This is more than a sad consumer affairs story about missed gate numbers or paperwork problems. The official who stopped a British Muslim family travelling to Disney World was from the US Department of Homeland Security – and in the ensuing furore other local residents have come forward to say that they, too, have been summarily refused entry to America.
What is the one thing these stories have in common? Religion. A growing number of UK Muslim citizens say they have been similarly treated. This raises troubling questions well beyond how to diffuse the heartache of small children unable to meet Elsa from Frozen. Indeed, if the US thinks it has good grounds for stopping people going there, we cannot be contented that the UK does not take any action to follow this up here.
It is not just the family themselves who are livid. The vacuum created by a refusal to provide any context for these decisions is fuelling resentment and debate. Online and offline discussions reverberate with the growing fear that UK Muslims are being “trumped” – that widespread condemnation of Donald Trump’s call for no Muslim to be allowed into America contrasts with what is going on in practice. Faced with such claims, our concern should be to offer more than a critique of American Republican primary political positioning. Because this isn’t happening in the US. It’s happening on British soil, at our airports and involving our citizens and challenging their sense of place in our society too.
Just a week ago, parliamentarians were united in agreement that Trump’s views were abhorrent. Now we should do more than shrug our shoulders at secretive American security policies that leave our constituents in such limbo. If the embassy won’t answer to the family’s MP, it should answer to their prime minister and he to us about what he is doing to ensure that no British citizen is being discriminated against for their faith on our shores.