Sunday, 13 April 2008

Stop me if you want

Respect councillor Oliur Rahman complains in this week’s Socialist Worker of being stopped by a Special Branch officer at Heathrow airport on his return to London from the sixth Cairo anti-war conference. According to Rahman, the officer ‘took my passport and my councillor’s identity card. He ran checks, came back and asked me what sessions I went to at the conference. He then said that I was free to go and that I shouldn’t be offended by this random stop.’

This sort of thing used to happen to me a lot when I was travelling to or from Ireland. (I used to be quite heavily involved in Irish politics and have a number of friends from both north and south of the border.) It continued after the IRA truce and the Good Friday agreement, when I was probably the only Englishman visiting Drogheda – the home of the ‘Real IRA’ – on a regular basis. (I had a girlfriend there.)

Now there are many things that I could complain about with regard to the secret services, the treatment of political dissidents and all the rest. But despite the inconvenience and irritation, I’ve never really been able to make a case as to why I shouldn’t be stopped. And provided that the officer concerned was respectful and polite (which he seems to have been) and that the checks were conducted efficiently and with minimum intrusion (which again seems to have been the case), I can’t really see Oliur Rahman’s cause for complaint either. Those hi-jackings, bombings and other acts of terror are real, you know. And the people who perpetrate them don’t have a convenient label stamped on their foreheads to distinguish them from the rest of us.

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