In Brief

Muslim Woman Deemed Suspicious for Reading a Syrian Art Book on a Plane

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“Syria Speaks,” an anthology published by Saqi Books (photo via @saqibooks/Instagram)

Airport officials in England detained a Muslim healthcare worker and interrogated her under the British Parliament’s Terrorism Acts — for simply reading a book on Syrian art and culture. As the Independent first reported, Leeds resident Faizah Shaheen had returned from her honeymoon in Turkey on July 25 and had arrived at Doncaster Sheffield Airport; there, after she went through passport control, police stopped her because a cabin crew member of Thomson Airways had reported her for apparent suspicious behavior. They held her under the contentious Schedule 7, which allows officers to stop and question people without the need for grounds for suspicion of involvement in criminal activity.

Shaheen had been reading Syria Speaks: Art and Culture from the Frontline, an anthology published by Saqi Books of literature, poems, songs, cartoons, political posters, and photographs by both established and emerging Syrian writers and artists. Edited by Malu Halasa, Zaher Omareen, and Nawara Mahfoud, the widely praised tome, translated from Arabic, had received an English PEN award in 2013. Below the boldly printed title on its cover, it features a work by the anonymous Syrian artists poster collective Alshaab alsori aref tarekh (in English, “The Syrian People Know Their Way”) of “Zaytoun, the little refugee,” a graffiti character originally created by artist Mohamed Tayeb.

A spokeswoman for South Yorkshire Police said that Shaheen was not arrested but “held for 15 minutes and was subsequently released,” but the absurd incident left her feeling as if officials had simply discriminated against her for her appearance.

“I was completely innocent — I was made to feel like a culprit,” Shaheen told the Independent. “I do question if whether it would be different if it was someone who wasn’t Muslim.” A child and adolescent mental health services practitioner for England’s National Health Service, she also described the situation as ironic since part of her duties is to work on “anti-radicalization and assessing vulnerable young people with mental health problems at risk of being radicalized,” she said.

“I said that to the police. I’m actually part of trying to fight radicalization and breaking the stereotypes.”

Thomson Airways did not issue an apology to Shaheen, who reportedly plans on making formal complaints against both the company and the police. In a statement, a spokesperson for the airline merely said that crew members have to undergo safety and security training, which encourages them to maintain vigilant and report any questionable observations.

“We appreciate that in this instance Ms. Shaheen may have felt that overcaution had been exercised,” the spokesperson said. “However, like all airlines, our crew are trained to report any concerns they may have as a precaution.”

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