| ||The Independent reported yesterday of hundreds of British Muslims facing harassment and intimidation by security forces at airports and seaports when leaving for and returning from holidays abroad. |
From The Independent,
“New figures seen by this newspaper show that the number of innocent people stopped and questioned at airports and other points of entry to the UK has doubled in the last four years, raising serious concerns about racial profiling. Many British Muslims have cancelled future vacations rather than risk being questioned and held for up to nine hours by anti-terrorist officers.”
“Figures obtained by the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS) under the Freedom of Information Act show that the number of people stopped and questioned has risen from 1,190 in 2004 to 2,473 in 2008. The most recent numbers of Schedule 7 cases of stopping, questioning and searching last year show that, between January and September, police and Special Branch officers carried out 1,773 operations.”
One example of harassment was experienced by Mohamed Nur, who was stopped at Heathrow Airport, held for nine hours and forced to give DNA samples and fingerprints. He was asked of his “British credentials.”
“He asked me 'Do you consider yourself to be English?' I said I consider myself to be British, rather than just English,’ Mr Nur said.”
"He said 'How do you consider yourself to be British when you have no historical links with Britain? It's like me going to Somalia and living there and people still not considering me to be Somali because of the way I look.'”
"I said 'I've lived most of my life in Britain so that's why I'm British'. Then he asked me about Dad's Army, and whether I watched it or not. I said 'Yes'. He said 'Do you find it funny?' and I said 'Yes'. Then he said 'I consider you British'."
Are we to judge this arbitrary notion of “Britishness” on whether someone finds Dad’s Army funny or not? How many white Brits have even watched Dad’s Army and how many of them would find that style of comedy funny? And if they do not find it funny, are we to consider them alien to Britain? Other things that may be regarded as suspicious is enjoying hill walking and being educated, as in the case of Adil Hussain (also in yesterday’s Independent report).
A Home Office spokesman is quoted as saying, “No figures are kept on ethnicity of individuals who are stopped and it is therefore not possible to conclude if any particular group is targeted unfairly.”
How many men or women of white British origin do you suppose have been questioned on whether they find Dad’s Army funny or had their hobbies scrutinised to indicate terrorist tendencies? We can safely assume that there aren’t many.
Yesterday’s report is one of a long line of intimidation and harassment tactics employed by security forces on Muslims. In January, Isahaq Elmi told of his experience of constant harassment at the hands of Mi5 when he refused to give in to intimidation tactics designed to coerce him in to spying for the agency. In April, The Herald in Scotland reported that Special Branch had been accused of abusing their stop and search powers at airports to try and recruit Scottish Muslims in to spying for them. The intimidation experienced by Asif Ahmed then included being told, “I would not have access to a lawyer and had to answer their questions. They were trying to intimidate me and said: ‘We have very powerful people in this airport and we can do whatever we want’.”
Under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000, officers can stop and search anyone they want and refusal to answer a question is a criminal offence. How many more abuses of this power are we going to see before it is recognised that a proper accountability structure must be put in place to stop the harassment of British Muslims at the whim of security officers?
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