In an age where there’s an odd push-and-pull battle between freedom of speech and political correctness, Faizah Shaheen, a British Muslim woman, has found herself the subject of the controversy after she was detained by police at an airport in England. Shaheen was returning from her honeymoon in Turkey when she was stopped by South Yorkshire Police at Doncaster Airport and was shocked to learn their reason for detaining her.
Police told her that they were detaining and questioning her under terror laws in Britain that allow law enforcement to hold citizens after any report of suspicious behavior.
“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,” said the 27-year-old after the incident. “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.”
Shaheen flew with Thomson Airways and had apparently been reading an award-winning book by Malu Halasa titled Syria Speaks: Art and Culture from the Frontline. The book is a collection of essays, short stories, poems, songs, cartoons and photographs from Syrian authors and artists and Shaheen said she had been reading the book on the flight to Turkey two weeks prior to her detention.
The British Muslim woman works as a psychotherapist for the National Health Service and her job includes efforts to identify and stop radicalization in youth patients. She primarily works with children and adolescents and said that the experience left her shaken up and angry.
“I was asked what I do,” she said. “Ironically, a part of my job role is working on anti-radicalization and assessing vulnerable young people with mental health problems are at risk of being radicalized. I said that to the police. I’m actually part of trying to fight radicalization and breaking the stereotypes.”
“It was a very hurtful experience to go through,” she said. “I fight for different causes and then to be victimized and experience this first-hand and made me realize how bad it is.”
Shaheen is upset not only because she is left talking about this experience rather than reminiscing about her honeymoon but also because she believes she was targeted because she is Muslim. She argued that had she been another race or religion, the cabin crew on the flight may not have flagged her for suspicious behavior at all. During Shaheen’s detention, which lasted about 20 minutes long, she was asked questions about her job, how many languages she speaks, and why she was reading that particular book.
It has been just over a year since this incident occurred, but Shaheen is still demanding an explanation and an apology from the airline to hold them accountable. Despite legal involvement, the airline has offered no assurance that it will update their policy or even an explanation as to why they felt the need to stop someone that was reading an art book. Instead, they said that the cabin crew was acting in a way that was in accordance with the airline’s practices and that they are “sorry if Ms. Shaheen remains unhappy with how she feels she was treated.”
Zaher Omareen, who is the co-editor of Syria Speaks, the book that Shaheen was flagged for reading, condemned Shaheen’s detention as a “despicable incident.”
“Judging individuals and even taking measures against them based on their race, their looks, their language, or the printed words they carry is unacceptable and unjustifiable,” Omareen said. “It was enough to carry a book which includes the word ‘Syria’ in its title for its owner to be under suspicion as a potential terrorist. I would like to remind the people and the government that Syria must not be reduced to the politicized and power-constructed soundbites carrying simplistic messages of violence and horror.”
Shaheen continues to ask for an apology from the airline, and may even take them to court following their refusal to cooperate with her legal prodding.