Muslim woman says security trumps privacy when it comes to air travel.
DETROIT — Hebba Aref has always been an outspoken advocate of privacy rights and opponent of profiling.
Then she flew Dec. 25 on Northwest Flight 253 from Amsterdam, Netherlands, to Detroit and found herself six rows in front of a Muslim man who has been charged in the attempted bombing.
She plans to be sitting in the courtroom at the suspect’s arraignment in Detroit on Friday.
And as a Muslim woman, she says she now believes security trumps privacy for air travel.
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“I’m always standing up for rights and privacy concerns, but now I hope that body scans will be mandatory,” Aref, 28, said Wednesday. “Balanced against national security, it’s worth the invasion of privacy. And I acknowledge the fact that there has to be attention paid to Muslims.”
Some might remember Aref, a Bloomfield Hills, Mich., native who now lives in Kuwait, as one of two headscarf-wearing Michigan women who were denied seats behind then-candidate Barack Obama at a rally in Detroit in June 2008.
Then, she felt the sting of discrimination. Now, the experience aboard the plane has left her with a new appreciation for the complexity of the world — and the perils of sizing up others.
“I would have never looked at this kid and thought he was a terrorist,” she said. “He looked like a teenager.”
She remembers the event in slow motion — the loud smacking noise, the shouting, the flaring up of something red, the pandemonium, the man without any clothes below the waist being marched up the aisle, the trembling of her hand.
After the landing, she called her father on her cell phone. When she heard his voice, she cried.
Eight hours later, her father finally was able to bring her home to surprise her mother, who didn’t even know she had been on the flight that day.
Friday night, she has to get back on a plane and fly back through Amsterdam to Kuwait for her job as a corporate attorney. She says she is not afraid, but her mother does not want her to go.
“I am begging her to stay,” said Neveen Aref of Bloomfield Hills, who moved from Egypt to the U.S. 30 years ago. She says she feels shame that the suspect — Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab — is a Muslim.
“I feel bad when I go out and people look at me and think I must be like that man,” she said. “This guy on the plane, he did not care. He was going to hurt my daughter, and I hate him for that. He can call it whatever he wants, but don’t call it Islamic.”
On Wednesday, the Council on American-Islamic Relations asked the Transportation Security Administration to clarify whether Islamic head scarves, or hijabs, will trigger new secondary screening for travelers. The request came after a woman was asked to remove her headscarf at Washington Dulles Airport.