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Last Updated: Friday, 2 July, 2004, 12:59 GMT 13:59 UK
Muslim anger over stop and search
By Dominic Casciani
BBC News Online community affairs reporter

Know your rights: Stop and search publicity
Muslims are angry about stop and search - and they say its misuse will only alienate communities and create a backlash.

If you want a measure of how concerned Muslim communities are about the anti-terrorism legislation - and the growing feeling that they are being disproportionately targeted, count the number of legal advice leaflets flying out of mosques.

The Islamic Human Rights Commission, a small but well organised campaign group, has so far printed 500,000 leaflets explaining what rights people have if they are stopped and searched.

All half a million of them have been snapped up, says the organisation's Massoud Shadjareh. Funds permitting, the group will soon be returning to the printers - but in the meantime the advice now appears in a nationally-distributed directory of Muslim businesses and services.

Such is the demand for advice, his organisation has begun to hold stop and search workshops in areas with large Muslim populations.

At a recent training seminar in Luton, seven of the 12 present had been stopped in the past year, he said.

Anti-terrorism stops

The Terrorism Act 2000 introduced wider powers of stop and search which have been in regular use since the 11 September attacks and, more recently, heightened security fears in the UK.

If people feel that it's legitimate to stop and search someone for being a Muslim, there will be those who believe they can attack them too
Massoud Shadjareh, Islamic Human Rights Commission

But with the Home Office revealing a 300% increase in stops of Asians under the act in 2002/03, many British Muslims will feel they are justified in claiming their communities are being tarnished with the suspicion of terrorism.

"There has been a huge increase in stops," says Mr Shadjareh, whose organisation has become a major contact point for the reports.

"And people are being stopped because of Muslim profiling. What concerns us most is that this creates a backlash. The number of attacks motivated by Islamophobia has risen.

"If people feel that it's legitimate to stop and search someone for being a Muslim, there will be those who believe they can attack them too."

All sections of society

Stops and searches have been reported from all sections of British Muslim society.

The overwhelming majority of stops appear to be happening on the street, though not always in predominantly Muslim areas.

Anti-terror policing has to be based on intelligence - they don't have that intelligence because people are simply being stopped because of the way they look
Lord Ahmed

Anecdotally, Muslim leaders suggest that young men with Islamic-style beards are perhaps being stopped more than other groups. But it's not just those with a religious look.

One alleged case involves a civil servant who was stopped under the Terrorism Act outside Downing Street.

Carrying his briefcase and Whitehall security credentials, he stopped to retrieve his ringing mobile phone.

Campaigners say anti-terrorism officers immediately approached and held him.

Despite his protests, the civil servant was still questioned. He was eventually released without charge - but will not make a formal complaint because he fears it may affect his career.

Imams have reported police officers conducting, in the words of one Midlands cleric, "fishing expeditions", leaving them none the wiser as to why they had been visited.

The most high profile person to have been stopped is Lord Nazir Ahmed. The Labour party peer has been stopped twice at airports - something he has raised in the House of Lords.

"My objection is not that I was stopped, I don't mind that," he said. "But on the second occasion, I was with the Mayor of Lahore in a queue of 65 people who were all white. We were selected to come forward for searching.

"When we asked why, the officer said it was random - but how random is it when the only two Asian people in the queue are stopped?"

Lord Ahmed did not tell the officer that he was a peer, saying he wanted to try and establish the grounds for suspicion.

"I told him that if he had intelligence for stopping me, then he should tell me what it was. If it was random, then it was harassment because of how I looked.

"The officer became agitated, but I think he was stereotyping and had, in his own mind, taken Asians or Muslims and equated them with terrorism."

'Complete harassment'

Lord Ahmed said many of the cases that had come to his attention appeared to be nothing more than "complete harassment" of an individual because of their religious dress.

One case involved a man stopped and questioned at Birmingham airport. The man, who wears a beard for religious reasons, was deeply embarrassed and offended at being singled out by plain clothes officers, said Lord Ahmed, not least because he was with his wife and children.

Massoud Shadjareh says this sense of being publicly embarrassed is one of the most damaging elements - not least because it can create prejudice in the eyes of those who see it happening.

"Imagine you are going out of a supermarket and the security system bleeps and everyone looks at you. You feel uncomfortable because you have been identified, even if you have done nothing wrong.

"But stops and searches are 10 times worse."

This sense of public embarrassment travels quickly through communities building up a resistance to co-operating with the police, says Lord Ahmed.

"Anti-terror policing has to be based on intelligence. They don't have that intelligence because people are simply being stopped because of the way they look. And if you look at the 9/11 hijackers, they didn't have beards.

"Any threat to our country is a threat to all communities and the police must stop stopping people on the basis of prejudice or stereotype.

"If not, then you are angering the people being stopped - and that alienates communities. And if you alienate people, that creates second class citizens and that's a terrible, terrible thing for those affected."

Stop-and-search powers extended
04 Apr 03 |  England

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