Thursday, January 24, 2008

Muslim family mulls suing Wales cops
CARDIFF, WALES, Jan 12 - Complaining of airport profiling, a British Muslim family is mulling legal actions against South Wales police who turned their dream journey nightmarish by singling them out for further security scrutiny and forcing them to miss their flight.

"I'm determined to stop this unfair treatment not for myself but all Muslims," Aisha Pritchard, a born and bred Welsh who reverted to Islam years ago and married a Palestinian, told Islamonline.net.

"I have started gathering petitions and seek help with signatures from Muslims and non-Muslims alike."

Pritchard was looking forward to spend a quality time with her husband Sadi Elhaloul, a Palestinian-bon Briton, in Dubai before his scheduled heart operation when they arrived at the airport on December 14.

"This is a matter of life and death and we wanted to escape the pressures of life for a few days, to talk, relax and enjoy some quality time together," recalled the mother of seven.

"We fully understand and appreciate that there have to be security measures at all airports, but it’s the way in which we were treated that cannot be ignored," asserted Pritchard.

"I found the conduct of the investigation team to be one of sheer incompetence. The bumbling officers had no notebook, pen or even recording equipment to record details of the interrogation taking place."

Elhaloul lamented that what was supposed to be a relaxing break "turned into a nightmare."

"They just kept repeating questions, they seemed to genuinely forget that they had asked the questions and used scraps from the floor to take notes on," he recalled.

By the time the officers were done the Muslim couple had missed the flight.

Because they had non-transferable tickets, they were faced with a 1500 bill if they wished to continue their journey. Fed up and emotional exhausted, the couple took a cab back home.

"I've been put off traveling abroad for good," said her husband, who had shaved his beard to ovoid possible harassments and was dressed in normal jeans and T shirt.

Liberty, an independent organization which defends human rights in England and Wales, believes that their rights have been infringed and supports the couple's consideration of resorting to litigation.

"Witch Hunt"

The couple, married for 25 years, believes they were the target of racism not innocent security check.

"We feel we were deliberately stopped from boarding the plane, because of racism against Muslims," insists hijab-wearing Pritchard.

"The treatment we have received shames this country. I am British born and bred and I feel ashamed to be a part of this witch hunt.

"Why were we checked at the last minute, in full view of fellow passengers?" she asked.

"They wanted to humiliate us and dehumanize us as publicly as possible. This is not about security at all and people need to wake up to it."

In a statement issued later, South Wales police insisted that airport officers acted "under powers set out by national legislation, which is used to carry out our duty to protect the public."

According to media reports, the Blair government is discussing with airport authorities a system of profiling — where security staff focus their search efforts on people they regard as suspicious on grounds such as ethnicity and religion.

British security officers are already being trained by US experts in monitoring passenger behavior at airports.

The "behavior detection squads" will patrol terminals to monitor the gestures, conversations, facial expressions of passengers, and spot those who may be concealing fear or anxiety.

Routine Hell

Pritchard and Elhaloul assert that their nightmarish experience is only the tip of a harassment iceberg they face every day in Britain, the so-called egalitarian and multicultural state.

"My family has suffered terrible racial abuse since I married Sadi fifteen years ago," Pritchard, who has changed her surname to escape racism, said bitterly.

"I suffered, my only crime being that I married an Arab."

She said that all her seven children, three from a previous marriage, where subject to a structured anti-Muslim racism.

"It is not uncommon to hear my children being called 'white Pakis', nor is it uncommon to see a brick thrown at the living room window. Eggs have been chucked and we now have security cameras."

Trying to help her children escape the wide-spreading Islamophobia, Pritchard is considering to change their surnames.

British Muslims, estimated at nearly 1.8 million, have been in the eye of storm since the 7/7 attacks.

Nearly half a million Muslims contemplated leaving Britain after the terrorist attacks, according to a then Guardian/ICM poll.

One in five of the polled said they or a family member have faced abuse or hostility since the attacks. - mks.


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