For London's Muslims, Fear Of a Backlash

By Joshua Partlow and Alexandra Topping
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, August 18, 2006

LONDON, Aug. 17 -- Kashif Rashid keeps his chin shaved clean, his T-shirt loose over his blue jeans, his words lilting with a strong London accent. But the 28-year-old educator was just as Muslim as the old bearded men in the flowing robes sitting next to him Thursday night. And being Muslim, Rashid said, means something different now.

His relatives and friends have already heard hints of it while walking London's melting-pot streets.

"Stuff like, 'Why don't you go back to your own country?' and, 'I'm staying away from you.' That type of thing," said Rashid, who runs an adult education center. "Things have definitely changed. . . . You subconsciously fear that people will treat you different. You prepare yourself for what you would say if anyone says something to you, and you never felt like that before."

Rashid joined about 100 other people Thursday night for a public meeting in the East London neighborhood of Walthamstow, home to several of the suspects arrested last week in the alleged plot to blow up transatlantic airliners. Since the subway and bus bombings in London last year, and again after the recent arrests, some Muslims in London say they feel increasingly alienated in what is one of the most diverse, cosmopolitan cities in the world.

"You fear what effect recent events will have on the community. We were just getting over one thing and then something else happens," Rashid said.

At the meeting, held in a community center, local leaders and politicians appealed for calm and patience as the police investigation into the alleged plot continues. Several speakers expressed frustration that the government will not acknowledge that its support of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has fomented domestic anger. And people called on Muslims to express their frustrations in dialogue and nonviolent protests.

"Islam is a peaceful religion, not an evil ideology," said Imtiaz Qadir, a spokesman for the Islamic association in Waltham Forest, in east London.

Among the concerns of Muslims in London is a proposal to profile groups suspected of posing a security threat at airports. The proposal has angered many Muslims who say such a policy would amount to discrimination against them.

But a poll published this week in the Spectator magazine found that 55 percent of people surveyed said they wanted to see "passenger profiling" introduced. More than two-thirds said they believed terrorism suspects should be able to be detained without charge for three months. And while 50 percent said they believed most British Muslims were moderate, 28 percent of respondents said they were not moderate.

"When faced with a choice between treating everybody equally and taking measures to prevent people from bombing planes, they veer toward stopping bombers on planes," said Peter Kellner, chairman of the polling firm YouGov, which conducted the poll.

"It's certainly now a very strong sentiment that the fight against terrorism takes precedence over civil liberties," Kellner said.

Ismail Patel, the chairman of Friends of Al Aqsa, an organization dedicated to Palestinian rights, said that at a personal level, he does not sense being discriminated against because he is Muslim.

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