Part I: Muslims as the Infidels of England
In the past, crude racism of the street in Britain ensured that whether you were Pakistani, African, Arab, or Indian, all people of color were Pakis, wogs, and niggers. If we complained about racism, it was not unusual to be told, “go back to where you come from.” With one fell swoop, the genie has transformed the old racism, so people who look like me are all Muslims now. It doesn’t matter if you are Hindu, Christian, or Sikh. If you look like a Muslim, you are a Muslim, a potential walking bomb.
On my way back from the UK to Lebanon last month, I picked up two popular newspapers, The Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph. Both papers lead with stories about how the dreadful European Court of Human rights had stopped Britain from throwing Abu Qatada, a cleric who is deemed to be a threat to national security, out of the country. In the past, the genie has described Abu Qatada as Osama bin Laden’s “right hand man in Europe.” With his long terrorist beard and a prayer cap on his head, what else could he be?
About ten years ago, I watched a mullah being interviewed on British television. The interviewer asked him, “if you don’t like this country, why don’t you leave?”
He replied, “It’s like living in a toilet surrounded by landmines.” While I don’t agree much with Abu Qatada, I certainly understood the depth of his feelings.
If you look like a Muslim, you are a Muslim, a potential walking bomb.
In April 2009 I was at home in Manchester when I saw breaking news on the television. The genie had once again saved Britain from Muslims. This time, from a really, really “big terror plot.” Armed anti-terror police raided houses across the northwest of the country and made a number of arrests. Twelve Pakistanis were arrested. One turned out to be a minor and he was released. Another was a British citizen and he was released a few weeks later. The remaining ten were locked in a high security prison.
I had seen the genie many times before this. On 19 April 2004, 400 police officers raided houses where Muslims were living and arrested some North Africans and Kurds. The genie told the British people that the police had stopped the terrorist from blowing up a Manchester United game. What most people didn’t hear about was that actually these Muslims just happened to be Manchester United fans and after the genie was put back in the bottle and the media frenzy had died down, they were given some complimentary tickets to go see a United game.
The genie popped up again in the north of England when a humanitarian aid convoy planned to travel from Manchester to Gaza. When the convoy was travelling overland, it was stopped on the motorway by anti-terrorist police officers and the drivers were arrested. What people saw and heard in blaring headlines was the terror raids and pictures of bearded men. Most people didn’t hear about how the police paid the price of getting the drivers and their vehicles to Tunis to join up with the convoy.
When I heard about the new raids of 2009, especially when it became clear that those arrested were Pakistani students, who had come here from Pakistan to study, it was obvious to me that the terror genie had targeted a group of young men who did not have any roots in this country. They would therefore have no one to ask questions on their behalf or to defend them.
I felt particularly indignant when the then Prime Minister Gordan Brown said of these students, on 9 April 2009, the day after their arrests:
“We are dealing with a very big terrorist plot. We have been following it for some time. There were a number of people who are suspected of it who have been arrested. That police operation was successful. We know that there are links between terrorists in Britain and terrorists in Pakistan. That is an important issue for us to follow through on. That is why I will be speaking with [Pakistani] President Zardari about what Pakistan can do to help us in the future. I think we must not forget that the police have been successful in carrying out their arrests and, of course, what happens in the next few days is a matter for the police inquiries. But we had to act pre-emptively to ensure the safety of the public and the safety of the public is the paramount and utmost concern in all that we do.”
Two systems of justice now work in Britain. One where there is a presumption of innocence, but if you happen to be a Muslim, a second kafkaesque one comes into effect.
Unlike the arrest of the students, which was plastered across the media, the fact that two weeks into their imprisonment, the police declared them to be innocent, was hardly mentioned. Not that it would have mattered because this declaration of innocence did not mean the students were free. They were still kept in prison, this time on an immigration technicality. They were denied contact with their families. They did not know what they had done. But what they did learn very quickly, from an immigration judge, was that they could either spend the next 18 months or so in prison, or go back to Pakistan tomorrow..
Two systems of justice now work in Britain. One where there is a presumption of innocence, but if you happen to be a Muslim, a second kafkaesque one comes into effect under the spell of the genie. You can be locked away for years without charge, without being told what evidence there is against you. You could be put under house arrest, tagged electronically, and denied any contact with the outside world. Your lawyers are supposed to defend the person who has been charged without knowing what the case against their client is. If there is any evidence, it is shown to the trial judge behind closed doors, with the defense lawyers excluded on the grounds that the evidence is secret.
Following the announcement of innocence, I went to see a friend who had in the past campaigned concerning the issues of human rights in Britain, to see if we could work together and defend these students. My friend was aware of what had happened and said to me, “Listen yaar, I can make a financial donation to the campaign, but these times are bad and I don’t want any hassle from the police.”
The atmosphere of fear and intimidation had moved into even the left and liberal groups in this country.
Another friend who was instrumental in helping me make contact with families of the students in Pakistan was advised by his wife to stay away from this issue when she said to him, “Look there are writers and lawyers who are already exposed. You are nobody. Why do you want to expose yourself on this issue?”
What I did not realize at the time was how the atmosphere of fear and intimidation had moved into even the left and liberal groups in this country. Some withdrew from the campaign to defend the students, worried about the negative fallout for themselves as a result of their potential of association with terrorism.
Notwithstanding the initial setbacks, a campaign to defend the students was organized. At the first meeting, held on Saturday 9 May 2009, three family members of the students spoke on the phone from northwest of Pakistan. Tahir Rahman, brother of on of the imprisoned students Tariq Rahman, said, “he was sent to the UK to study, to make a better life for his family and himself. His young wife died during the birth of their first child. His father is dead. His paralysed mother cannot come to terms with her son’s imprisonment. She has not spoken to her son since his arrest.”
Raza Ullah Khan, brother of imprisoned suspect Mohammad Ramzan, speaking from Abbotabad, Pakistan said, “His [Mohammad’s] mother dreamed he would come back educated from the UK. She is ill now, waiting for him. He should be released now so that he can come back to Pakistan to see his mother. She asks, ‘When will he phone?’ I want to appeal to the British Government – you know he has not done anything so release my brother. And to the Pakistani government – for God’s sake, don’t lie. You are doing nothing to help us.”
And Nasrallah Jaan Khattak, father of Abid Nasir, spoke from Peshawar, Pakistan. “I fear for my son,” he said. “I appeal to the government to give him the chance to finish his education. I have not been able to speak to my son since the arrest and we are very worried about him and his health. We sent our son to study not to be oppressed.”
I was present at the meeting and asked, “What sort of a society locks people up without charge, without evidence, threatens to throw them out of the country on the whims of politicians and sexed up intelligence reports. What has happened to this country where the police are threatening more such raids? We are all but in a police state. The gloves are nearly off and it won’t simply be Muslims who will feel the heat.”