NEW YORK, NY May 14, 2010 —The arrest of Faisal Shahzad in connection with the attempted bombing in Times Square has still not resulted in any charges. But, along with subsequent arrests made yesterday, it has placed the city's Pakistani community in an uncomfortable position. For young Pakistanis in particular, the identification of radicalism with their native country can result not just in name calling, but an increased sense of isolation here in the U.S.
Hamza Ali, a 16-year-old from Elmhurst, says there's a joke making the rounds among his friends.How terribly, terribly bigoted. Don't these mainstream Americans realize that only a tiny minority of Pakistanis want to turn them, their children and random kafirs into hamburger? Don't they know that their schoolyard taunts (and not the siren call of jihad, wafting over from the general direction of Peshawar) are driving youngsters into the arms of the radicals?
"Brown people are the new black people."
Not just any brown people, but Pakistani-Americans. Hamza and some other Pakistanis his age think that in the eyes of America, Pakistanis in this country are guilty until proven innocent. Even in Shahzad's case, he thinks people have rushed to judgment.
"His side of the story hasn't been told yet," Hamza says. "The media, they make sure the witness' side of the story is barely ever told. We don't know what really happened here. We just know he's the suspect in this story."
Nida Khan, 18, is seated next to Hamza at SAYA, a South Asian youth center in Queens, and she agrees.
"We never get to hear the Pakistani side of the story in anything," she says. "It's always what the government says, and the FBI, and Mayor Bloomberg and all these people."
For some community leaders and researchers, this skepticism speaks to a growing disconnect between young Pakistanis and mainstream American society. The problem gets worse whenever Islamic terrorism makes the headlines. The name-calling starts up again, whether it's online or at school.
"If you go to a public school, you'll see it from all different races and stuff, they give you that weird look," Khan says. "They talk like, 'Hey, it was your people who did it! Was it your uncle or aunt who did it?'"...
When, oh, when will the "prejudice" end?