Shahzad case puts Pakistani-Americans in spotlight
- 21 June 2010
- From the section South Asia
Faisal Shahzad's arrest on suspicion of attempting to bomb Times Square prompted another wave of speculation about homegrown terrorism in the US. Ahead of his arraignment in court, the BBC's Philippa Thomas reports on the fallout in America's largest Pakistani community, in Brooklyn, New York.
There isn't much about "Little Pakistan" that Mohammed Razvi doesn't know.
Mohammed changed his name to "Moe" after the 11 September 2001 terror attacks, in the wake of the wave of distrust that hit young Muslim men across America.
He stopped trying to run half a dozen businesses at once.
Instead, he began to organise his community of tens of thousands of South Asian immigrants, spread across a rundown neighbourhood of Brooklyn just a few miles south of Manhattan.
Today, Mohammed Razvi's COPO, the Council of Peoples Organisation, is a nerve centre for new arrivals.
He calls it Pakistan's "Ellis Island" - a reference to the famous island in New York where immigrants flooded inwards a century ago.
The council dispenses help ranging from legal advice to language classes.
And Mr Razvi urges his neighbours to fill in their US census forms, to help the community get better funding. "Don't be afraid of the knock on the door," he says.
'Test for Muslims'
But a few blocks down Coney Island Avenue, past rows of storefronts with signs written in Urdu and stocks of Asian produce, I heard from one local imam that people are afraid.
Imam Sakhawat Hussain remembers thousands leaving - some deported - after 9/11.
He says that as soon as he heard that Faisal Shahzad had been arrested over the attempted Times Square bombing, he "knew this would be a test for the Muslims".
Imam Hussain says he tells his community - especially the older generations - that they have to be seen to be loyal Americans. They need to be prepared to speak out.
We heard from shopkeepers, barbers, parents in the street, that everyone feels somewhat on edge.
But, equally, everyone stresses that the suspect, Faisal Shahzad - who came to the US aged 19 - is not "one of them".
This, for example, was Moe Razvi's response, voiced in his broad Brooklyn accent. "Homegrown terrorism? Fugeddaboudit!"
For young men of Pakistani origin across the US, it is a tense time.
The feeling of being under scrutiny is particularly strange for those who have grown up in the famous American melting pot - perhaps as 'native New Yorkers' or 'Jersey Boys' - like twenty-something actor Imran Sheikh, whom I met in Manhattan just minutes from Times Square.
Imran is a founder member of Parwaz Playhouse, which calls itself the first major Pakistani-American theatre company. It showcases Pakistani-American writers, actors and directors.
When I met the group in rehearsal, Imran agreed straight away that "there is a spotlight on us".
He went on: "There's a maelstrom of negative imagery about us, not necessarily about Pakistanis, but Muslims, South Asians in general, and it's up to us to shine a light through that."
Imran and his fellow actors, male and female, agree it can be hard to describe their own identity, to decide where Pakistan ends and America begins.
They use phrases like "straddling two worlds". They talk about adopting one persona with their parents and another with their peers.
But their predicament was summed up neatly by Imran's fellow actor Adeel Ahmed, as we sat outside after rehearsal, a few blocks from the scene where the smoking car was dumped in May.
"Here's a fact that's often overlooked in the mainstream media," said Adeel.
"We're just as afraid as everyone else. I step on the subway, and I'm afraid someone's going to blow ME up."
He paused for a moment. "It's hard. It's hard to explain that to people."