The lady in the hijab

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By Kevin Woo

I spent part of my day today at San Francisco International Airport. Despite that it’s the height of tourist season, the airport was remarkably empty. I was able to get through the check in process, and to the security checkpoint in less than 10 minutes.

That’s where my journey through the otherwise empty airport came to a halt. Ahead of me in the security line was a woman wearing a hijab, a head covering worn by some Muslim women.  Three TSA agents descended on her. The agents asked a series of questions: Where are you going? Where did you come from? Where is your passport?  The answers were: I am going home to Portland. I was visiting my mother in San Francisco. I don’t have a passport, I’m an American. I have a driver’s license.

The TSA agents asked what she had under her hijab. The woman replied, “My hair.”

That’s when the conversation went south. An agent asked the woman to remove her head covering. She refused. The agent informed the woman that she would not be allowed through security without first removing her hijab.

By this time I was growing both increasingly embarrassed to be an American, and angry at the treatment the woman was receiving.

There is an ISIS attack somewhere in the world every 84 hours. TSA has a no-win job. One mistake and hundreds of people could die. I get it.

But is this who we, as a country, have become? Do we see the enemy around every corner? Is it now permissible to humiliate men and women dressed in religious attire in public? Is this what America has a turned in to?

Some might say it’s better to be safe than sorry. I understand that line of thinking.

However, I want to believe that at the core, people are good. We want the same things – to live in peace, to see our children grow up, and to live a good life. Am I idealistic? Do I not live in the real world? No, I understand clearly that Black, Blue and All Lives Matter. I am more than aware of Ferguson, Missouri, Trayvon Martin, Dallas, Tulsa, Charlie Hebno, Brussels, Bangladesh, Paris, Spain, and the list goes on and on.

So what’s the answer? Then-candidate Trump said he’d “bomb this shit out of ISIS.” This is a great idea provided that they plan to hold a convention in a central location. You’ll never get all of them. Should we ban Muslims from the U.S.? Generations of immigrants have read the following words at Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Are we now saying that those words only have meeting when it’s convenient?

There are millions in the Middle East who live each day not knowing if it will be their last. Of course America can’t provide refuge to all, but we can’t turn our back on those who yearn to breathe free.

I don’t know the answer. The question is so complex it will take more than one person to figure it out.

But I do know this – humans deserve dignity. This is a global village with different ethnicities and religions. If we treat someone who looks different from us with suspicion, we will never end the cycle of hate, bigotry, and distrust.