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

Naked Ambition: Airport Body Scanners Only Offensive to Muslim Women? January 19, 2010

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.

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