Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

Sensitivity Training At Bradley Focuses On Muslims, Sikhs


By SHAWN R. BEALS | The Hartford Courant

NAVJEET SINGH of Shrewsbury, Mass., a Sikh, talks Wednesday to a group of federal Transportation Security Administration workers at the Sheraton Hotel at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks. Singh was a speaker at sensitivity training sessions for security and law enforcement personnel at the airport that focused on the Muslim and Sikh cultures. (CLOE POISSON / HARTFORD COURANT / January 21, 2009)

WINDSOR LOCKS — – Seeking to bridge barriers and avoid unnecessary alarm, federal security officials at Bradley International Airport hosted sensitivity training focused on Muslim and Sikh cultures Wednesday.

“By informing our officers of some of the cultural aspects of diversity, we can avoid being distracted unnecessarily by some of those differences,” said Peter Boynton, Bradley’s federal security director.

“The training helps us understand the differences so we can focus on what we’re really looking for, which is an indication of a risk. We’re not looking for turbans.”

The group of speakers, working under the umbrella of the U.S. Department of Justice, held two sessions for security and law enforcement personnel and others to educate them on cultural practices they may encounter at the airport.

The federal Transportation Security Administration, state police and airlines were represented at the training session in the Sheraton Hotel at Bradley.

The importance of the training was underscored by an incident in a Washington, D.C., airport Jan. 1. Nine Muslims were taken off an airplane after passengers overheard a conversation that was misconstrued as a threat. The airline subsequently apologized.

TSA was not involved in that incident, but Boynton said the airline’s action reinforces the fact that risk assessment cannot be based on cultural differences.

Noting the worldwide population of approximately 1 billion Muslims, presenter Elizabeth Dann instructed the group Wednesday about Muslim customs and clothing. Dann, herself a Muslim, said she speaks to groups in the security and education fields to raise awareness of Muslim culture, trying to eliminate stereotypes and cultural conflicts.

She also said she tries to make TSA officers aware that Muslims going through security checkpoints are just as worried as other travelers about passing through quickly to catch their flights.

“We’re probably more scared of you than you are of us,” Dann told the officers.

The TSA last held similar training three years ago at Bradley, and Boynton said he was hoping to schedule such sessions more frequently.

Navjeet Singh, a Sikh and featured presenter, said TSA officers, state police and airline workers can benefit from cultural awareness.

“We want to make you aware of the Sikh religion, and we hope that will make your job a little bit easier,” Singh said.

[http://www.courant.com/news/local/hc-arabsens0122.artjan22,0,309410.story]
Hartford Courant

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