Author Archive

Being Profiled

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

My recent experiences traveling back from the Middle East reaffirm my belief that not only does profiling fail to protect us, but it can actually lead to the resentment and marginalization that can feed extremism and violence. I recently had the privilege of visiting Jordan and Turkey over the winter break. However, once arriving at the airport in Istanbul to return to the US via a direct flight to JFK, my pleasant vacation went sour fast.

It began as I stepped into the check-in line wearing a long brown skirt, sweater, and purple silk headscarf. Immediately, the private security hired by either the airline or the airport asked for my passport, as it does with all passengers. Then the questions began: “Where have you been? Where did you stay? Who were you with? Why did you come?” After explaining that I began my vacation in Jordan before arriving in Turkey, they began asking why I was in Jordan, where I stayed, who I stayed with, and if I had any receipts. Then, having looked at my passport, they began asking about previous trips, specifically about trips made to the United Arab Emirates (or Dubai). The security agent asked more and more personal questions, eventually even asking for my student ID card to prove I was really a student. He then took my passport and ID card and went to consult with another man and fingers were pointed my way as they spoke softly out of earshot. Then, he walked away with my passport to make copies in a backroom. Upon return, he gave me back my passport and I checked-in. However, another security agent listened over my shoulder as I spoke to the airline attendant at the desk. Then, the security agent recorded my bag check numbers onto a copy of my passport. No other passenger was given this ‘treatment’.

Having check-in, I made my way through passport control without any questions or problems. Then at 11:15am, it was time to go to the waiting lounge for my flight to New York. This meant going through one last security check (baggage x-ray and metal detector). However, before I even got to the metal detector, again, my passport was taken way and another small conference of security guards took place out of earshot. Why was I so suspicious? What had I done? I then placed my bags, coat, and shoes on the x-ray belt and walked through the metal detector—silence. I did not set of the detector and my bags did set off any alarms at the x-ray machine. I then walked five steps and a security agent asked for my passport. “She has it,” I said, pointing to a security woman a few feet away. The security agent quickly ushered me to a table for my bags to be searched by hand (despite the x-ray agents giving my bag the all clear). I thought, “Fine, other people have had to do this.” But after searching my bag and making me sign something in Turkish that they refused to translate, I began walking away with my bag and passport, but with a mustered a smile trying to understand that they were just doing their job. But they were still not satisfied. “No! You must come this way. Body search!” a female security agent said. I lost my smile. Why? I hadn’t set off the metal detector. No one else was going through this. As they took me back to a small back room, with all the other passengers staring, I felt as if I was a criminal, but what crime had I committed? In this small room, two women felt around my breasts and around my lets under my skirt. This time, I voiced my question, “Why?” “I don’t speak English!” the woman said with force. Then she demanded I sign another form in Turkish, again refusing to translate.

I understand that in comparison with other people’s experiences, this incident may seem minor. And I understand that I have traveled to countries that to the ignorant eye look dangerous. But I was pulled aside because of how I looked and where I have had the privilege of traveling. I felt humiliated and angry, but I didn’t feel any more safe.

The 9/11 hijackers didn’t have long beards or wear thobes, and the London bombers probably would have passed right through security without being profiled. I don’t advocate a security state, but if we must have security at airports, all I ask is that everyone be treated equally. After this experience, I was angry. Then I imagined if I had to always go through this every time I went through a security check, I would be even more angry and alienated, but I have this blog and the Minaret of Freedom Institute as an outlet. I can share my frustration and anger because we have the freedom to express our views, feelings, and experiences. But in many, if not all, Muslim countries, that freedom does not exist or is severely limited. Even Turkey, despite its claims of modernization, does not guarantee the freedom of expression as MFI supporter Prof. Atilla Yalya has discovered (“Turkey Jails Academic for Insulting Ataturk”).

Thus, my experience at the Istanbul airport reaffirms my belief that profiling does not keep us safe and can actually contribute to the alienation of minorities and targeted groups. Moreover, the experience also reaffirms my belief that the freedom of expression is also essential to a safe and secure society.

Sarah Swick

Minaret of Freedom Institute

An American Muslim Woman in Saudi Arabia

Thursday, November 29th, 2007

When you hear someone mention “Saudi Arabia”, what images come to mind? Is it is a place of mystery where women are hidden away in vast harems? If you are Muslim, most likely your thoughts turn to the Holy Mosque in Mecca, a sanctuary for Muslims from around the world. As a liberal American Muslim woman, I must admit that I was nervous, scared, and anxious all at once at the thought of spending my summer in Saudi Arabia. I had heard the stories of religious police beating men who didn’t pray and women who weren’t covered properly (according to their interpretation of Islam). I was worried that as a woman traveling alone that I would be turned back at the border, or even put in a “woman’s claim room” where women are claimed by male relatives like a piece of luggage. I am happy to say that the Saudi I experienced was nothing like what the media or rumors portray it to be.

The first thing to understand about Saudi society is that it is extremely family friendly. Most activities are geared towards entertaining families with children. For example, several shopping malls, amusement parks, cafes, and beach resorts are ‘Family Only,” which means that men can only enter it if they are accompanied by female relatives. In this reverse discrimination circumstance, it is single men or groups of men who are excluded, as groups of women may freely enter.

Much attention has been paid to the injustice of forbidding women from driving cars in Saudi Arabia. What people also don’t realize is that this law not only restricts women, but it also puts a burden on many fathers and brothers who practically turn into part-time drivers at night shuttling around their female relatives.

Overall, I enjoyed Saudi society and culture. Like any place else in the World, including America, if you surround yourself with kind, generous, fun, and tolerant people you will enjoy yourself. And, even in Saudi, you can find the famous Arab and/or Muslim hospitality.

Sarah Swick
Minaret of Freedom Institute

News and Analysis (10/25/07)

Thursday, October 25th, 2007

New US sanctions against Iran will hit ordinary Iranians: ““These banks that are being designated are major banks that pay the monthly wages of Iranian workers…”

Rather than recognizing already existing communities’ record system, India requires all marriages to be registered with the State putting rural residents at a disadvantage.

Egypt continues support for election fraud and abusing those willing to stand up against it:

Islamophobia in America:

Co-worker is found guilty of sending note to Muslim woman threatening ‘”Remember 9/11”’ “’You and your kids will pay’”

State Representative returns Qur’an saying “Most Oklahomans do not endorse the idea of killing innocent women and children in the name of ideology”

Number of individuals put on terror watch list soars – “They are quickly galloping towards the million mark — a mark of real distinction because the list is already cumbersome and is approaching absolutely useless.”

Finding Respect in the Arab Peninsula

Monday, August 6th, 2007

Sarah Swick, Minaret of Freedom Institute

Recent representations of the status women in the Middle East, and the Arab Peninsula in particular, have focused on how women are disempowered and marginalized. Critics point to the clothes of the region, the black dress (abaya), headscarf (hijab), and in some cases the face veil (niqab) that women wear as evidence of the poor status of Arab or Muslim women. Therefore, on my first trip to the Arab Peninsula I was prepared to be treated as second class person and discriminated against. Moreover, from my experiences in Morocco, I was prepared that when I was not being ignored or ‘overlooked as a mere woman’, I would be subject to constant sexual harassment. Al hamdu lillah, I am pleased to say that this image or fear I had in my head is far from what I have actually observed and experienced.

I first arrived to the United Arab Emirates, before traveling to Salalah, in the south of Oman where the khariif or monsoon rains turn the desert into a lush landscape each summer. After a few amazing days in Salalah, I traveled to Muscat and then back to the United Arab Emirates for a few more days. I then traveled on to Saudi Arabia where I am currently spending a month in Jeddah. Having taken a summer sabbatical from my work at the Minaret of Freedom Institute, I had not intended to write any blogs this summer, but what I have experienced on this trip has inspired me to share my observations and experiences.

Like the perception given in the West, in Salalah, Oman, most local women wore the black robe, headscarf, and face cover, some even covered their eyes. However, what the media rarely reports is that these same women, covered head to toe, were economically active outside the household. When visiting the Gold Suq, I was surprised by the number of women working alongside men and owning their own businesses. I soon observed that this was not uncommon in the region, even at the grocery store, the women working the checkout were completely covered, yet they were clearly part of public and economic life.

What also impressed me about my time in the UAE and Oman was the amount of respect given to women on the streets. Despite my love for Morocco, where I lived for ten months, the daily gauntlet of sexual harassment made life there sometimes unbearable. However, in the UAE and Oman, I never experienced any sexual harassment nor saw any other women being harassed.* In fact, it was quite the opposite of what I anticipated. In both the UAE and Oman , I observed that men stepped aside and gave priority to passing women. This respect for women even translated into official government posts.

At the land crossing into the UAE from Oman, there was simply a trailer in which men had to wait outside in the heat to get their passports stamped or visas issued. When I arrived to this outpost, a man in line signaled to me that I should not have to wait in this long line of men. Instead, I was pointed to another window with not a single person in line and which was “manned” by a woman (who wore hijab but also the official government uniform). Unfortunately, there were problems with my passport which caused over an hour delay. However, unlike the men who had to endure the heat, I was invited inside the air-conditioned trailer to wait and was given a seat and a cold glass of water. When a man tried to also enter the trailer, they informed him that he would have to wait outside. Instead of being treating as a second-class person, my gender granted me an advantage. I did feel a little guilty for the clear discrimination against men, but it was too hot outside for me to protest and give up my privilege.

In my next blog entry I will share my experiences and observations so far in Saudi Arabia.

*However, in the UAE I did experience some uncomfortable moments when walking on the street as some of the South Asian migrants would stare quite hard, however an Arab male friend said that even he has experienced such glares, and therefore would not solely chalk it up to my gender.

News and Analysis (05/31/07)

Thursday, May 31st, 2007

Dispute over TV station reveals various State interferences in the media:

Meanwhile, Morocco blocks YouTube for permitting a video showing Moroccan police beating women during a protest over the Western Sahara:

Turkish Parliament reasserts peoples right to directly elect the President:

Desperation and lack of justice results in an apparent suicide of a Guantanamo Bay detainee:

‘Islamist’ militants’ attack on girls’ schools violates Islamic duty to seek knowledge:

News and Analysis (05/10/07)

Thursday, May 10th, 2007

Court declares military trial of Muslim Brotherhood illegal, but will Mubarak listen?

Could facing a corrupt unelected regime unite two archrivals in Bangladesh?

Lawlessness in Gaza forces Hamas and Fatah to begin joint security operations:

Turkish Parliament passes reform legislation that would allow the people to directly elect the president, but will the current President veto the reform?

News and Analysis (05/03/07)

Thursday, May 3rd, 2007

After flawed elections, is there still hope for Nigeria?

Breaking the ice: the US and Syrian top officials finally meet to talk about Iraq:

Protests in Pakistan as Chief Justice has his day in court to hear the charges against him:

Early elections announced in Turkey, as well as potential reforms allowing the public to directly elect the president:

Government incompetence potentially loses radioactive material, so it places ad in its search for lost items:

News and Analysis (04/26/07)

Thursday, April 26th, 2007

China sentences Uighar Muslim man to nine years in prison: “His crime? Having a human rights activist for a mother”

Egypt tries civilians in secret military court:

Iranian Judge warns of unintended consequences as police enforce ‘Islamic dresscode’:  “Hauling women and young people to the police station will have no use except to cause damage to society.   Tough measures on social problems will backfire and have counter-productive effects.”

Bangladesh’s emergency government gives up on idea to exile former leaders, seemingly agreeing with critics that the government “needs to adhere to existing law and investigate whether there is any case of corruption against these two leaders to be answered. If there is, then it needs to make a credible case and pursue it through the courts.”

Afghan government set to impose State control and censorship over private media:

Muslims reject the violent beheading of a man by a boy as ‘un-Islamic,’ but all unlawful (according to principles of Islamic justice) should be condemned!

News and Analysis (04/19/07)

Thursday, April 19th, 2007

Corruption plagues upcoming presidential election in Nigeria:

Jury selection reveals hidden biases: “asked whether she considered Muslims disproportionately prone to violence. She replied: “Before Sept. 11, I would have said no. But from what I’ve heard since then on the news, I’d say yes.”

State-run TV ignores court orders and bans anchorwomen wearing the veil:

UK government stops using the phrase “war on terror” recognizing the politics and failures in the term:

Accused politicians should be allowed to have their day in court rather than be unjustly exiled:

News and Analysis (04/12/07)

Thursday, April 12th, 2007

One woman demands justice for her illegal detention in East Africa as she is mistaken for a ‘terrorist’…

…Following such stories, Ethiopia stages publicity stunt proclaiming how well it treats foreign detainees, but avoids discussing the real issue of illegal detentions:

Will Turkey invade Iraq? Turkish military leader pushes for invasive operations into relatively stable Northern Iraq:

Bomber strikes the Iraqi Parliament, in the heart of the Green Zone. calling into question the success of the ‘security crackdown’ in Baghdad….:

…Despite failure to protect the heavily fortified Green Zone, report says US military is planning on barricading entire Baghdadi neighborhoods, creating “controlled population prisons”