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A British Muslim’s airport interrogation reveals grim realities

No matter how alert security forces are, defeating terrorism is – first and foremost – an intellectual battle

Mashari Althaydi

Published: Updated:

The recent news of a British Muslim woman being questioned by British airport police after being spotted reading an award-winning book on Syrian culture has revealed the depth of mistrust that has invaded the world due to the dominance of fear, anxiety, doubt and confusion.

Faizah Shaheen, who is originally from Damascus, was on her way back from her honeymoon trip in Turkey on board a British Airlines plane when she was questioned. The Independent reported that Shaheen was arrested at Doncaster Airport in Yorkshire, on her way back from the Turkish town of Marmaris.

What was ironic, according to Faizah, is that she works as a guidance counselor on how to combat extremism among young Muslims. The newspaper mentioned that she is involved in psychology to prevent adolescent psychiatric patients from turning towards extremism.

As for the British police officers, they said they had just taken legal measures by questioning her for about 15 minutes under Article 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act. Meanwhile, the passengers or crew have the right to report any suspicious behavior on the plane and the police have the right to conduct investigations.

What Faizah went through is certainly both embarrassing and annoying for her; such an experience engenders a feeling of injustice. However, no one can refuse to abide by the police requests because we are truly in a dire state of emergency following the almost daily terror attacks across the world. What is the way out of this tunnel?

An intellectual battle

Before the 9/11 attacks, travel measures and visas to America and Europe, as well as other areas across the globe, were easier to handle and more reasonable. After the attacks, a world of suspicion invaded global security services, airport gates and border crossings.

No matter how alert security forces are, defeating terrorism is – first and foremost – an intellectual battle

Mshari Al Thaydi

After al-Qaeda’s wave of terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia in May 2003, the concept of security changed in Riyadh and other cities; we started to see concrete barriers at the entrances of hotels and official headquarters.

In the West, security forces are over doing it and targeting innocent people, while the risk lies in other places. This is mainly because of their ignorance of the nature and diversity of Muslim communities. Their concerns may be affected by the daily broadcasts of news about the fight against terrorism.

Still, the real question is whether these precautions are efficient or not? Are they actually able to stop terrorist or criminal activities? In the same week that the airport police interrogated Faizah Shaheen, a fatal stabbing attack took place in central London.

No matter how alert security forces are, defeating terrorism is – first and foremost – an intellectual battle.

This article was first published by Asharq al-Awsat on August 5, 2016.

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Saudi journalist Mshari Al Thaydi presents Al Arabiya News Channel’s “views on the news” daily show “Maraya.” He has previously held the position of a managing senior editor for Saudi Arabia & Gulf region at pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat. Al Thaydi has published several papers on political Islam and social history of Saudi Arabia. He appears as a guest on several radio and television programs to discuss the ideologies of extremist groups and terrorists.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.