By Naeem Baig
Strong. Smart. Sharp. Savvy. If only that ‘s what it stood for.
A quadruple S on a flight boarding pass means something far less positive. It means travel harassment on a regular basis. It means feeling unwelcome. It means being someone whom the system considers suspect and untrustworthy. The SSSS is an acronym for Secondary Screening Security Selection.
After years of having the dreaded 4S on my boarding cards, I was finally able to travel without them in the past few years. My travel became far less hectic and stressful, and almost worry free. Imagine my surprise when on my last domestic flight, I glanced down at my boarding pass to discover the return of the familiar “SSSS.” My status as an ordinary Muslim traveller was gone. I no longer had to endure just the invasive pat down. Instead I was pulled aside for additional questions and screening.
Why did my status change? Is my name back on one of the infamous government lists, with hundreds and thousands of Muslim and Arab names on it? Is it because I spoke in New York at an Interfaith Program on Climate Change? Is it because I attended a religious leaders breakfast with former Vice President Al Gore? There are an uncountable number of Muslims who continuously experience similar profiling.
Recently, I talked to a respected Canadian Muslim scholar who, without fail, is pulled aside for a secondary screening every time he enters the U.S. He was disturbed by the Immigration and Custom officers’ lack of basic information and training concerning Islam and Muslims.
Last month at a meeting of the National Muslim Christian Initiative, a faith leader shared how she occasionally wears hijab when traveling. She has experienced a stark difference in the behavior of TSA agents when she is in hijab as compared to when she is not. Now, when pulled aside for a second screening, she gives the agents a sermon on equality and against discrimination.
American Muslim communities throughout the country – from rainy Seattle to sunny Florida, from Los Angeles to Boston – are busy in their lives and struggling to raise families, as are all Americans. They contribute to the country with their talent and knowledge. Among them are those who have built some of the tallest American buildings, who teach America’s future generations, who run the best educational websites, and who help pick comfortable shoes for a Supreme Court Justice.
And all of them would like to see an America where, “People are not judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”