Newsmaker: Defender of the faith - Samar Mashadi Director, Forum Against Islamophobia and Racism

If Osama Bin Laden planned 9/11 in the name of Islam, it is ironic that the fall-out from that fateful day has been felt most keenly by the Muslim community.

The perceived threat that it is only a matter of time until the UK experiences its own 9/11 has been used to justify the detention, without charge, of 12 foreign prisoners, some for more than three years. They are all Muslim.

"Anti-terror laws have consistently targeted Muslims in disproportionate numbers and exacerbated levels of Islamophobia," says Samar Mashadi, the 30-year-old director of Forum Against Islamophobia and Racism.

The charity logs incidences of Islamophobia and offers victims advice and practical help. It is calling for the repeal of the Anti-terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001.

One of the detainees has just been released from custody, but is currently confined to his house as a condition of his bail. The Government has refused to specify how long this will last, prompting concerns not just within the Muslim community, but among a growing band of influential figures such as George Churchill-Coleman, head of the Metropolitan Police's anti-terrorist squad from 1985-92. In an interview with the The Guardian, he said: "I have a horrible feeling that we are sinking into a police state, and that's not good for anybody. You can't lock people up forever just because someone says they are terrorists. Internment didn't work in Northern Ireland, and it won't work now."

Mashadi believes that the war on terror is causing an increasing number of Muslims to feel marginalised. She says: "Many Muslims feel that they are being pushed to the fringes of society. For those who were born here it is particularly frustrating - these people feel British and cannot understand why they are not accepted. They feel like the war on terror has become a war on Muslims and their religion, and the Government isn't protecting them enough."

When Mashadi talks about what she perceives as the mistreatment and stereotyping of Muslims, her passion is obvious. She used to work as a financial consultant in the City of London, but felt that her "intellect and spirituality were going nowhere fast". Then she heard about Fair and initially offered to work as a volunteer because, she explains, "I wanted to help Muslims because Islam is very important to me - it's my identity."

A major concern for Fair are the figures that show that, under the Terrorism Act 2000, the number of Asians who are stopped and searched has gone up by 302 per cent from 774 in 2001-2 to 2,989 in 2002-3. Sir Ian Blair, the new Metropolitan Police commissioner, has acknowledged that the relationship between the police and the Muslim community is one of the toughest challenges he faces, but in a recent interview insisted: "We're talking about seven or eight people a day in a population of seven or eight million in London.

It is about ensuring that Muslims are being protected as well as the rest of the community."

But Mashadi feels that public fears about an impending terrorist attack have been fuelled by an irresponsible media that is obsessed with the hook-handed extremist Abu Hamza. She says: "For people who might live in remote villages where there are no Muslims, these reports about and pictures of Abu Hamza form their only experience of Muslims.

"These stories justify the terror laws, which in turn feed fundamentalism.

That's why we want a repeal."

The impression one gets is that Mashadi won't rest until she achieves this. This is probably just as well, as it's hard to see Home Secretary Charles Clarke being swayed by her arguments in the present political climate.

MASHADI CV 2004 Promoted to become director of Fair 2003 Joined Fair as director of projects 2001 Helped the RNIB with project proposals on a voluntary basis 1999 Consultant in the City for AFA Systems 1995 Volunteer at the International Development Refugee Foundation, a Canadian human rights organisation

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