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

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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.

More Thoughts on the Veil

For the Arabic class I’m taking, I had to view a couple of videos regarding the Islamic headscarf, and answer some questions pertaining to the video.  I decided to post both the videos and my responses.  Your response to the videos welcome!

 

 

Al Jazeera: The Veil part 1

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IlkaX4csHyM

Al Jazeera: The Veil part 2

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=35cD16_AQAU

Questions & My Responses:

What thoughts come to your mind when you see a woman wearing al-hijaab
الحِجاب or al-niqaab النِقاب ? How do you view one vs. the other?

Before I came into contact with actual Muslim women, I viewed the headscarf as oppressive and forced.  However, when I began teaching for the first time and had a class full of Muslims, my perception immediately changed as I saw these women as having a great deal of honor, respect and dignity for themselves.  They looked like regal princesses to me, and I realized that someone in a position of nobility or high status doesn’t normally reveal their bodies to every common person around them, but would keep their personal appearance for only those in their private circle.

Regarding niqaab, I have had a few students who have worn the niqaab, and while I respect their decision to do so, I find it unnecessary and entirely counterproductive to their purpose of wearing it in the first place.  As the niqaabi woman in the video explained, the niqaab is to cover oneself physically from view of others and not draw unwanted attention to oneself.  However, niqaabis in the US and most other countries (included countries such as Egypt) draw a great deal of attention since they stand out as very different and even suspicious, as the TV reporter noted.  Islamically, the niqaab is not required (except for those in the Wahabi/Salafi sect), so adamantly wearing it and therefore drawing a lot of negative and suspicious attention to oneself, and furthering negative stereotypes of Muslim, is incredibly counterproductive in my view.  Islam encourages Muslims to dress in the same way as the culture they live in, as long as they ensure that the appropriate areas are covered.

How do you view an Arab woman who does not wear either al-hijaab or al-niqaab? Do you think that a woman dressed like that is making a political or a religious statement?

A few thoughts cross my mind when I see an uncovered Arab woman.  I may wonder if she is Christian or irreligious, or if she comes from a liberal Middle Eastern country, such as Lebanon or Syria.  She may also come from a more liberal city or family (Jeddah is Saudi Arabia is fairly liberal, as I have encountered students from Jeddah who don’t cover their hair, and know of individuals from even conservative areas in Saudi Arabia th don’t observe hijab in their private lives simply as the family in general doesn’t practice it).  Further, an uncovered woman may come from the West, from irreligious parents or mixed religion parents, and finally, the woman may simply not believe in it and chooses not to wear it.  Thus, when I see an uncovered Arab woman, I refrain from judgment and prefer to simply wait for more information.

In working with Muslim students from typically conversative countries however, I have seen that uncovered Muslim women are usually treated differently by their Muslim classmates; they are sometimes not respected as much and are treated as ‘loose’ and are not taken seriously, which is in line with what the TV reporter explained regarding women who don’t cover in Egypt.

Do your views apply to Arab or Muslim men who dress in a non-western manner?

Dressing in a non-Western manner for men or women from any country is their prerogative, and has little to do with one’s religious affiliation.  Islam is clear that a person can dress in a culturally appropriate manner wherever they are, as long as the appropriate areas are covered.  A male or female wearing jeans and a T-shirt to me simply look like they’re integrated and are not trying to set themselves distinctly apart from the culture around them.

Do you think that Muslims living this country should dress in a way that is not different from anyone else around them?

Muslims should dress in accordance to the area around them.  What I mean is that if they live in a more educated, open-minded area, dressing in their own cultural attire is fine as the people around them probably would be more accepting and open to that.  However, if they live in a conservative, close-minded, uneducated area, they may want to adopt the dress around them so as to not draw unwanted attention to themselves.  Again, the Islamic emphasis is always on covering the appropriate areas, and beyond that is a personal choice.

Can you think of other religions wheremen and women dress in certain way because they think that their religion requires them to do so? Does the American society view these other religions and their followers as they view Muslims who adhere to particular clothes?

Practicing Jewish women also dress similarly to Muslim women; they wear modest clothing and also cover their hair (which is a practice alive and well today as I came across many websites and tutorials on Jewish hair covering when I was trying to learn how to cover my own hair as a new convert to Islam).  Jewish texts record that Sarah, the wife of Abraham, never left the house without covering her hair, face, and hands (just like the niqaabi woman in the video).

Christian women traditionally also wore modest clothing and covered their hair, as Paul in the Bible admonishes women who come to church without their hair covered, saying that such women bring shame to themselves and deserve to have their heads shaved (incidentally, Islam does not take such an extreme approach!).  Some Christian women in other countries do still cover their hair.  Women in the FLDS denomination of Christianity dress modestly, as well as the Amish (who also cover their hair).  Women in the Apostolic and conservative Evangelical branches of Christianity have strict beliefs against cutting one’s hair (as the Old Testament states that a woman’s hair is her glory and should not be cut), and that women should not wear pants (as the OT also states that women should not wear men’s clothing and vice versa).  Catholic nuns dress in the same way as Muslim women by wearing long, loose-fitting clothing and a headscarf, and no image of Mary mother of Jesus (peace be upon him) is complete without Mary wearing a headscarf.

By no means has Islam introduced modesty or the veil to religious clothing practices; it has simply continued what has been practiced by other Abrahamic faiths for centuries. Yet, Westerners seem to forget the clothing practices of their own faith traditions historically and to the present.  If Mary is seen as holy and pure for wearing a headscarf, why then are Muslim women seen as oppressed and brainwashed for wearing the exact same thing?

Hijab: A Protective Factor in Women’s Body Image Issues?

Although many people in the West know little about Islam, the veil is one exception that everyone is familiar with.  Although the Western perception is that the veil serves as a form of oppression (I also used to share this view), Muslim women see it as quite the opposite.  Some researchers have taken the debate a step further by putting the veil and its effects to scientific testing.

Although I found very few studies done on the effects of the veil, the handful I did find seemed to have mixed results.   I found it curious and wondered what other factors were affecting the outcomes.   Anyone familiar with the Middle East can attest to the fact that despite the veil being a requirement in many countries, women still suffer from body image issues, which can also result in depression, eating disorders, and low self-esteem.  Thus, the act of simply wearing the veil does not seem to automatically protect women from body image issues.

However, I found another study (Rastmanesh, Gluck, & Shadman, 2009) that was much more telling.  In this particular study, the researchers took three groups of Iranian women, all of whom are required to wear the veil by law, and separated them by those wearing the chador (full coverage, beyond the requirement), those maintaining the basic requirement of veiling, and those just under the requirement, wearing tight clothes and a loose veil with hair still showing.  The researchers measured participants’ answers on a variety of instruments, such as the Beck depression inventory, the body shape questionnaire, the eating disorders inventory, the Rosenburg self-esteem scale, and questions on the importance of slimness.

The results yielded that women who veiled above and beyond the basic requirement scored far better than those in the other groups, with the women in the third group scoring the lowest.  What this indicates is that indeed, simply wearing the veil does not safeguard a woman from body image issues, but wearing the veil willingly does.  The results also should not be interpreted to mean that covering oneself from head to toe should be strictly enforced – nor does it mean that Muslim countries should abandon the veil requirement – not at all.  It simply indicates that those who 1. cover the Islamically required areas, and 2. do it because they believe in it and desire to do it, are the ones who benefit most from the veil.

So essentially, the veil is not only a physical practice.  Rather, the veil must be both physical and mental in order for it to serve as a protective factor against body image issues in women.  In fact, if a woman doesn’t believe in it, she risks being even more vulnerable to the mental health issues that plague women, as her sole source of value – her body – is covered and she has no way of competing against the other women around her, either in real life or in the media.  Her value is invisible and shielded from view, so from her perspective, she has nothing else that gives her worth.  Obviously, when you believe that you have nothing to offer, it is easy to fall into low self-esteem, depression, and so on.   Such women may even attempt to go to more extremes to make their sole source of currency visible, by wearing tight clothes so as to show off as much as they can, engaging in disordered eating in order to make their body more noticeably slimmer than those around them, and what reportedly is becoming a quickly increasing phenomenon in the Middle East, undergoing facial plastic surgery.  If the face is the only thing still visible, altering it in order to make it more appealing makes the most sense.  Apparently rhinoplasty enjoys great popularity in Iran and other places, and anyone who watches Arab media knows that Arab women (and other Middle Eastern women) wear a great deal of make up (not all of them of course, but those who have adopted the idea that a woman’s worth is in her appearance).

One of my Saudi friends has often told me stories about how Saudi women, who have to cover their faces (with the exception of the eyes), often go to great lengths in order to have very extravagently made up eyes.

He said there are many jokes about a guy being lured in by a woman’s eyes, only to later find, after pursuing her for marriage, that her eyes were the only thing appealing about her – at which point it was too late to back out!

The lesson in all this is that the West is not the inventor of female sexual objectification and oppression.  Isolating oneself completely from the influence of Western countries does not mean you will be safe from all things evil.

No, on the contrary; the abuse and mistreatment of women is something that we are all capable of; its potential lurks in all of us.  This is why God has first asked men to lower their gaze, and second for women to cover.  If one fails, the other protective component will still be in place.  But, as shown by this particular study, Islam also emphasizes the importance of knowledge and intention behind each action.  Actions that are empty and ritualistic are worthless and a waste of time.  But actions done with full knowledge and understanding of the purpose and benefit behind it, and with the right intentions have reward both in this life and in the hereafter.  A woman who veils simply because she has to will not experience the full benefit of it.  In fact, any benefit she does receive may be viewed negatively (i.e. men aren’t staring at her lustfully anymore, which she perceives as negative since her value is increased and measured by such attention).  In contrast, a woman who veils because she wants to and because she understands and desires its benefits will indeed reap the full reward in this life by being treated for who she is as a person and not as a set of body parts, and will receive the reward in heaven as well.  Correct knowledge, pure intention, and action comprise the optimal combination we all should strive for.

With all that in mind, should a woman who covers merely because Islam has asked her to give up and refrain from doing so?  No, because she still receives benefit from it even if she may not recognize it as such.  Plus, as Imam Ali bin Abi Taleb (in Nahjul Balagha) has sagely stated (Bihar Al-Anwar, p. 196)), there are three types of believers.  The first is one who obeys God from fear of punishment.  The second is one who obeys from the desire for reward.  And the third is one who obeys God simply because they want to, not for any reward or escape from punishment, but because they recognize and fully understand that this is the right and true thing to do.  All of these are still believers, and all of them will go to heaven, but their outcomes are all slightly different.  The first will escape punishment but may not have collected much reward in heaven (although there is still reward for doing the right thing), the second will gain a great deal of reward in heaven, and the third will gain reward both in the world and in heaven (despite not seeking either one!).

Indeed, God is the most merciful and the most wise.