Haworth is a cobbled, charming timepiece village, shunted, deep into the Yorkshire Moors. Setting off in the car with my daughters for a half term break, I am wondering if we will be glared at by uniquely, ‘white’ hiking families, during secluded walks, here in the North of England .
Ye Olde Apothecary, our B&B is part of an unchanged 19th century row of shops and taverns, tapering into a forbidding, grey, hillside. Arriving at dusk, the silence beneath the ancient church makes us feel we should whisper.
Dragging bags up a winding, staircase, I am amazed when a disembodied, voice floats down with the words:
‘Assalamu Alaykhum’(The Islamic greeting meaning ‘Peace Be upon you).
The accent is rather proper, with no trace of heritage from warmer climes. A gentleman in his fifties, smart casual, with a kind smile, emerges from the shadows, repeating the words and taking our heavy cases.
‘You’re all more than welcome here ladies. Your faith is respected and you will, I hope, inshaAllah, be more than comfortable throughout your stay.’
I mutter Allahu Akbar, under my breath, in gratitude.
‘Yes Allahu Akbar indeed, that means God is Great if I remember correctly’ continues the B&B owner. ‘Nick’ tells us jovially, of his decade spent in the Middle East, for business.Of the good manners he often encountered, of the hospitality and the spirituality in the Muslim homes he was invited into.
The following days are a blissful, face stinging, hale-sodden hike across glorious Moorland. Marching through the heather and gorse (the inspiration for Emily Brontes Wuthering Heights) we make Thikr (remembrance) of Allah.
It is a beautiful trip. There are no unpleasant comments from hikers about our faith or our hijab. Smiles are shared at breakfast with fellow guests.
On arriving home, news comes, that my colleague Moazzam Begg from the UK organization Cage, has been arrested. Cage, formerly ‘Cage Prisoner’ is dedicated to representing victims of injustice. Thanks to the methodical approach of its team, in particular, its director Moazzam, Cage is now internationally recognized as a beacon of bravery, within the human rights community.
Who else was willing to risk the ire of major global powers by challenging the unacceptable modern framework that the mere word ‘terror’ should allow the use of illicit rendition, drone strikes, invasion and torture?
How to describe the effect Moazzam has on those who hear him speak, with that grave, intelligent passion of his?
At a recent event in Manchester, he spoke on a panel regarding the governments ‘anti-terror’ Prevent policies; cradle to grave controls making even household conversations in which Muslims express political opinions – risky.
Turning the news off, my eldest daughter says ‘You won’t be arrested, will you Mummy?’
As a mere writer I am of no interest to the authorities I tell her. Journalists write, people read, we are protected in our work. We are protected as civilians who work within the law.
All of which should be the truth.
However, being Muslim and writing on issues relating to human rights abuses by powerful nations means, like Moazzam, to come to view persecution, pressure and spying by Western authorities as an occupational hazard.
Forty eight hours later, I am ‘randomly’ selected for a full bag search before boarding a flight to Chicago. The young woman on the freezing airline gangplank, checks down to the seams of my hand luggage.
Changing planes at Chicago, something new. The letters ‘SSSS’ are printed on my ticket stub.
Secondary Security Screening Selection, is a US airport security measure which means additional inspection. Travellers liable to this additional harassment, according to agency sources, were on a list of more than 14,000 names, in 2010. Today the number will be far higher.
Aside from the full body, between the legs, over the torso, across the hijab pat down; the seams and internal pockets of my luggage are of more interest than usual. Several times swabs are taken of various sections (explosive checks). The female TSA agent watching over me swabs my hands with something hot, which makes me jump.
Normally after security checks, I am simply waved away with ‘you’re all done ma’am’. This time a senior agent tells me to ‘wait’ whilst ‘paperwork’ is completed about the check.
Paperwork about me.
For security agencies.
The response from civil liberties groups about the infringement of privacy rights and potential for racial or ethnical discrimination of these checks, has been way too quiet, for way too long. How can tens of thousands of – by far greater numbers – Muslim – be treated this way day in day out? We are monitored, harassed, accused by an unknown judge and a partial, invisible jury, every time we move from country to country.
Suddenly without explanation – or apology – journeys for leisure or work, become harder than the same travel for other members of society.
Is this okay?
No it’s not.
Muslims, Asians, Arabs, activists, reporters, charity workers, convoy members, aid donors and scholars have become second class citizens; unequal, disrespected.
CAGE has been campaigning against the extremist policies of the War on Terror for more than a decade. With Moazzam as director, its website has become a leading resource, documenting the erosion of the rule of law in favour of ‘security’ legislation.
Benjamin Franklin one of America’s founding fathers was dedicated to the ideal of the people ruling the government, rather than the other way round. Amongst his numerous public entreaties on free speech, he famously said; “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
My journeys, to the US and the English countryside, shed light on a divide western governments are seeking to bridge.
The divide between increasingly controlling strategies – and millions of voters who still – despite media pressure – understand that Muslims are in the process of being both demonised and dehumanised. How frustrating to governments and their right wing lackeys that men and women with the ability to think critically, like our host Nick, refute, quietly, every day, the fear being fostered, that Muslims are by dint of our faith, a danger to society
Moazzem Begg, is a man, who has proven himself unafraid of speaking truth to power. And as a result? He is facing weeks, months and possibly years in prison.
Cage’s new report ‘Prevent,’ lays out the policies used to persecute and intimidate Muslims across the UK.
I recommend you take time to read it.
Remembering as you do so, that the director responsible for its release is now behind bars under the auspice that taking a generator to Syria is a criminal act of ‘terror’.