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British Woman Detained After Reading Book About Syria

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A British Muslim woman was detained and questioned by police after she was reported for “suspicious behaviour” while reading a book about Syrian culture on a flight.

A Thomson Airways crew member reported Faizah Shaheen, 27, an NHS psychotherapist in Leeds, on an outbound flight to Turkey for her honeymoon. Two weeks later, on her return on the 25th of July, she was detained at Doncaster airport, The Guardian reported.

Shaheen was questioned by police for 15 minutes under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act, which allows police to detain individuals to determine whether he or she appears to be or has been involved in terrorism.

Police told her the suspicions related to the book she was reading: Syria Speaks: Art and Culture from the Frontline, an award-winning collection of essays, short stories, poems, songs, cartoons and photographs by Syrian authors and artists.

Ironically, Shaheen's work for the NHS involves trying to prevent young mental health patients from becoming radicalised. She said the experience left her tearful and feeling "angry and upset", The Independent reported.
She intends to make a formal complaint against the police, telling The Independent: “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."

She added: “Instead of reminiscing about our honeymoon I am left talking about this experience. I do question if whether it would be different if it was someone who wasn’t Muslim.”

Free speech groups have come to Shaheen's defence. Jo Glanville, director of English PEN, which supported the book’s publication, said the airline should be “highly embarrassed about this gross act of misjudgment,” The Guardian reported.

“The current culture of anxiety around extremism now means that even our reading material has become grounds for suspicion of terrorist activity,” she said. “The freedom to read any book, no matter the subject, is a fundamental cornerstone of our liberty.”

Labour MP Keith Vaz also said Thomson Airways overreacted, telling The Independent: "Reasonable people would not regard reading a book on Syria on its own, without any other concerns, as warranting the questioning of an individual." He said the airline should apologise to Shaheen.

In a statement, Thomson Airways said: “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."

The company added: "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.”
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