British anti-extremism psychologist detained over ‘suspicious book’

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Syrian art.

A PSYCHOTHERAPIST from Leeds was temporarily detained by police after being reported for ‘suspicious behaviour’ by cabin crew onboard an Istanbul bound flight from Doncaster.

Faizah Shaheen’s offence was reading a book about Syrian culture on the outbound trip, deemed worthy of note by a Thomson Airways crew member, and she was taken into custody upon her return to the UK two weeks later on July 25.

Shaheen was detained and questioned under the Terrorism Act, somewhat ironic given her work as an NHS anti-radicalisation specialist helping protect young mentally ill patients from exposure to online extremism.

Syria Speaks: Art and Culture from the Frontline, which is an imaginative compendium of essays ‘challenging the culture of violence’ in the war-torn country, was the offending title arousing suspicion among aircraft staff.

“I was completely innocent – I was made to feel like a culprit … 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. I do question if … it would be different if it was someone who wasn’t Muslim,” Shaheen told local media.

Her thoughts were predictably echoed by Zaher Omareen, the book’s co-editor who described Shaheen’s detention as ‘despicable’.

“Judging individuals and even taking measures against them based on their race, their looks, their language, or the printed words they carry is unacceptable and unjustifiable.”

There is, however, a powerful culture of fear and expectation that any note of suspicion, no matter how minor, should be reported to authorities concerned with preventing another France-style attack.

A statement from Thomson on the incident read:

“Our crew undergo general safety and security awareness training on a regular basis. As part of this they are encouraged to be vigilant and share any information or questions with the relevant authorities. We appreciate that in this instance Ms Shaheen may have felt that overcaution had been exercised. However, like all airlines, our crew are trained to report any concerns they may have as a precaution.”

A world where a woman can’t read a book on a plane without facing arrest and where Muslims are racially profiled at airports is a junk universe comprised of an incalculable array of casual horrors, but it’s the world we’ve got at present, and indeed is nothing new.

In 1999 Scottish painter and decorator Harry Stanley was unlawfully shot in the back of the head by armed British police tipped off that he was an “Irishman with a gun wrapped in his bag” by a hysterically confused Londoner.  

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