City high-flyer sues firm over 'Guantanamo detainee' jibes

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The Independent Online

A City high-flyer who worked on an innovative Islamic policy for a leading British insurer has brought a claim for racism against the company after he was welcomed to the office as "Guantanamo detainee 948".

Anwar Khan, 24, who shares his name with a Afghan man held by the Americans at the Cuban naval base since 2002, says that he was greeted on 18 September by a colleague with the words: "So they have released you from Guantanamo Bay."

When Mr Khan logged on to his computer, he opened an email with a link to the Wikipedia page for detainee 948.

Mr Khan, from central London, has now begun grievance proceedings against the Royal & Sun Alliance (R&SA) insurance company after what he describes as one of the most distressing episodes in his life.

The case is the latest to involve allegations of racism at work in which Asian men and women have complained that they have been racially victimised since Britain and America launched the "war on terror".

Mr Khan remembers: "On Tuesday 18 September, one week after the anniversary of September 11 and a few days into the holy month of Ramadan, I was welcomed into the office rather unusually – with a colleague from a different team shouting across an open plan office 'so they have released you from Guantanamo Bay'. I made no comments; I was shocked and speechless. What do you say – how do you respond to something like this?"

Mr Khan, who has a first-class degree in business studies, claims he has been harassed on two other occasions while working for the company. Comments previously were: "Hello Anwar Khan detainee 948" and "You have already served your time at Guantanamo Bay."

The allegation against the company is aggravated by the fact that Mr Khan was the lead researcher in the development of a new insurance policy for British Muslims which adheres to Islamic values. Sharia law prohibits benefiting from policies where the proceeds of an insurance premium are paid into an interest-bearing fund. Mr Khan, who reported to the company's chief executive, said: "This was completely unprovoked. They have just crushed my beliefs of a cosmopolitan society, how can I work in this environment?"

Lawrence Davies, a partner at the law firm Equal Justice and an expert on race discrimination cases, said yesterday: "We are getting to the stage where anyone called Mohammed is treated as a terror suspect. The ever-growing number of mistaken identity cases are based on pure prejudice, not flawed intelligence. Racism underpins all Islamophobia and nationality discrimination."

A spokesman for Royal & SunAlliance confirmed that it had received a complaint from Mr Khan. He added: "We take our responsibilities as an employer very seriously and are committed to the promotion of equal opportunities for all employees. Although Mr Khan is no longer with R&SA, we are still in the process of hearing his grievance and as the investigation is ongoing we cannot comment further at this stage."

Mr Khan left the company last month to take up a post at one of the world's biggest management consultancies.

His namesake is still being held in Guantanamo. He claims he was badly beaten by his American captors while being held at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan and denies accusations that he was a Taliban recruit.