of Jim Carey’s character in the Truman Show. I have glimpsed the great lie that is the facade of our modern lives; that materialism, consumerism, sex and drugs will give us lasting happiness. But I have also peeked behind the screens and seen an enchanting, enriched existence of love, peace and hope. In the meantime, I carry on with daily life, cooking dinners, making TV programmes about Palestine and yes, praying for around half an hour a day.

Now, my morning starts with dawn prayers at around 6am, I pray again at 1.30pm, then finally at 10.30pm. My steady progress with the Qur’an has been mocked in some quarters (for the record, I’m now around 200 pages in). I’ve been seeking advice from Ayatollahs, imams and sheikhs, and every one has said that each individual’s journey to Islam is their own. Some do commit the entire text to memory before conversion; for me reading the holy book will be done slowly and at my own pace.

In the past my attempts to give up alcohol have come to nothing; since my conversion I can’t even imagine drinking again. I have no doubt that this is for life: there is so much in Islam to learn and enjoy and admire; I’m overcome with the wonder of it. In the last few days I’ve heard from other women converts, and they have told me that this is just the start, that they are still loving it 10 or 20 years on.

On a final note I’d like to offer a quick translation between Muslim culture and media culture that may help take the sting of shock out of my change of life for some of you.

When Muslims on the BBC News are shown shouting “Allahu Akhbar!” at some clear, Middle Eastern sky, we westerners have been trained to hear: “We hate you all in your British sitting rooms, and are on our way to blow ourselves up in Lidl when you are buying your weekly groceries.”

In fact, what we Muslims are saying is “God is Great!”, and we’re taking comfort in our grief after non-Muslim nations have attacked our villages. Normally, this phrase proclaims our wish to live in peace with our neighbours, our God, our fellow humans, both Muslim and non-Muslim. Or, failing that, in the current climate, just to be left to live in peace would be nice.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/nov/03/lauren-booth-conversion-to-islam/print

Lauren Booth interviews:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W57jH3awu-M&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qIsYIst_5o4

After reading about her conversion and listening to her speak, all I can say is mashAllah.  It’s hard for me to listen to her speak without tears in my eyes, because I know exactly how she feels when she speaks of the peace, tranquility, simplicity, and wisdom of Islam.  After encountering Islam, one can never walk away unchanged and unaffected.