From daily The Independent in Britain today:
British Muslim woman detained under terror laws after cabin crew report her reading Syrian art book on plane
Exclusive: Airline urged to apologise after honeymooner ‘made to feel like a culprit’
Liam O’Hare, Ted Jeory
A Muslim NHS worker was detained at a UK airport and questioned under terror laws after a cabin crew member spotted her reading a Syrian culture book on board her honeymoon flight.
Faizah Shaheen, who helps prevent teenage mental health patients from becoming radicalised, was returning from honeymoon in Marmaris, Turkey, when she was stopped by South Yorkshire Police at Doncaster Airport on 25 July.
The 27-year-old was pulled over because a Thomson Airways cabin crew member on her outbound flight a fortnight earlier had reported her for suspicious behaviour.
Police officers questioned her for 15 minutes under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act and told her the suspicions related to the holiday book she had been reading – Syria Speaks: Art and Culture from the Frontline.
The award-winning book by Malu Halasa is a collection of essays, short stories, poems, songs, cartoons and photographs from Syrian authors and artists.
Ms Shaheen, from Leeds, said she was left angry and in tears by the experience – and with a feeling she had been discriminated because of her faith.
She said she now intends to make formal complaints against the police and Thomson Airways.
She said: “I was completely innocent – I was made to feel like a culprit.”
Recalling the incident, she said: “I was queuing at passport control and saw police staring at me. I just got through passport control and then two police officers approached me and took me aside and asked me to show my passport again.
“I asked what was going on and they said I had been reported due to a book I was reading and was to be questioned under the Terrorism Act.
“I became very angry and upset. I couldn’t understand how reading a book could cause people to suspect me like this. I told the police that I didn’t think it was right or acceptable.”
She was given an information leaflet explaining that Schedule 7 legislation is used by police to determine whether a person appears to be or has been involved in terrorism.
“I was asked what I do,” she said. “I told them I work as a child and adolescent mental health services practitioner for the NHS.
“Ironically, a part of my job role is working on anti-radicalisation and assessing vulnerable young people with mental health problems are at risk of being radicalised.
“I said that to the police. I’m actually part of trying to fight radicalisation and breaking the stereotypes.
“It was a very hurtful experience to go through,” she said. “I fight for different causes and then to be victimised and experience this first-hand and made me realise how bad it is.
“Instead of reminiscing about our honeymoon I am left talking about this experience.
“I do question if whether it would be different if it was someone who wasn’t Muslim.”
The book she was reading was the winner of an English PEN award. Ms Shaheen bought it after it was recommended to her at Bradford literature festival in May.
Labour MP Keith Vaz, who chairs the Home Affairs Committee, said the airline had overreacted.
He said: “In the current climate people are worried. But there is always a balance to be struck in circumstances of this kind. We want the public to report suspicious activity.
“Reasonable people would not regard reading a book on Syria on its own, without any other concerns, as warranting the questioning of an individual. Thomson Airways should accept that a mistake was made and apologise to the woman concerned. I am sure if they had done so there would have been a better understanding of the entire situation.”
It no longer feels safe to fly as a Muslim – and airlines are making a difficult situation worse. The woman who faced questioning for reading an award-winning book about Syrian culture on board her honeymoon flight is only the latest victim of racial profiling in the travel industry: here.
Two Muslim women who work for US government escorted off plane as they made staff ‘uncomfortable’. The two friends were escorted off the plane after one of them questioned why they had not been given water for hours on the tarmac, and were greeted by armed police officers: here.
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