If successful, the seizure of the Farooqi family home in Manchester, England will threaten one of our most fundamental human rights.
Update: On Friday, May 23 Judge Richard Henriques at Manchester Crown Court ruled in favor of the Farooqi family, finding that seizing the family home would have "draconian, severe and unjust" consequences by rendering homeless a "wholly innocent" family. The judge also ordered Munir Farooqi to pay £500,000 towards the costs of his trial.
Next year, 3-year-old Rumaysa and her family may be made homeless, but not for the reasons you would expect. In 2011, her grandfather was convicted of running a "recruitment center" for British extremists, and now the Greater Manchester Police (GMP) want to take the roof over her head. If successful, the forfeiture will be the first in the UK granted under terrorism legislation, and will establish a legal precedent that should greatly trouble Britons of every faith.
Munir Farooqi is currently serving four life terms for purportedly attempting to persuade two undercover policemen, both posing as converts, to join the jihad in Afghanistan. The alleged crimes took place in the basement of his family home, where the 56-year-old also stored a large quantity of da'wah (proselytizing) material for his stall on Longsight market. This past September, Mr. Farooqi lost his challenge in the Court of Appeal and the legal proceedings on the forfeiture were set into motion.
Rumaysa does not really understand what is at stake, but her mother Zulaikha worries about the toll this might take on her in the future. "How would any child feel growing up knowing their government vigorously fought to make her homeless?" The three generations of family members currently living in the home are not sure where they will go if the forfeiture is approved.
The Terrorism Act of 2000 gave courts the power to seize assets used to commit or promote terrorist activities. However, according to the family's solicitor, Simon Pook of Robert Lizar Solicitors, the GMP is not applying the law as legislators originally intended. "When the Act was being discussed in Parliament, the general view was that they should target mobile phones, laptop computers, printers . . . anything that could be used to distribute [terrorist] literature. They never had in mind to seize a family home or a house."
Nor are the substantive claims of the GMP convincing. The house hardly qualifies as a safe haven for terrorist publications; an estimated 98 percent of the da'wah material initially seized from the family's cellar has been returned. While Mr. Farooqi did admittedly commit the majority of his offenses inside the home, he is now behind bars - the only family member to be convicted, even though they were all under constant surveillance. What is most shocking is that the house does not even belong to Munir Farooqi. It has always been the legal property of his wife and oldest daughter.
In short, the Farooqi family home is not a criminal asset, as the term has long been understood. That the GMP is pursuing this forfeiture anyway reflects the second-class status accorded to British Muslims today. The recent public debate on a partial face-veil ban is just the tip of the iceberg. Muslims are spied on in universities and places of worship, harassed at ports of entry and even stripped of their citizenship by Home Secretary Theresa May.
What is happening to the Farooqis is also reminiscent of David Cameron's call to "enforc[e] responsibility in our society" by evicting from council flats individuals convicted of participating in the summer 2011 riots - even though doing so would also put the family members of offenders out on the streets. A number of local authorities ultimately boycotted the prime minister's demands.
The political ethos guiding the riot evictions and the Farooqi home seizure are similar, even if their underlying legal rationales are not. In both cases, government officials have endeavored to sanction innocent individuals for the alleged crimes of another. In both cases, the state has responded viciously to communities already ravaged by austerity measures and alienated by racial profiling and police brutality. Poor and black people are demonized for being benefit scroungers, Muslims for leading so-called parallel lives.
In the end, the plight of Rumaysa and her family should alarm us all. As Mr. Pook noted, "If Greater Manchester Police are successful in this case, it will be a significant change in the landscape of human rights in England." The forfeiture stands to threaten one of the most fundamental entitlements enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights: the right to respect for private and family life. How many of us want to live in a country where courts have the power to confiscate family homes, even if they are owned and inhabited by people who have done absolutely nothing wrong? It might be the families of convicted terrorists today, but it could be you or me tomorrow.
The Crown Court will hear GMP's application to seize the Farooqi home on May 22 and 23. Will progressive Britons rally around Rumaysa and her family as they fight to prevent collective punishment from becoming legal precedent? Or, will British Muslims once again be left out in the cold?
Note: The Save the Farooqi Family Home Campaign will be protesting outside the Manchester Crown Court on May 22 and 23.