(RNS) American Muslim leaders are criticizing new airport security guidelines they say unfairly profile Muslims. More importantly, they say, the new rules are ineffective.
Muslims leaders say the measures, introduced by the Travel Security Administration on Sunday (Jan. 3) after a Nigerian Muslim man nearly blew up a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines flight on Christmas Day, wrongly scrutinize Muslims. Instead, officials should be looking at security personnel who had ample information to catch the would-be bomber, but failed to act on it.
''The government failed in its execution, and now it's introducing these measures to cover up its mistakes," said Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Los Angeles.
The TSA denied claims of profiling. "TSA does not profile," said TSA spokeswoman Lauren Gaches. "TSA security measures are based on threat, not ethnic or religious background."
The new rules require airlines pat-downs and enhanced carry-on baggage screening for travelers from Cuba, Iran, Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, or Yemen — all (except Cuba) predominantly Muslim nations.
There are many available measures besides profiling to make travel safer, American Muslims and some terror experts say. The Christmas Day terror attempt shows that security problems have less to do with procedures that are in place, and more with the competency of security personnel.
In the Christmas Day failed bombing, officials missed obvious red flags around the suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, including his purchase of a one-way ticket, in cash, without checked baggage, critics say. He was also placed on a British no-fly list last May and on an American terrorist watch list soon after.
The most notable warning came from Abdulmutallab's father, a former government minister, who six weeks earlier conveyed worries about his son's radicalization to U.S. embassy officials in Nigeria. Similarly, the father of one of the five young Muslim Americans arrested last month in Pakistan for allegedly joining jihad tipped-off authorities there to his son's whereabouts.
''Muslims are doing their duty. Muslim parents are being attentive. It's the TSA that's not being attentive. It's the TSA that's not doing its duty," said Shahed Amanullah, an editor at the Web site altMuslim.com. "There's nothing more that Muslims can do than turn in their own families."
The newest terror threat has placed Muslim Americans in a tight spot. While mainstream Muslim groups denounce terrorism and claim American identity like any other group, they are confronted with the fact that most terror suspects continue to be young Muslim men, all of them claiming to act in the name of Islam.
Muslim activists are especially angry over the stepped-up surveillance of travelers from the 14 countries. The TSA counters that the measure is not discriminatory because it does not focus on a certain racial, religious or ethnic group, but all individuals from or traveling through those countries.