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Monday, July 02, 2007

British Muslims Worry About Backlash

Name-calling, anxiety, fear and anger rippled through Britain on Sunday after three failed bomb attacks in London and Glasgow. Government and religious leaders appealed for calm, but some Muslims braced for a backlash — while some non-Muslims looked for someone to blame.

The attacks sparked scattered incidents of racist abuse on the streets of London, with young white men targeting Muslim taxi drivers and others of South Asian appearance. Glasgow lawmaker Mohammad Sarwar said some Muslims in Scotland had been threatened or targeted with abusive graffiti.

"I have spoken to a number of people from the Muslim community and the Asian community who feel very angry," he told British Broadcasting Corp. radio.

He said Scottish Muslim leaders were meeting in Glasgow to discuss the attacks' impact on their community.

"They're concerned about a backlash and that's why the emergency meeting has been called."

Muslim anger was directed at the terrorists — but also at a society some felt singles Muslims out for scrutiny whenever there is a terrorist attack.

"We are seething with anger about this," said Osama Saeed, Scottish spokesman for the Muslim Association of Britain.

"As a community not only are we just as likely to be victims as anyone else, but we are also looked to in order to provide direction and in some respects take responsibility for this," he added.

"We are sick of being defined as a community by terrorism and having to answer for it."

On an official level, government and Islamic groups say they have made great strides since July 7, 2005, when four British Muslims blew themselves up on the London transport system, killing 52 commuters.

In the weeks that followed, several mosques were attacked by arsonists, while others received hate mail. Some women reported having their traditional head scarves pulled off in the street.

Relations between the government and many British Muslims had already been strained by the unpopular wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Many Muslims also feel they were unfairly targeted for suspicion and have born the brunt of the government's tough new anti-terror measures.

The government has made a point of reaching out to Muslim groups and consulting with umbrella organizations like the Muslim Council of Britain, which represents more than 400 affiliated mosques and organizations.

Gordon Brown, who took over as prime minister from Tony Blair on Wednesday, appointed Shahid Malik, an up-and-coming legislator from northern England, as the country's first-ever Muslim government minister.

On Sunday, Brown stressed the need to isolate extremists from the broader Muslim community.

"We have got to separate those great moderate members of our community from a few extremists who wish to practice violence and inflict maximum loss of life in the interests of a perversion of their religion," he said.

On the streets of London, the city's famous stoicism and tradition of tolerance were still in evidence — but tinged with an undercurrent of unease.

"I haven't had one nasty look or one nasty comment," said Abdul Basit, 26, a bearded Muslim man strolling the streets of Whitechapel, an east London area home to large Muslim and working-class white communities.

"It's all about education. As long as people know who we are and what our religion is about and know that we don't condone, it, then it's all right."

But suspicion remained.

"I haven't talked to anyone about the car bombs, but I definitely think the Muslims around there are still connected with the car bombers," said David Delmas, 23. "Even if not directly, and they aren't friends with them, I think they understand why they did it and where they're coming from, and that is a big problem." [Link]

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