'Hello America, I'm a British Muslim'
When British businessman Imran Ahmed was made redundant in January, instead of hitting the Job Centre he decided to arrange a one-man speaking tour of the United States to spread his message of peace and Muslim moderateness.
"Do you think the American drone raids in Afghanistan, in which women and children are killed, are actually obstructing the movement for an Islamic reformation?"
"What can be done about the alienation of young Muslim men in the UK?"
"Did you learn English in England?"
I've had an interesting range of questions at my speaking events in the US, but thankfully there have been some laughs with the audience too.
But first things first: what am I doing with a rented hybrid car on a 12,000-mile, 40-city speaking tour of America?
I'd always been grateful that Britain, the land of my upbringing, had remained remarkably tolerant of Muslims despite the shock of the 7 July bombings and continuing provocation from some extremist elements. I think there's still a good general understanding in the UK that the actions of a few do not represent all Muslims.
But I wasn't sure the same could be said for the United States - a country where I'd lived for five years and for which I'd always had great affection.
There had been a dreadful incident on New Year's Day this year in which nine Muslims - all US citizens, including three young children - had been removed from a domestic flight because two of them had been overheard discussing where was the safest place to sit on an aeroplane.
The FBI had been called in, the "suspects" questioned and the airline had initially refused to rebook them even after they were released without charge.
My own experience of the US had been formed in the years immediately before 9/11, when I'd lived there. Religion and ethnicity had never been an issue. Contrast this with the years since the 2001 attacks, when, on each visit, I'd been detained for "secondary" questioning at immigration control… sometimes for hours.
I don't blame them for this, given the circumstances. But it still had made me sad.
Then, in January, I'd been made redundant after many years as a programme manager in the UK. Given the current economic situation, it didn't feel like a good time to be job-hunting.
Then one evening, I was reclining in my sofa, watching President Obama's inauguration speech, and heard his mention of a new era of "mutual respect" between America and the Muslim world.
Suddenly the penny dropped. I thought: "I can do that."
My book, Unimagined - a Muslim Boy Meets the West, had been released in the US last autumn, and I'd received a few e-mails from readers suggesting I come and speak in their church should I ever find myself in America.
As a trustee of British Muslims for Secular Democracy, I am committed to a positive relationship between the Muslim and Western worlds. I became excited by the thought of a US speaking tour.
That evening, I sat down in my study, pulled out a map of the US, and began plotting a course starting in Chicago and working clockwise around the major population centres: the East Coast, the Carolinas, Florida, the Deep South, Texas, Kansas, Colorado, the deserts, up the entire West Coast, across the mid-West, and back to the Windy City.
I began contacting various organisations on the route, asking if I could speak at their venues. Within days, I'd had my first acceptances and the proposed plan quickly became a reality.
Of course, I'd had moments of doubt. Should I be doing this when I really needed to find a job?
But with President Obama's rhetoric in my sails, my goal, to re-humanise the relationship between America and the Muslim world; to counter the unthinking tribalism which results in polarisation, dehumanisation and demonisation, seemed too important.
Questioned by police
But then, on my day of departure, two things happened which caused me to think twice.
An Iranian-born film-maker had been interviewing me about the trip, in my car whilst I was driving. A few minutes after getting home, there had been a knock on the door. Two police officers were investigating a report of two Middle Eastern men suspiciously filming in the town centre.
They were extremely polite, even apologetic, and once I'd explained what was going on, they left without a fuss. I don't make any judgment here - it's right that people should be vigilant.
Then, upon my arrival at Chicago O'Hare airport, I wasn't detained for secondary screening. The immigration officer, a pretty Hispanic woman, looked at my passport ("Cute picture!"), stamped it and wished me well.
I was relieved and surprised.
Now, I'm eight dates into my tour. It is tiring, but the audiences are giving me the energy to keep going. They have been, without exception, warm and receptive. Even people I meet outside the events (generally hotel and restaurant staff) have been delighted to hear I am a writer from England on a speaking tour around America on the subject of relations with the Muslim world.
I have always wanted to drive around the US, but had imagined this would be something I would do nearing retirement - otherwise, how would I have the time? To be doing it now with purpose is even better.
And I can look for a new job when I get back.