“It takes me longer to explain it than anything else,” the officer at the UK border of Dover Port quipped, “but I have the power to detain, search and question you for up to six hours, although I’m sure it’s not going to take that long, under Schedule 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act.”
A peculiar mix of extreme politeness and also racism, so prevalent amongst some sections of British society.
“Oh, OK,” I replied. “Well, don’t worry, I’m not a terrorist.”
After establishing that a written record of the impromptu interrogation would be kept “indefinitely”, again with the courteous reason of providing evidence if I ever wanted to enquire as to why I had been stopped, I decided to make such an enquiry right away.
“So why have I been stopped?” I asked.
“Well, I saw some stamps from Morocco and Mauritius..”
“Mauritius? I’ve never been to Mauritius in my life.”
“I don’t have your passport to hand right now so I can’t quite remember, but I think there were a few Arabic stamps in there,” the officer helpfully elaborated. “Are you a religious man?”
“I’m a Muslim, if that’s what you mean.”
“Oh no,” he looked flustered now, “I didn’t want to make any assumptions.” It was reassuring to know that he was so free of any “assumptions”.
I was polite for the rest of this enthralling conversation, until his last question, which I felt might need further comment.
“Do you go to the mosque?”
“Why do you want to ask me that? Shouldn’t you be trying to work out whether I’m a terrorist or not? I don’t understand the relevance, and you need to be careful with these kinds of questions, because it changes from looking for someone who might be a terrorist, to just looking for Muslims.”
“But sometimes people are being taught extreme views by certain organisations, and they don’t even know!”
“Okay, so ask me if I’m a member of this or that organisation, but how does “Do you go to the mosque?” help your investigation? If I say yes, do you write down that this guy might be a terrorist? Does it make it more likely? Less likely? There’s no link between someone going to a mosque, and someone being a terrorist.”
“Well,” the officer replied, “we only get a few minutes to talk to you.” Sorry about that, would love to have stayed. On the bright side, at least it didn’t take six hours.
It’s funny, but when I think of terrorists I think of groups like the Stern Gang. Not someone who hasn’t been to Mauritius.