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Rod Liddle

I’m not sure it’s safe for me to fly

17 March 2012

6:00 PM

17 March 2012

6:00 PM

I find myself at a bit of a loss this week, for which apologies. I had hoped to write something inappropriate and threatening about Iran. Or, if not that, then contrasted in a less than sensitive manner the amount of press coverage afforded to that appalling murder of Afghan civilians by a soldier with the amount devoted to the deaths of six British soldiers in that benighted hellhole. Unfortunately, I cannot do either. In my position I have to look after myself, guard my interests and so on. I have a family. They may not like me very much but they do rely upon me for food and shelter, which I will not be able to provide for them if I am in prison.

Two Israeli citizens were arrested at Heathrow Airport earlier this week for having made remarks about Iran during a flight from Las Vegas. They were met by armed policemen from the Met and bunged in a cell for at least six hours before being released without charge. I have tried, very hard, to find out the precise nature of these remarks, but without much success. We are told only that they were ‘inappropriate and threatening’ remarks and were made to one of British Airways’ awful, self-important trolley dollies, who alerted the filth having found the comments ‘disruptive’.

This is a huge worry for me. I cannot for one minute imagine I could get through any flight, let alone a long-haul flight, without saying something very inappropriate and threatening about Iran either to the person sitting next to me, or to a trolley dolly, or, in extremis, to myself. Or maybe not Iran — possibly Chad, or Tuvalu, or Belgium. Where do I stand now? A few things did emerge from my chats with the police and BA: first, no passenger complained. Second, as the Metropolitan Police statement made clear at the time, there was never any danger to the flight or to anybody on the flight at any time. No threats were made, there was no abusive language, there is no suggestion that they were drunk and howling blood-curdling threats. In other words, from what we can tell, the two passengers at some point said something about Iran to one of the airline stewards and she, or he, took exception and decided to call in an armed police response. The British Airways press officer I spoke to said he couldn’t give me any more details than that. One of the excuses he used was that it would be contravening the Data Protection Act. Well, I suppose it would be if I had asked for the Israelis’ credit card numbers or maybe the password to their Facebook accounts. But I didn’t, I just wanted to know exactly what had been said to the BA attendant that had so inflamed her, or him, that the armed police were involved.

The Metropolitan Police told me that no charges were laid against the men and there was no caution or anything like that, and wouldn’t explain why they were held in a cell for almost seven hours. Do you know, things were much easier when we were allowed to bribe the Old Bill for information: ‘Give us the dope, inspector, and I’ll bung you a monkey for the benevolent fund.’ But they’ve got incredibly self-righteous all of a sudden. The po-faced bore I spoke to didn’t even offer to lend me a bloody horse. I don’t know what the world is coming to. A horse was the least I expected. What I really wanted to find out is why the BA employee wasn’t questioned about wasting police time.  I’d also like to know why BA hasn’t apologised to the ­Israelis.

So, I’m not writing about Iran, in case six Met meatheads with a sub mo’chine surround my pad and bung me in chokey. So, Afghanistan then, I thought. But on the same day as the innocent Israeli passengers were being given a hard time by British Airways and the police, a 19-year-old British man was arrested in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, for having posted something on his Facebook site which apparently constituted, in the eyes of the police, a ‘racially aggravated public order offence’. A spokesman for West Yorkshire Police said that Azhar Ahmed had written something about the press coverage afforded to the deaths of British soldiers in Afghanistan compared to the, in his view, scanty coverage accorded to the murder of Afghan civilians by a deranged US soldier. And the unnamed copper concluded: ‘He didn’t make his point very well and that is why he has landed himself in bother.’

Now, this is obviously a problem for journalists. I didn’t know the police had the powers to arrest people who don’t make their points very well. If so, that’s the Guardian closed down overnight. West Yorkshire Old Bill wouldn’t tell me what Mr Ahmed had said, but I found what I think it is online. Bear in mind that the man is a 19-year-old British subject so what follows is, as you would expect, illiterate: ‘People gassing about the death of Soldiers! What about the Afghan families who have been brutally killed…. the women who have been raped. The children who have been sliced up! You’re [sic] enemy’s [sic] were the Taliban, not innocent and harmful [sic] families. All soldiers should DIE and go to hell, the low-life fokkin [sic] scum’.

I am not sure that I am in complete agreement with the point being made here, I ought to say. I think Mr Ahmed is somewhat overstating the case. But the notion that it should be a criminal offence to say such things is outrageous. In fact, the things which Muslims are allowed to say without being banged up seems to reduce each week. Muslims and, indeed, all of us.

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