Nine long months away, in which time I could’ve otherwise had a baby, were coming to an end, but not before a quick stop off in Beirut, meeting up with Lowkey, DJ The Last Skeptik and Shadia Mansour, and where I stayed with my Great Auntie Suzie. She told me about a time many years ago, during Israel’s crippling occupation of Lebanon, when she was shot [almost fatally] by an Israeli soldier, so I realised that these things must run in the family.
A few days later, I was back in the UK, just in time to embark on a speaking tour of universities around the country. Every event was a success, from kicking things off at Oxford University (ironic, considering they boyed me out by not letting me in a couple of years ago), to speaking my soul through the fire with Lowkey in Cambridge and Birmingham, to planting the seeds of revolution in minds from LSE and SOAS in London, to Leeds and Huddersfield up north.
My favourite talk was at Sussex University. About a week before, students had occupied a building in protest against the education cuts currently spreading across the UK. During the occupation of Sussex House, Academic Registrar John Duffy, and Head of Security Roger Morgan, locked themselves and other members of staff in an office in the VCEG corridor. They were constantly on the phone to police and presented it as a hostage situation despite the occupiers repeatedly telling them they were free to leave in safety, like every other member of staff in the building.
They used the faked hostage situation to demand riot police attack students. Scenes of yet more police brutality were quick to hit Youtube screens across the country. Six students were arrested and subsequently suspended from the Uni, including a close friend of mine called Syed. The management used this fake hostage situation to demand a High Court give them an injunction making future occupations illegal.
As if a “High Court injunction” would stop our struggle. The very next day, a demonstration of over 500 students resulted in 300 of them re-occupying the University, and it was here that I gave my talk to a rapt audience of around 80. Living under a different kind of occupation, but fighting for justice nonetheless.
The last stop on my speaking tour was up in Edinburgh, the city that plays home to my Dad’s side of the family. It was lovely to see my Teta and Grandad, who seem to have settled down with an English language school there after decades of travelling the world. Again, it seems that I’m the inevitable fruit of my family roots.
In fact, I was on my way to the school, walking and pushing a manual wheelchair due to the disgraceful inaccessibility of public transport to my [better] electric one, when I was passed by a police car. And the police can only mean one thing – trouble.
“Do you need any help?” the driver asked.
“Not at all.” I replied.
The police car continued on it’s way, but as I was crossing the road, I heard it pulling up, and the policewoman who had been riding in the passenger seat jumping out and running towards me. Within seconds, she was standing in front of me.
“Where are you going?” she began.
“Excuse me,” I replied, trying to walk past her. After a couple of attempts she wedged her foot under one of the wheels.
“Where are you going?” she repeated.
“Why on Earth would I tell you where I’m going?”
“Where are you coming from then?”
“I’m not going to tell you that either…”
“Why are you being evasive?”
“I’m not being evasive,” I replied, “but I want you to look around right now. How many people are walking up and down this street… but you have specifically come over and stopped me, specifically asked me where I’m going and where I’m coming from, for the sole reason that I have a wheelchair. That’s the kind of discrimination I refuse to tolerate.”
People don’t like to hear the truth, and the inevitable denials began. “No,” she said, “I just saw you crossing that really big road…”
“Is that illegal?”
“…and I was worried.”
“I can assure you that you don’t need to worry about me,” I replied. But the truth is, if she was really concerned about my well-being, she wouldn’t have stopped me in the first place.
“Anyway,” she continued, pointing at the wheelchair, “aren’t you supposed to be sitting in that?”
Some people will never learn.