GUEST POST: I Was Labelled A Terrorist
I was arrested back in 2007 under anti-terrorism legislation by the Counter terrorist Unit, specifically under the anti-terrorism act 2000 under section 57 and 58. I was charged with the commission, preparation and/or an instigation of an act of terrorism. I spent two and a half long months in jail and almost a year under house arrest, almost all of it under 24 hour house arrest. Once I got out on bail I was basically a prisoner in my own home, unable to live any sort of a normal life. I was under debilitating strict conditions, more so than convicted murderers and rapists. I was 17 at the time.
I was held at a police station for a week before I was charged, after which I was transferred to a Youth Offenders prison in London, hundreds of miles from where I lived in West Yorkshire. Here I would be stripped of the basic freedoms I had previously enjoyed and I was branded a terrorist by the authorities. Whilst in prison I felt angry and confused; I didn’t know what was going to happen to me and living under those conditions took a very considerable toll on my family and I.
I felt that I was targeted because I was a Muslim, that the police had arrested me just because they could. Stripped of my basic freedoms, the newly formed counter terrorist unit had targeted me; even though I had done nothing wrong as was proven to be the case unanimously by all 12 jurors at the trial, they had still arrested me. Along with the prosecution, they attempted to paint me out as some kind of a terrorist wannabe. But I knew I had done nothing wrong and with the support of my family I got through this very difficult period of my life and the trial which was to follow.
Now, I understand the need for anti-terrorism legislation. I come from Dewsbury which is close to where one of the July 07 bombers lived. I can understand the tensions that are around on this issue. However, this does not give the right for the police to abuse the powers they are given. The laws implemented after the July 07 terrorist attacks were poorly written and too radical. They resulted in many innocent people being arrested just for expressing their views and viewing material and information that was freely available on the internet and in bookshops. Some were convicted and had to go to prison but the vast majority, like me, were acquitted in the end. Though I was arrested under the anti terrorism laws of 2000 like hundreds of others, the vast majority were either not charged, found not guilty at trial, or found innocent on appeal.
With the rise of Islamophobic and racist groups such as the EDL, and with mainstream media focusing on stories about Muslims that are mainly negative and almost always demonising Islam. However, we have freedom of speech in this country and at 17 years old, I was acting more on an emotional basis and less on a rational one. Nevertheless, that does not mean that I should be arrested and labelled as a terrorist.
I was somewhat naive and stupid to think I could simply say and do what I wanted without any repercussions. Even though I didn’t actually do anything wrong and everything I did do was actually known to my family, neighbours, friends – hell – anybody who was interested or wanted to know. It was no secret and I truly thought that honesty and openness was the best policy. Looking back I thought that even if the police were to take an interest in me, they’d know I was just a kid messing around and shouting his mouth off. Clearly, I was mistaken.
I could have gone down an extreme path because of the way I was treated but I chose a different path – I chose to focus on my education and express my views in a positive way. By engaging with people and groups to talk about these sorts of issues and do what I can to help people understand better what is going on.
By joining and working with groups such as Amnesty International at university, and organizations such as Reprieve, I have been able to channel my energy into something positive and make an impact, which has stopped me from getting angry and frustrated. I can, and want, to help people who are angry and frustrated, to show them they can make a change in a more constructive way, using all the means available to us in this country, particularly by political means. Unfortunately, many Muslims are unaware of how they can make a real difference and are then brainwashed into thinking that by committing acts of terrorism and killing innocent people they are somehow making a difference. I hope my case and experiences can help other people to realise that.
The word Jihad actually means to struggle and to strive for something better. However, if the mainstream press were to be believed, then Islam is a religion of fanatics, terrorists and murderers and Jihad is “holy war”, which, by the way, is a completely wrong translation of the word.
We have to work together in cooperation with one another, to increase understanding of one another, to further community relations and to live in harmony with one another. Hate, mistrust, and most dangerous of all ignorance, leads to violence and chaos. It suits those racist and hate filled people who wish to divide and conquer, but it doesn’t help those of us who want to live a normal, peaceful life.
People have fought and died for the hard won principles of liberty and freedom of expression in this country. We live in a democracy where people have the right to express their views, within reason. We have the right to challenge authority and question what they do on our behalf. This should not result in the media marginalizing the minority because of moral panics. In times such as these people need to remember freedom of speech is a human right and the liberties of anyone – no matter who they are – should not be taken away because of knee jerk reactions by some to terrible events such as the Bombings in London.