UK Muslim woman detained for reading a book on Syrian art

London: A newly-wed British Muslim woman was detained by airport police in the UK after cabin crew reported her reading a Syria art book on her honeymoon flight.

Faizah Shaheen was quizzed by officers at Doncaster Airport in South Yorkshire region of England last month after being reported by Thomson Holidays cabin crew.

The 27-year-old today said it had been a “hurtful and unpleasant” experience.

“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,” she told The Independent newspaper.

“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 said.

Shaheen, who works with the UK National Health Service to prevent teenage mental health patients from becoming radicalised, said she had been reading the book ‘Syria Speaks:

Art and Culture from the Frontline’ on the flight to her honeymoon destination of Marmaris, Turkey. She was questioned by police when she returned two weeks later on July 25.

“I’m aware that security is very important where terrorism is concerned but they need to keep a sense of proportion. To go off and contact the anti-terror police is quite an extreme overreaction,” she said.

A spokesperson from Thomson Holidays said customer and employee safety was of “primary importance”. “We appreciate that in this instance Ms Shaheen may have felt that over caution had been exercised, however like all airlines, our crew are trained to report any concerns they may have as a precaution,” the spokesperson said.

A spokesperson for South Yorkshire Police confirmed Shaheen had been “stopped and examined” under Schedule 7 of the UK’s Terrorism Act 2000. “She was not arrested, she was held for 15 minutes and was subsequently released,” the spokesperson said.

The award-winning book by Malu Halasa that Shaheen was reading is a collection of essays, short stories, poems, songs, cartoons and pictures from Syrian authors and artists.

She said she felt discriminated against because of her faith and now intends to make formal complaints against the police and Thomson Airways.

Indian-origin Labour MP Keith Vaz, who chairs the House of Commons’ Home Affairs Committee, said the airline had overreacted and must apologise.

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.”