Sacked for challenging ‘Muslim fundamentalists’
On the face of it, the case is cut and dried: a further appalling injustice against a Christian. The story has been covered by Christian Concern, the Telegraph and the Mail. Nohad Halawi, who has worked at Heathrow’s Terminal 3 for 13 years, has been dismissed by Autogrill Retail UK Limited (trading severally as ‘World Duty Free’ and ‘Caroline South Associates’) after daring to challenge Islamic fundamentalists who were harassing her work colleague.
She is now suing for unfair dismissal, on the grounds of religious discrimination. Over the months, she has apparently been told that she would ‘go to Hell’ for being a Christian; that Jesus is ‘shitty’; that ‘the Jews were responsible for the September 11th terror attacks’; and she has seen a friend reduced to tears after being bullied for wearing a cross. This intimidation has allegedly been at the hands of Muslim employees, one of whom brought in a copy of the Qur’an and ‘extremist leaflets’ and insisted that Mrs Halawi read them.
However, instead of the behaviour of these Muslims being investigated under the company's disciplinary proceedings, they ganged together and brought a complaint against Mrs Halawi. They said she was ‘anti-Islamic’, and so she who summarily dismissed by David Tunnicliffe, the trading manager at World Duty Free. She says: "I have been sacked on the basis of unsubstantiated complaints so there is now great fear amongst my former colleagues that the same could happen to them if one of the Muslims turns on them. This is supposed to be a Christian country, but the law seems to be on the side of the Muslims."
Mrs Halawi says she was targeted by the fundamentalists after she stood up for her 62-year-old friend (whom she is keeping anonymous because she still works at the terminal). The Telegraph has Mrs Halawi’s account of her ‘anti-Islamism’ and her subsequent treatment:
The row had stemmed from her description of a Muslim colleague as an allawhi, which means 'man of God' in Arabic. Another Muslim overheard this and thought she said Alawi, which was his branch of Islam.A petition was circulated and signed by 28 of her colleagues, some of them Muslims, insisting that she has been dismissed on the basis of ‘malicious lies’. It evidently failed to win over Mr Tunnicliffe.
Following the complaints she was suspended immediately, but was not told the grounds for her suspension until she met Mr Tunnicliffe in July.
Two days after the meeting she received a letter, which said the "store approval" - the Heathrow security pass - needed to work at World Duty Free was being removed because her behaviour was deemed to be unacceptable.
"I believe that the breakdown in relationship between yourself and some of your colleagues has contributed to this situation and has led to a number of inappropriate conversations taking place," the letter said.
"Whilst I do not believe that you may have meant to be offensive, I believe that it was not unreasonable for the individuals who either heard these comments, or who they were directed at to find them offensive, and they are extremely inappropriate."
Enter Andrea Minichiello Williams, of the Christian Legal Centre, and the redoubtable Paul Diamond, arch defender of persecuted Christians, who are intent on bringing Mrs Halawi’s case to an Employment Tribunal.
His Grace has a problem with this. Actually, he has quite a few.
Firstly, these Muslims are allegedly ‘fundamentalist’. It would take a quranically-illiterate and islamically-ignorant ‘Muslim fundamentalist’ to refer to their prophet Isa (Jesus) as ‘shitty’. Very many Muslims – fundamentalist or not – would object to such abuse of one of their major prophets.
Secondly, it is a strange kind of ‘Muslim fundamentalist’ who chooses to work in an airport Duty Free, flogging cheap booze (haram) to the kuffar.
Thirdly, it’s an even stranger ‘Muslim fundamentalist’ who would bring a copy of the Holy Qur’an to work and put it into the unwashed hands of a filthy kafir.
Fourthly, Mrs Halawi’s account of her conversation is strange. Was she discussing her own name? If so, why would any misunderstanding cause any offence? Her name is certainly Arabic, so it is likely that either she or her forebears are converts from Islam. Is this why she has been singled out by the ‘Muslim fundamentalists’?
Fifthly, it really is not clear to His Grace that any of the phrases used by these alleged fundamentalists may constitute an offence. Very many Muslims believe the Jews perpetrated the September 11th atrocities. They are quite mad, but they ought to be free to articulate such views. The belief that Christians will ‘go to Hell’ is nothing but Islamic orthodoxy. Again, they should be free to express such a view. That Jesus is ‘shitty’ is certainly offensive to Christians, but it is merely the vocalisation of the manner in which He is invariably treated by sundry media. And as for being bullied for wearing a cross... well, didn’t the Lord warn of such treatment at the hands of the non-believer? Should we not rejoice?
Sixthly, the account says Mrs Halawi was ‘summarily fired’. This, of course, would be illegal in the UK except in cases of gross misconduct: the law protects employees from unfair dismissal, and her employer has a statutory obligation to ensure that their disciplinary and grievance procedures are up-to-date and in accordance with employment law.
But digging a bit deeper, it transpires that Ms Halawi is not and has never been employed by Autogrill Retail UK Limited (aka ‘World Duty Free’ or ‘Caroline South Associates’) at Terminal 3. She is apparently a part-time, freelance contractor in the Terminal’s Duty Free, and she sells perfumes and other goods on a commission only basis.
The fact that she is part-time is immaterial: under EU law they have every protection and benefit as full-time employees. But the fact that she was a self-employed contractor does rather alter things. Autogrill Retail UK Limited (aka ‘World Duty Free’ or ‘Caroline South Associates’) are able to terminate such contracts with impunity, and Mrs Halawi has no employment rights as such because she is not employed. It is difficult to see what Mr Diamond might achieve here, lest all contractors suddenly acquire all the benefits afforded to employees.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Mrs Halawi has had her security pass removed by Heathrow Duty Free. How, pray, did she acquire one in the first place if she was not an employee? Surely, if she were not an employee, neither are the ‘Muslim fundamentalists’ with whom she worked. Are we to believe – in this age of constant threats of terror – that Islamist extremists possess security passes at the UK’s principal airport and they have no contract of employment with the company which arranged it? What security checks are carried out on non-employees?
Whilst acknowledging that Muslims and Christians are not infrequently treated differently by employers, the Christian Legal Centre and barrister Paul Diamond are gaining something of a reputation for generating an awful lot of media heat, but ultimately losing the case. Judges can only be persuaded when there is a sound basis in law for a case being brought. It would come as no surprise if this case were to be summarily struck out by the Employment Tribunal. That is not to excuse or minimise any injustice Mrs Halawi may have experienced. But one cannot help feeling that such cases are increasingly being brought not to win, but simply to have one's day in court and thereby generate an awful lot of publicity.
To which His Grace is more than happy to contribute.