Hats, Caps, Turbans, scarves — racial profiling in West and East

In Civil rights, Race, Terrorism

US Sikhs outraged by new turban search policy

[JOHN DAYAL’S NOTE:

US Sikhs outraged by new turban search policy
by Maxim KniazkovSun Aug 26, 2007

The largest civil rights organization of American Sikhs has expressed outrage at a new US airport security policy that it said allows arbitrary searches of turbans, a sacred headdress for members of the religion.
The Sikh Coalition said Saturday it had been informed by the Transportation Security Administration that under its new guidelines, turbans could be subject to manual pat-downs even if their wearers had passed a metal detector test.
“Telling screeners to search people in turbans is the same as telling them to search black people or Arabs or Muslims,” Amardeep Singh, executive director of the Sikh Coalition, said in a statement. “The policy allows screeners to single out travelers on the basis of their religion.”
Singh argued that the message the new TSA policy sends to the public is that “people who wear turbans are dangerous.”
“That attitude challenges the spirit of religious pluralism on which our country was built,” he stated.
TSA spokeswoman Lara Uselding, reached by AFP by telephone late Saturday, acknowledged that on August 4, the agency that oversees security at 450 US airports as well as railroads, ports and mass transit systems revised its screening procedures for head coverings.
But she denied the changes that will be carried out by all 43,000 US airport screeners had anything to do with religious beliefs espoused by travelers.
“TSA does not conduct ethnic or religious profiling, and employs multiple checks and balances to ensure profiling does not happen,” Uselding assured.
However, the coalition insisted the feelings of about 500,000 followers of the Sikh religion who have made their home in the United States were still likely to be hurt.
The turban is a sacred headdress in the Sikh religion given to its followers by the faith’s founding gurus, or prophets.
Obligatory for men and optional for women, it is worn to underscore the distinct Sikh identity and full commitment to the faith, according to members of the religion.
Sikhism is the fifth largest religion in the world followed by an estimated 23 million adherents, the majority of them in India. The largest Sikh communities in the United States are located on the West Coast.
Because of their devotion to the turban, some Sikh individuals have been harassed in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks, as some Americans associated them with members of Al-Qaeda or the Taliban.
Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh gas station owner from Mesa, Arizona, was shot and killed four days after the attacks by a mentally unstable American man, who had concluded, after seeing Balbir’s turban, that he was an ally of Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden.
According to the Sikh Coalition, the new headdress policy marks a significant departure from procedures adopted by the US government in November 2001.
The old policy, the group said, allowed airport screeners to search turbans only after their owners had triggered alarms when passing through a metal detector. Screeners were also required to do as much as possible to avoid physically touching the sacred turbans.
The new procedures recommend physical pat-downs of the Sikh headdress without acknowledging the religious sensitivities involved, the coalition noted.
Uselding did not elaborate on the search techniques.
The new headwear policy also covers cowboy hats and some berets, the Sikh coalition acknowledged. But it noted that the turban was the only type of mandatory religious garb, the mere presence of which could trigger a secondary screening at security checkpoints.
“Since September 11, 2001, hundreds of Sikhs have been harassed, beaten, and even killed because of the association of their turbans and beards with terrorism,” noted the coalition statement. “The TSA procedures put an official stamp of approval on this harmful stereotyping by the public.”

Copyright © 2007 Agence France Presse. All rights reserved. The information contained in the AFP News report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Agence France Presse. Copyright © 2007 Yahoo! Inc. All rights reserved.


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