'I 'd like a one-way air fare to New York on the next available flight. I have no luggage. Could you make sure the ticket is refundable in case I change my mind?"
I was standing at the Delta shuttle counter at Washington's Reagan National Airport, dressed in my Saudi burka.
"Sure, no problem," the clerk replied brightly. "Do you have Skymiles?" "Uh, no."
"I'll need some form of identification."
I handed her my driver's licence, which showed the occupant of the black tent to be a blonde, blue-eyed resident of the District of Columbia.
"Thanks." Tap, tap, tap at the keyboard. Out popped my boarding pass. "Have a great flight. Next passenger please."
It had been the same the day before on the Washington subway. I entered the train at morning rush hour carrying a large black backpack, which I clutched to my chest in the centre of the train. With the exception of one elderly passenger who bolted up from his seat when I got on, scurrying to the most remote end of the carriage, everyone else aboard resolutely ignored my appearance. The woman closest to my mysterious backpack glanced up and then resumed her BlackBerrying.
I can't know what they were thinking, obviously. A few must have wondered whether I was about to explode. But evidently they'd rather be blown up than exhibit any behaviour that might be construed as intolerant.
Then the female guard, growing cautious again, asked if it was "culturally OK" for me to remove my face covering. "When women like you come through, we don't know what's 'correct.' Like if I want to see that your face matches your ID, can I ask you to show me your face?"
It's a good thing I was wearing a mask so the guard could not see my astonishment. The security agents at the airport serving the nation's capital -- bare seconds of air distance from Capitol Hill, the Pentagon, the White House -- did not feel entitled to check the identities of veiled women. Clearly, they hadn't even received any special sort of instructions about it.
I assured the security agent that it was indeed OK for a woman officer to ask a veiled woman to show her face. More than OK!
The guard nodded. "Thank you -- you've been so helpful," she said, rising. "We don't want to keep you. Hey, have a great time in New York!"
And so I passed through security without ever having to show my face.
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Monday, December 10, 2007
From the National Post: