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British Pakistanis Live with Negative Stereotypes

Since the London attacks of July 7th, British Muslims have had to live with the negative stereotypes the bombings generated. Because some of the bombers were of Asian origin, it has been doubly difficult for young Pakistani Muslims.

Mid-day prayers for Akil Raja and his uncle Arif.  Like many of Britain's young, second-generation Pakistanis, Akil has been disheartened by the negative stereotypes toward Muslims that have intensified in Britain since the “7/7” bombings, as they are called here.

"Now since 7/7 I think it is really more difficult in a sense that people don't trust us, I suppose,” Akil told us. “They think that all Muslims are terrorist or all extremists where as you get the few that are but the majority of Muslims are not."

Pakistani immigration to Britain began in the 1950s as more and more factory workers were needed in cities like Manchester and Birmingham.  Most planned to return to Pakistan after making enough money here.  But as their numbers continued to increase in the 60s and 70s many stayed. 

Their children became British citizens and large Pakistani communities like the one in Ealing, a suburb of London, began to spring up all over the country.  Akil is quick to point out that real integration, even for second generation Pakistanis, has been difficult because of religious and cultural differences.

"We can't really integrate with society in general.  Because we can’t drink of course, so we can’t really socialize.  The interaction with the Western life is limited really," he said.

Akil spent the first eight years of his life in Pakistan.  He is now 21, attending university, and a British citizen.

"First, I am Muslim.  Because my religion doesn't let me accept any nationality accept for Islam.  Because Islam is a nation really." 

Akil says the 7/7 bombings have only widened the divisions that already exist in British society, making integration even more difficult.

"It has taken us back twenty-fold really.  We have gone back to were we have started from.  I think we have to really regain the initiative and build up something that is really damaged." 

Akil's friend Kamran Khan agrees.  He is 20-years-old and is also attending university.

"I think now we have become the object of ‘the stare,’ says Kamran. “If it is predominantly white people that we walk past, you do get the look. You know, ‘He is Asian and should we be worried?’  Which is understandable because it was Asians who did the 7/7 attacks.

Both Akil And Khamran say the Muslim faith has been grossly misrepresented by both the actions of the 7/7 bombers and the media backlash that has taken place after the attacks.  They say there is much work to be done to overcome the stereotype that all Muslims are extremists.

Says Akil, "I suppose there needs to be more information about Islam really.  People need to interact with Muslims and we need to interact with the English or the Western people.  Yet we don't see that because our parents or grandparents tend to be backwards and there is a language barrier as well."

They say they are also opposed to Britain's new Anti-Terrorism Act, which gives broad powers to police to arrest anyone who is "known or believed to be involved in terrorist acts."

"These anti-terrorism laws, I mean, I have know Muslim brothers that are in prison at the moment.  Because of the 7/7 situation they were sentenced for something to do with ‘the cause of justice.’  They got sentenced for months or something like that, which is ridiculous because they had nothing to do with it," Akil said.

Akil and Kamran want to finish their studies and continue to live in Britain.  But Akil says that if things get too hostile toward Muslims, he will leave Britain, and find a country where he can practice his faith in peace. 

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