Hijab Versus Security

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An American Muslim woman was arrested in California on two outstanding warrants a week ago – one for falsely using her sister’s identity, and the other for a 2002 grocery store shoplifting incident.

Upon Kirsty Powell’s arrival at the police station, the officers allegedly, forcibly removed her hijab and told her that she was “not allowed to wear her hijab” and that policemen are “allowed to touch women.”  

Due to these alleged actions by the police, and her resulting humiliation and emotional distress, which were likely absent when she was allegedly breaking the law, she has filed a lawsuit against the Long Beach Police Department.  

But, was the removal of the hijab appropriate?

All suspects must be fully identified
Is hijab removal really necessary to make a positive ID?
The woman could have been concealing a weapon, or could later hide a weapon under her hijab.
Using force before there is resistance to removing a hijab could easily be taken as hostility toward Muslims specifically, and thus be discriminatory.

The prohibition of wearing a hijab could also be viewed as a violation of one’s right to religious freedom.
If an officer is not allowed to touch/restrain someone in custody, then the person in custody can more easily fight back and/or escape.
Making comments such as “officers are allowed to touch women” can also be easily misinterpreted negatively as being sexist.

When there are officers of both sexes present, having to be touched by an officer of the opposite sex could be considered immodest and improper by some and cause them undue distress.   


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Meira Svirsky

Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org