Naked Ambition: Airport Body Scanners Only Offensive to Muslim Women?

Earlier this month, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called for a gradual introduction of body scanners into U.K. airports following the failed attack on an American airliner on Christmas Day European nations are split over the necessity of introducing the body scanners. Italy, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom are planning to install the scanners on a large scale in the near future, while France, Germany and Spain remain undecided, with the Belgian Home Secretary coming out to declare the measures as “excessive.” The body scanners have been likened to a “virtual strip-search,” leading to concerns over the violation of personal privacy from the European Human Rights Commission (EHRC), among other bodies.

An image of the body scanner. Image via

An image of the body scanner. Image via

Trevor Phillips, head of the EHRC has said that the machines breach privacy laws, as well as expressing concerns over possible racial and ethnic profiling of black, Asian and Muslim passengers. In a letter to Home Secretary Alan Johnson, Phillips said, “the government needs to ensure that measures to protect this right also take into account the need to be proportionate in its counter-terrorism proposals and ensure that they are justified by evidence and effectiveness.”

The debate surrounding the topic has touched on a number of human rights concerns, such as the possible infringement of child protection laws involved in forming and distributing indecent images of children, which has lead to the trial of these scanners to exclude those under 18. Many groups have spoken against the possibility of disproportionately picking minority groups for checks, and several news outlets have discussed the possibility of these scans being particularly offensive to Muslim women, who may choose to dress modestly, as well as being targeted for profiling on the basis of their race, religion or appearance.

As much as having naked images of their bodies taken and viewed by strangers may be an upsetting idea to many Muslim women, why focus only on us? Or religious groups in general (The Jewish Daily Forward’s article claims that the airport scanners run “afoul of Jewish law.”)? The American Civil Liberties Union has issued a statement against the scanners that does not single out any specific religious group or gender. It seems likely many people would be equally offended by both the breach of personal privacy and the indignity of being constantly suspect while traveling or merely going about their business—why should the media assume that Muslim women are the only ones who will have ethical, ideological, or personal issues about the airport body scanners?

The reduction of Muslim women to their clothing, the reduction of the dignity of Muslim women to the act of covering our bodies, and the reduction of all of the concerns of Muslim women to the modesty of their dress leads to a lack of acknowledgment for the modesty of other groups of people, in addition to a lack of attempts to address the many and varied other concerns facing Muslim women.

  • Tim

    Yes, why focus on Muslims and why focus on women? If this technology ever became mandatory for everyone everywhere it would definitely prevent me from flying.


    I agree just singling out Muslim women as being the only ones who would object to the scanners, is trivializing the problem with them. There would be plenty of people who would feel uncomfortable with having to go through this of both sexes and of all ages, races, ethnicities, and religion. Even if I wasn’t a Muslim woman I would still refuse to put under that scanner because I worry where and with whom these images will wind up in. Besides most people don’t want to imagine airport officials snickering over their bodies, especially if they harbor deep seated insecurities over their body image.

  • Abdullah

    I agree with Tim, for me, I am a muslim man, and I am not going through that scanner.

  • Southern Masala

    Yea, I don’t get that coverage angle from main stream media either. I mean most people are generally averse to have EVERYTHING hanging out there for some stranger to see. It’s not as if most non-Muslims are walking around showing their privates, or wouldn’t be upset if someone saw their privates. Also, proponents keep saying that its not a big deal beacuse the person looking at the images will never see the person who is being scanned’s face, so it will be just like looking at anonymous naked people. But I don’t want people looking at my nakedness whether they know who I am or not. I don’t understand why that would make or should make it pyschological ok or less intrusive because the person looking at you is locked away in another room somewhere? Isn’t that what peeping toms do too? Peer at you naked without you knowing about it? I don’t get this whole thing at all!

  • SakuraPassion

    I agree with the above comments. I would think most people would be offended by these scanners.

  • nina

    this is just another sick attempt to make the world feel the war is justified and make people afraid and pissed of at muslims,its only spreading hatred.

  • Maverick


    A few points some people may not have thought of, or missed:

    Here in Canada these scanners will soon be reality. Due to privacy concerns, here are some adjustments that were made:

    1.) The scan produces a monotone 3D-image of the body, and does not copy other visual features such as skin color, eye color, hair color, etc.

    2.) The person watching the screen will be located in a physically separate room, with no visual access to the person being scanned. Another officer will be guiding people through the scanner, and will be in constant telecommunications contact with the officer monitoring the screen in another room. So, at least for us here, the above image is incorrect – the officer standing at the scanning machine wont be able to see your body or anything.

    3.) Travellers are still given another option altogether – that they can opt for a pat-down search, by an officer of their own gender, in a private room. I’ve been in that situation and the pat down took place in an enclosed room with no windows, by male officers.

    People need to stop getting so angry over nothing. Check your facts first. Regardles of how bad things seem, you can still challenge these propositions through proper channels, and ensure that acceptable alternatives will be offerred.

  • american muslimah

    Assalamu alaikom,
    I don’t like the idea one bit, and it’s not ONLY because of the fact that I wear hijab in pubic… I am also gravely concerned about the health risk, the fact that the photographs *can* be saved, the possibility that the scanners may be required without an alternative in the future, and I simply do not want my daughters to have to go through the scanners until they are adults and can decide for themselves. (I realize it’s not mandatory at this point, but like I said, I worry it will become so.)

  • Mel

    I’m not happy about it, and while I am a woman, I am agnostic. I don’t like the privacy invasion, I don’t like the increased exposure to radiation (“safe”, they say, but for someone who flies a lot? Flying in the first place increases exposure to radiation), and I don’t foresee a stopping point for any of this.

    Maybe this “isn’t a big deal,” just like everything else that has changed about airport security in the last ten years “wasn’t a big deal”. All those cumulative “little things” have turned into a flying experience that is exhausting, invasive, and humiliating.

    Where does it stop? Mandatory sedation? Body cavity searches? And if those get implemented, we’ll still have people telling us that it’s “not a big deal” for our “safety”, why would we object to a “little body cavity search”, it’ll be done “professionally”.