Socialist Worker

'They asked if my uncle was Osama Bin Laden'

I was treated like a criminal because of my Muslim background, writes Adam Riaz Khan

Issue No. 1892

BUSH AND Blair's imperialist project needs to have an internal enemy, someone to scapegoat, someone to blame for both national and international ills. Muslims are now the new bogeymen, the new Communists. I was a victim of this recently. On 9 February I was passing through the US from Mexico on a transit flight back to London.

I was supposed to get my connecting flight back to London at Atlanta airport, and I was looking forward to seeing my family and friends after over a month of travelling. However, when I arrived in the airport I was detained by police and subjected to a seven-hour interrogation.

They gave no reason for detaining me but said that I needed a visa. This was a lie as I have a British passport and a visa requirement only applies to someone who is staying in the US for more than three months. This was merely an excuse to detain me.

My interrogator was an Inspector Jordon. He had what I would call a Superman/Captain America mentality. He told me how he didn't like people threatening his country.

He and his colleagues denied me a phone call more than once, which caused much stress to my parents, who were waiting at the airport and were worried when I did not arrive on my flight. I was asked many offensive and disturbing questions such as whether I had any connections to Al Qaida and whether I had been to Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Somalia.

They were not convinced when I replied no. They also believed that I was born in Pakistan and that my British passport was fake even though I was born in the UK and have lived here all my life. They asked about my political convictions, whether I believed in having an Islamic state in the US. They even had the audacity to ask if Bin Laden was my uncle.

They had immediately decided that I was a terrorist simply because of my ethnic origin, my Muslim background and the fact that I had a Koran in my bag. I was treated like a criminal.

I was kept confined in a room the whole time and one officer even suggested that I was dangerous and a threat to him. He asked for backup when he was searching me as he claimed that 'I might know karate'. How an unarmed 5ft 8 individual such as myself was a threat to a group of very large, very armed cops is a revelation to me-he had clearly been watching too many Matrix movies.

This blatantly racist profiling ended with me being deported back to Britain and as a result I have been banned from the US for six years for no reason whatsoever. In fact, the authorities in Atlanta airport gave me no explanation for their actions. They found no proof whatsoever to support their ridiculous assumption that I was a terrorist.

However, such illegal practices in both the US and the UK are commonplace. When I returned home, I learnt that two Asian friends of mine on a separate trip to the US were strip-searched. A Muslim friend of my father's was also interrogated recently even though he has a house in the US and has been travelling back and forth for the past ten years.

Nevertheless, these are mild manifestations of state repression against Muslim and ethnic minority communities. Under current prevention of terrorism laws, the British authorities can hold suspects for up to nine hours without charge. In fact since 11 September 2001, 544 Muslims in Britain have been arrested, of whom only 98 have been charged and even fewer convicted. Many have been held at Belmarsh prison, Britain's own Guantanamo Bay.

The result of this erosion of human liberties is the harassment of hundreds of innocent people, often involving racial and physical abuse from police officers causing trauma and loss of jobs with no compensation or apologies from the authorities.

One such victim was a Muslim from south London. Last December he was arrested, handcuffed, beaten to his knees and punched repeatedly by the anti-terrorist police officers. One officer mockingly remarked, 'Where is your god now?'

He was released without charge after seven days but his beatings were so bad that he had passed blood in his urine and had blood in his ear canals. Altogether he received 50 injuries. There have been many other cases of gross abuses of the human rights of British Muslims.

It is clear now that under the Terrorism Act 2000 the concept of 'innocent until proven guilty' is completely ignored. However, it is important that people do not suffer in silence. Anyone affected should write to their MP, the Foreign Office (if it concerns the authorities in the US) and the Home Office and get the press interested.

Furthermore they should contact the Stop Police Terror campaign, which has been documenting such cases of police harassment.

For further details and information go to or contact the Islamic Human Rights Commission (phone 020 8904 4222 or e-mail [email protected]). Arani and Co Solicitors (phone 020 8893 5000 or e-mail [email protected]) are also involved in the campaign against human rights abuses under anti-terrorist legislation.

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Sat 13 Mar 2004, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1892
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