Friday, September 01, 2006

Traveling whilst Asian

The case of Sohail Ashraf and friend Khurram Zeb has aroused a great deal of controversy. These were two young men who were evicted from the Malaga to Manchester flight last month after fellow passengers voiced fears that the men could be terrorists. The pair are now victims of a smear campaign led by tabloids and followed by the 'quality' newspapers. Details of their private lives, such as convictions for credit card skimming, have been leaked as well as the allegedly suspicious travel itinerary. They had indeed made the mistake of 'traveling whilst asian' as well as talking in a foreign language and not dressing smartly. The fact is that their background is irrelevant to the facts of the case. If they had been through security checks, then there was simply no reason to evict them. They were evicted solely because the pilot gave into the other passengers' bigotry. The airline should have given those passengers the option of leaving the flight, if they were so concerned about their safety. I doubt whether the offer would have been accepted.

This incident though is not an isolated one. Three people including 65 year old Londoner Syed Hussain, his sister and brother-in-law (visiting from Dubai) were barred from boarding the London Eye because the sister was speaking Arabic. At least two mosques have been the target of recent arson attacks. One man has been arrested for pouring petrol through the letterbox of a mosque with intent to set it alight while people were inside. In another incident yesterday in Wirral, a blind Bangladesh-origin pensioner was brutally set upon by a gang of racist thugs and beaten unconscious with his own walking stick after leaving a mosque. Incidentally this was the same mosque that was targeted for an arson attack by two men last year after the London bombs. This Shahjalal mosque shares the same name with another that was targeted for arson near Chester. In Bradford, racists with a dog set the animal on 17 year old Suhail Ali. It took doctors 3 hours to stitch up his arm. He is currently physically and mentally scarred and still unable to use the arm. Obviously this is not an exhaustive list and hundreds of small racist incidents continue to affect people every day. Racist attacks are not new, but they have been joined by additonal attacks on a particular ethnic and religious group. There is now a pattern of attacks on muslims and their institutions as well as targets wrongly identified with muslims. The numbers are not massive and in terms of the total population they are tiny. The situation is not yet untenable nor are muslims under threat from most of the population. Some in the media would like us to think that muslims are a general problem and that violence against them is just indicative of the fact that they cannot and will not integrate because of their alien ideology. They want to encourage the reporting of incidents in order to heighten a sense of crisis that doesn't really exist.

The concern must be about where all this is leading. If the media keep encouraging this type of bigotry will it lead to a situation where the attacks become more prevalent? Will racial profiling and ethnic segregation be encouraged by the authorities? Are we heading towards a situation where 'coloureds' particularly muslims may have to travel in separate planes, because the white passengers are fearful of bombs, despite the security? This media campaign is nothing to do with terrorism; it is everything to do with eroding the civil rights of an ethnic and religious group. Racial profiling will not and cannot prevent terrorism. The racists in the media are attacking multiculturalism at every opportunity. For all our sakes they cannot be allowed to succeed with their poisonous agenda. The hype, misinformation and outright lies must be challenged.


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