42 Days

By Alexander Masters

‘So,’ I ask him, ‘you’re in the police car, demanding to know why have they brought you here, what have you done wrong? Then what?’

Aaah, then I got scared, to be honest. The main officer says, ‘I’m arresting you under section 41 of the Terrorism Act.’ The drive from the university library to the police station was a mixture of confusion, panic, fear and just sheer astoundment.

I wish I could take pictures to show everyone: the entire second floor was deserted. Everything had been sealed off. Dark green floor, mint green walls, the glass in the doors blacked out. All the cell doors were open and at my cell there was a table, with two chairs and two police officers sat. I’ve been told to sit on the floor in the cell doorway, only I had to crouch, because I couldn’t get down, because I’m a fat git. It was fine for the first hour. I was just annoyed and angry. Do you want a lawyer? No, I’m going to tell the truth, I’m going to get out of here.

The interviews were bizarre. Had I ever visited Iraq, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan? They could tell from my passport I hadn’t. Had I ever been paint-balling? Was I planning on going paint-balling? The last guy to take a group paint-balling is now in prison indefinitely, with a minimum of seven and a half years. ‘We’ve found a document on your computer entitled ‘Understanding and Misunderstanding Radical Islam.’ What is this, Rizwaan?’ That’s my PhD proposal.

I enjoyed telling them what I thought of Al-Qaida. No one had ever asked my opinion. Everyone else gets bored and switches off. It was great. I was quoting Chomsky, Jason Burke. But I was thinking, don’t you know this? You’re trying to catch Al-Qaida, and you don’t know the basics? No wonder they want 42 days. It means they don’t have to do proper police work before hand. If I got 42 days for my essays, I’d be lazy too.

At 12.40pm, an officer said, ‘right, we’re going to search your house.’

I broke down at that point, to be honest. I sat there, an absolute wreck. I said, ‘can I close the door please?’ I didn’t want them to see me cry. Approximately ten by ten, the cell was and they were still sitting outside, with the door closed. They sat there for the first 48 hours. Just sitting outside, watching.

Rizwaan Sabir, 22, on being arrested for downloading the Al Qaida training manual from the U.S Department of Justice website, for postgraduate research.