Are Pakistanis posing as Indians after Times Sq incident?

When I saw the Reuters article “Paksitanis pose as Indians after NY bomb scare” in my Twitter feed, my first reaction was “Really?!”

However, a closer look at the story shows that it’s nothing more than a fake trend story.

Here’s the story’s lede (as always, all emphasis is mine):

Pakistani merchants and job seekers in the United States, still reeling from economic hardship since the September 11 attacks of 2001, are posing as Indians to avoid discrimination in the wake of the Times Square bomb attempt.

Sounds shocking. Unfortunately, the article doesn’t provide the reader with any evidence that this is actually the case.

What the reader does get is a brief overview of the Pakistani community in the United States and the sad fact that many small businesses in Brooklyn have closed since September 2001 due to a drop in sales.

It isn’t until the eighth paragraph that these mysterious Pakistanis-turned-Indians are brought up at all:

“A lot of Pakistanis can’t get jobs after 9/11 and now it’s even worse,” said Asghar Choudhri, an accountant and chairman of Brooklyn’s Pakistani American Merchant Association. “They are now pretending they are Indian so they can get a job.”

The last half of this quote is just weird. The Times Square bomb attempt occurred on May 1, Faisal Shazad’s arrest was two days later. Are we really supposed to believe that droves of Pakistani Americans have convinced themselves to conceal their country of origin over the last four days?

Regardless of the strangeness of the quote, the next paragraph would have been the perfect place for the reporter to introduce readers to some Pakistanis-turned-Indians. So what do we get?

Nothing. At no point do we meet an ordinary Pakistani-American who has decided to change his identity in order to avoid discrimination. The entire headline is built around that quote I mentioned above.

So, dear readers, it is up to us to fill in the blanks. How would a Pakistani pose an an Indian (or vice versa)? Anyone else uncomfortable with the article’s assumption that all Pakistanis are Muslim and all Indians are Hindus? Or did you just find this article ridiculous?

Updated on 5/11: Slate’s Jack Shafer has chosen this story as his “Bogus trend story of the week.”


16 thoughts on “Are Pakistanis posing as Indians after Times Sq incident?

  1. That’s too bad that there’s nothing substantive here! I feel like a Jschool prof or normal editor would say: Um, there’s a big hole in your story! The only proof seems to come from one quote of the chair of a merchant association. Good eye by the way, for finding this story.

    • Lakshmi says:

      Thanks, Becky! I feel like the article would have been fine if they had run it under a different headline and didn’t include the “They are now pretending to be Indian…” part of that quote. With a few more quotes and details it would have been suitable as a general profile of Brooklyn’s Pakistani community.

  2. Atharvana says:

    Good catch Lakshmi. Should it not be the responsibility of Reuters to do due diligence before publishing this piece of junk?

    • Lakshmi says:

      I know. I feel like there have been lots of generalizations about Pakistanis in the media over the last week.

  3. Yeah, it’s a really watery and ridiculous article. But, regarding the fact that they’re saying all Pakis = Muslims and all Indians = Hindus….that doesn’t surprise me. It’s one of many, many generalizations the media in our country employs in its supposed discourse regarding anything west of Western Europe. And, of course, a lot of Americans legitimately buy it. Pakis = Muslims, Indians = Hindus. They’re in little boxes! So simple! THIS MEANS WE UNDERSTAND THINGS IN THAT PART OF THE WORLD! Yay, us!

    So I just chalk that part up to the same thing: lame generalizations that just make things ‘easier’ for those that don’t know any better. Is that douchey of me? I can’t decide. 😛

    As for the changing identities part, I’ve seen it/heard it. Since 9/11, really. But what I’ve usually seen/heard is that when someone, a non-desi, asks if a desi is Indian based on name or appearance, the desi in question just goes with it instead of saying, no, actually, it’s Pakistan. My parents used to do that in the decades before 9/11, but they did it because back then, to most Americans, Pakistan was a country as foreign and nonsensical and thus nonexistent as Kyrgyzstan. Bad example, because they’ve landed on the map recently, but you get what I mean. Americans *understood* India, so my parents were like, yeah. India. RME. 😛 To people that actually knew better, they’d take the time to explain that they were from Pakistan, not India.

    So yeah, that part doesn’t surprise me. Obviously I don’t buy it to the extent the article claimed, for reasons you cited, like teh whole 4 days thing. But omitting the truth? Because it’s easier, and now less of a PR nightmare, to let someone assume he/she is correct when he/she asks if you’re from India? Definitely.

    Not that I do it. I don’t think I’ve ever let anyone assume I was from India. Not that I’m FROM Pakistan, either, because I wasn’t born there and haven’t ever visited, even, but I’m more from Paki than India.


    • Lakshmi says:

      But letting someone assume that you are from India is quite different from actively assuming an Indian identity.

      Thanks for the comment, Huma. It was interesting.

  4. Mary S says:

    I agree with your analysis, Lakshmi. I thought the whole story was speculative and unconvincing. For one thing, we don’t know if the fertilizer incident was because of race- maybe the guy bought a large amount, and that raised the clerk’s suspicions. You know what they say about assuming things!

    The biggest hole in the story was when the writer cited a drop in business at Coney Island as evidence of racism. Every restaurant in NYC said business was down in the months after 9/11, and we’ve been in a recession since 2007. Most importantly, though, Astroland, Coney Island’s main attraction, has closed down. If people aren’t traveling to the area, of course store owners aren’t making as much money.

    • Lakshmi says:

      I totally agree with you, Mary. Thanks for reminding me about Astroland. Coney Island has changed a lot in recent years.

  5. Srini says:

    I guess with the continued radicalization of Pakistan and a greater suspicion of people of Pakistani origin, it makes sense that people would pass themselves off as Indian. What it so surprising about that.

    Just as its not surprising when George Bush was the president, Americans who visited Europe passed themselves off as Canadians.

    • Lakshmi says:

      I have yet to meet anyone who actually passed themselves off as Canadian during the Bush administration. I was in Italy 6 months after 9/11 and every Italian I met was really nice (especially after I told them I was a New Yorker.)

  6. This is the sort of critical analysis that I found lacking when reading the story myself (and I dissect a lot of news-stories on the science-front).

    The Reuters piece is a hack-job.

  7. Whatever says:

    Just more karma for Pakistanis to exhaust, for decades of public policy of denigrating, humiliating, converting, raping, killing Hindus in Pakistan. Now, after the general public gave tacit consent to these actions, their cousins in America are forced to pose as Indians (read: Hindu) to avoid problems.

    But more Karma is to come, to the concern of probably this blogger and some of the other commentators here. Because the current civil war in Pakistan is only to get bloodier. After 1971, where the Pakistanis identified Bangladeshi Hindus as the main target for their genocide, after the 80’s and 90’s, where the jihadis cleansed the Kashmiri Pandits, and of course the barely existent Hindu and Sikh minority in Pakistan itself, we are finally seeing the karmic response.

    • Lakshmi says:

      The fact that you are relishing in the suffering of others is very disturbing to me. This clearly isn’t the blog for you.

      Dear fellow commenters, please don’t respond to this troll.

  8. sloppyjoe says:

    I enjoy this blog and I assure you I am not trying to engage in Pakistani bashing. You are right in identifying this as bad journalism. However, while as a secular Indian I find it troubling that the media might equate Indian=Hindu incorrectly, the fact of the matter is that Pakistan is defined by its constitution as a Muslim nation. Furthermore the Hindu population of that nation is tiny and shrinking as are the Parsi and Christian communities. To boot this population is not well represented in the economic, artistic or political activities of that country. So how exactly is it being tone deaf or culturally insensitive to equate Pakistani=Muslim?

    • Lakshmi says:

      I think I was thinking more about how annoying it is that Indian=Hindu in lots of articles like this. (And don’t worry, no one thinks you are Pakistan bashing.)

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