On August 13th it was revealed by the ACLU that on March 3, 2018, Zainab Merchant, a Harvard Graduate student was flying from Boston to Washington DC. During the secondary screening, the TSA agent that patted her down told the other agents that she needed to take a ‘deeper’ look even though she had just patted down Merchant’s groin area in public.
Humiliated, Merchant said that she was on her period and that it was not necessary for further pat downs. TSA told her she was resisting and if she did not comply that state troopers would arrest her. She asked for her lawyer which TSA denied her. She was then forced into a private room for further screening where they forced her to drop her pants and undergarments and show her used menstrual pad.
A furious and humiliated Merchant asked the TSA agents for their names and badge numbers which they refused to give while covering up their badges with their hands and leaving the room. Because of this demeaning treatment of an American Muslim woman the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a formal complaint against the Department of Homeland Security on behalf of Merchant.
Zainab has had to go through secondary screening more than once due to supposedly being on a watch list. People can be put on this list just for having a name similar to someone else under suspicion but oftentimes it is because someone has an Arab name or follows the Islamic religion.
Merchant has stated that she has been asked questions such as what she thinks about ISIS; why she speaks out against American policy; does she pray five times a day; as well as other questions about her religious beliefs.
This reflects a bigger problem with TSA pulling Muslims to the side and humiliating them with secondary pat downs. They have even patted down babies and the elderly all in the name of security.
This issue has been going on for so long that Hassan Shibly, the Executive Director of CAIR Florida issued a video statement about this problem. He said that, “American Muslims make up 1% of the American population and that the chances of being stopped by American customs is 1% and yet any audit of the room shows that 50%-75% are Muslims. They are being stopped without suspicion or probable cause and are being asked intrusive questions about what their religion is, how many times they pray, and other questions”. He told us that this is violations of our civil rights and not to answer them without a lawyer.
I know this is true because when I returned to the USA from Tunisia I was asked, “What is my purpose in the United States and how long do I plan to stay for” as well as other questions about my religion. My response was. “I am an American citizen and this is my country and I will stay for as long as I damn well please”. I was shocked because I am White and Native American and my family has been in the USA for centuries so why would I be asked my purpose in the USA or how long I plan to stay?
If I am asked these questions, someone that served in the USMC, a full on red blooded American, then imagine how people are treated that are not White and came from an immigrant background. My ancestors came in the early 1500s and on my mother’s side they are Wintu and Anglo. My ancestors built this country and I was surprised by the treatment as if I had not business being in the USA so for someone that does not have this background, these questions would be a frightening experience. They might not know their rights, but I understood that it would be illegal to be prevented from stepping into the land of my birth.
People should not be collectively targeted as terrorists due to the actions of a few. If this was just then more White Christians would be targeted due to the proliferation of White Christian Right-Wingers targeting schools and committing mass shootings. Yet these people are never called terrorists but are instead labeled as having a mental illness.
We all should feel safe when we fly. No matter our background we all have this right and having security is important, but the USA should stop systematically targeting Muslims as the only terrorist threats going through airport security. Nobody should be made to feel the humiliation that Zainab Merchant was made to feel. This is a travesty and needs to be addressed. The great MLK said that, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice anywhere”. These injustices need to be pointed out as a threat to American liberty and should not be tolerated.