Race Issues at Fore in Post-Attack Britain

Many of those being stopped and questioned by London police are Asians, leading to complaints of racial profiling by officers. There is said to have been a large increase in complaints of religion-based hate crimes. Community leaders say they worry that the idea of a multicultural Britain is threatened.

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On that system and elsewhere in London, racial and religious tensions are high. Police say they've seen an increase in attacks and incidents of abuse against the country's Muslim population. And some Muslim groups have accused the police of racial profiling. NPR's Ivan Watson has that story.

IVAN WATSON reporting:

Large numbers of police now patrol London's Waterloo train station.

Unidentified Man: (Via projected acoustics) The train on platform 19 is the (unintelligible) southwest train, service to ...(unintelligible).

WATSON: Here constables, wearing their traditional pointed helmets, walk side by side with colleagues, wearing body armor and carrying semiautomatic weapons. Over the course of an hour yesterday, they stopped and investigated only one traveler: Khaled Asyri(ph), a 15-year-old boy from the United Arab Emirates, on vacation with his uncle. The officer carefully checked Khaled's passport and then let him go with a written warning not to use his amateur video camera in the train station.

KHALED ASYRI (United Arab Emirates): I got stopped by police. It's the first time in my life I get stopped by police, you know.

WATSON: Khaled said he was shocked but said that he must have looked suspicious due to his camera and his Arab ethnicity.

ASYRI: I realize that because of the late bombings and everything and because they suspect now, you know, Arabic people and everything.

WATSON: In an interview with the BBC, Deputy Chief Constable Andy Trotter of the Transport Police denied accusations that his officers have targeted certain races and ethnic groups when they stop and search people around the country.

Mr. ANDY TROTTER (Deputy Chief Constable, Transport Police): We are targeting, though, anyone who's behaving in any way suspiciously from whatever background.

WATSON: The questions is: Who is suspicious? Several British Muslim associations say the police are using racial profiles and discriminating against people of color. Zaki Badawi, the chairman of the Imams and Mosques Council of Great Britain, says this will only further alienate disenchanted Muslims.

Mr. ZAKI BADAWI (Chairman, Imams and Mosques Council of Great Britain): The most important weapon in the hands of the authorities is to win the support of the Muslim community, so as to deny the terrorists what I call the sea of sympathy in which they can swim.

WATSON: Last month in a subway tunnel police chased down and shot to death an innocent Brazilian man they believed to be a suicide bomber. In the same incident, police held a man of West African origin at gunpoint. He later turned out to be the terrified driver of a subway train.

The debate over racial profiling coincides with a new police report that documents a backlash in British society against the country's Muslim population. Scotland Yard says it counted more than 260 religious hate crimes following the July 7th attacks compared to just 40 during the same period last year. Some community leaders worry that Britain's multicultural society is under threat. In fact, some politicians have begun questioning Britain's multiculturalism. This week one conservative member of parliament said that if some Muslims don't like Britain, they should leave the country. Ivan Watson, NPR News, London.

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