Rethink needed on terrorism suspects

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 August, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 August, 2005, 12:00am

The racially harmonious society Britain's government believed it had created was shown to be a lie by the July 7 suicide bombing of London's transport system and a copycat attempt the following week. Authorities have since been struggling with the reality that Muslims and other minorities have been isolated and marginalised from mainstream society to what is now known to be a devastating degree.

Young men of Asian and north African descent appear to have been behind the attacks. The crimes they committed can never be condoned, but neither can the circumstances they were living under that helped drive them to commit the atrocities.

Those have been no better displayed than in the wake of the attacks: anyone who fits the stereotype of what a Muslim looks like is treated with suspicion and sometimes disdain.

That had tragic consequences for a 27-year-old Brazilian electrician, whose skin colour was targeted by police seemingly eager to allay public anxiety and the demands of their superiors in the wake of the attempted bombings on July 21. With evidence now emerging that he was acting no more suspiciously than his fellow commuters, the true nature of what racial and religious minorities have been enduring has been revealed at its worst extreme.

Only now is the media highlighting the problems - alienation, high unemployment and a lack of opportunities, in addition to the racial and religious taunts associated with less tolerant generations but still prevalent among some parts of society.

British lawmakers are grappling with the reality of homegrown terrorists while searching for a way forward. Expelling radical preachers and denying entry to those considered a security risk will not necessarily attain such aims. That those with dark complexions who are Hindus, Christians and from other religions are considering wearing badges identifying themselves as non-Muslims does little for any integration plans.

Britons are not the only ones with a dilemma; other nations that joined the US-led 'war on terrorism' after the attacks in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, are similarly wondering how people they have alienated can be made to feel more welcome. At the same time, they are being just as suspicious of anyone who matches preconceived notions of what a terrorist looks like: in essence, a young man of Arab or Asian appearance, with a beard and Muslim name, perhaps wearing a rucksack.

The London bombings are proof that police can be no less vigilant than they have been and must follow every lead to counter threats

They and their governments, though, must show far greater sensitivity towards people who have been living unnoticed on the margins of society and are, unwittingly, being further pushed away.