For Airport Screeners, More Training about Muslims

January 9, 2007

Author: Alexandra Marks

Source: The Christian Science Monitor

NEW YORK -- Say you're a security screener at the airport. You notice a large group of people wearing white robes, speaking a strange language. The women have head scarves and the men long beards. They look nervous. One of them is holding a Koran. Another appears to be praying. What do you do?

According to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), simply assume they're devout Muslims returning from the annual hajj in Mecca.

During the next few weeks, as many as 20,000 American Muslims will be returning to the United States from their pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. The TSA has ramped up cultural-awareness training for all 43,000 of its screeners. The goal: to remind screeners what to expect from devout Muslims and how to go about screening them so it's in concert with their religious beliefs.

Arab-American and Muslim-American leaders are applauding the effort. But they say it's part of a much-needed larger cultural and political conversation about Islam and Arab culture that can help the nation as it heals from the aftereffects of 9/11.

"Their efforts are a modest but important beginning," says Jack Shaheen, professor emeritus of mass communications at Southern Illinois University. "But until such time that we react to the vilification of and discrimination against Arabs in the same way we react to the vilification of others like Jews, blacks, and Hispanics, I'm not going to go dancing in the streets."