By Althea A. Fung
As more information about the attempted car bombing in Times Square emerges the mood of the Little Pakistan neighborhood has changed from indifference to concern about their adopted country’s safety and how the community will be perceived.
The humid rain kept many of the residents of Little Pakistan on Coney Island Avenue inside on Monday morning. A few women wearing saris shuffled down the street pushing shopping carts. In an area community center a group of women wearing black burqas learned how to conjugate “to have” in English.
The few people that were on the streets said quick hellos and goodbyes.
No one was talking about the attempted car bombing in Times Square that was originally believed to have been a terror attack perpetrated by the Taliban in Pakistan.
“We don’t really read the paper,” said Little Pakistan resident Omar Farooq “It’s too upsetting. We are just business people that do our business.”
As community residents woke to hear the bomber was a naturalized United States citizen from Pakistan, many were in disbelief.
“The community is shocked,” said Asghar Choudhri, a local accountant and president of the Pakistani American Federation of New York. “I couldn’t believe a Pakistani could do this.”
Faisal Shahzad was arrested late Monday night at Kennedy International Airport as he attempted to board a plane to Dubai. Shahzad admitted to placing a bomb in a 1993 Nissan Pathfinder he bought two weeks earlier from a Connecticut college student.
The car was parked haphazardly in Times Square on Saturday about 6:30 p.m. with the engine still running when a couple of street vendors saw smoke coming from the car. The vendors flagged down a police officer and the police subsequently evacuated the theater district surrounding Times Square. Though the earlier reports that the bombing was affiliated with the Pakistani Taliban was disputed, Shahzad claims he was trained in Waziristan, law enforcement officials said.
As the story of Shahzad develops, the Pakistani community in Brooklyn is waiting anxiously to hear if anyone else was involved.
“The guy said he is the only one but I don’t think he could have done it alone,” said Choudhri. “Someone must have brain washed him.”
Though Shahzad said he worked alone, police in Pakistan made arrests in connection with the bombing.
Similar feelings are expressed throughout the community. At the Council of Peoples Organization, a multicultural organization that was originally formed to assist Pakistani Americans in New York after Sept. 11, many believe others are involved.
“I am relieved and grateful for the FBI’s swift capture,” said Mohammad Razvi, the organization’s executive director. “Hopefully they will get to all of them. I was just on the street talking to people. We were saying ‘Thank God.’”
Though many in the neighborhood are breathing a sigh of relief, there is worry that the Pakistani community in New York will receive more negative attention.
“One dirty fish can infect the whole pond,” said Choudhri. “I don’t know what the people will think of the Pakistani people.” Choudhri recalls the way Pakistanis in Little Pakistan were treated following Sept. 11.
“A lot of people left after 9/11. A lot were arrested. The FBI, immigration would come here and search people. Men were deported. So some went to Canada and other countries because here they would be asked ‘what is your status?’ We have suffered a lot. Businesses suffered. People started saying don’t go to Coney Island Avenue. They were afraid to come here,” Choudhri said.
Under the Special Registration policy implemented immediately after Sept. 11,, immigrants were required to register with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. However, many Muslim men who registered were then deported to their native countries. “People are being targeted currently,” said Sameer Ahmed, an attorney with the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
According to Ahmed the police and immigrant agents are constant fixtures in the neighborhood. Many residents complain to the local organizations that affiliate with the AALDEF about the police questioning them.
“We work with a community in Flushing, there is presence of NYPD, FBI and immigration. People are being targeted. Street vendors are questioned. There are some people with precarious immigration status, the police convince them to become informants,” said Ahmed. “In this case I wouldn’t be surprised if there isn’t an increase in harassment of Pakistani. It is very soon, it will take time to see.”
At the Makki Masjad Mosque, the largest mosque in the area, few came to speak about the arrest. But Mushtaq Ali, the general secretary of the mosque, is hoping for a quick trial and immediate punishment of the Shahzad so the community can move forward.
“This is a fair, lovely land. I don’t want anyone of those to come in this country,” he said. “They should be hanged or whatever punishment. This whole episode is unfortunate. Luckily the police found him. Now we can continue to build our network.”