Geography Reference
In-Depth Information
Gendered Vulnerabilities and Muslim American
Civil Rights Advocacy
One of the officers told the women that the veils covering most of their faces were illegal
masks that could not be worn in public (American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee
[ADC] 1996,17).The women tried toexplain that they always wear niqab veils, inkeep-
ing with their Muslim faith. The officer replied, “I don't care what you say. It's a mask
and you can't wear it in the Commonwealth of Virginia” (Ferris 1996, D.02). The wo-
men refused to remove their niqabs, and the police officers promptly placed them under
arrest, handcuffed them, and took the women to the police station. The police eventually
released the women without filing any criminal charges. Later, the women complained
that when an officer frisked them to check for weapons, he also fondled their breasts and
buttocks (ADC 1996, 17).
Shortly after this incident, two advocacy organizations, one an Arab American organ-
ization and the other a Muslim American organization, sent a joint letter to the chief of
police in Portsmouth, Virginia. “This incident is outrageous and demonstrates a complete
lack of sensitivity to Islam,” the letter said (ADC 1996, 17). An assistant to the police
chief responded by insisting that the arrests were “not based on religious or ethnic hostil-
ity but rather a single officer's interpretation of a State Code forbidding the concealment
of one's face in public” (17). This officer's interpretation of the law apparently was in er-
ror, because the letter also admitted that there is an exemption in the antimask law for
religious observance. (The law was originally intended to prevent Ku Klux Klan mem-
bers from wearing their hoods.) The department had already begun to instruct its officers
about the religious exemption. The allegations of sexual harassment were investigated
by the police as well, and a spokesperson disputed those claims (Ferris 1996). Americ-
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