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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 February 2006, 11:08 GMT
Travels with my beard
By Rajesh Thind
BBC Three's Mischief

Rajesh Thind
After the 7 July London bombings could growing a beard completely change the way people treated a British Asian? There was only one way to find out.

It was a week after 7 July and I'd just got on an east London bus. I was on my way to buy razors as I hadn't shaved for days.

A couple of stops later a middle-aged Rasta guy got on, sat down next to me and asked: "So how's it feel brethren?" "Erm, how's what feel?" I replied. "How's it feel now it's your turn to be bottom of the pile?" he said.

We had a good chat, we talked about riots and muggers and bombs and beards. We had a right laugh. "Take it easy brother," he said as he stepped off the moving bus.

When I got to Liverpool Street and I went into the station to catch the Tube, I was stopped and searched under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act. It had never happened to me before and I had always felt perfectly at ease in the UK, my home.

Enemy within

So I decided to find out whether the Rasta was right; had the 7 July bombings - carried out by three British Muslims and a Jamaican-born UK resident who had converted to Islam - changed British society and put me "bottom of the pile"?

If so, what would that mean in my daily life? Was I, a stubbly British Asian, now going to have to deal with some people fearing me for being the enemy within? Would the terrorists succeed in making us a more fearful, intolerant nation?

The only way to find out, I decided, was to grow my first proper beard, and so started my four-month journey.

I have been to different places in my life, but Britain is my home because you can be who you want
The results were immediate and very intense. People were moving off Tubes to get away from me; I would sometimes have a whole carriage to myself. I felt under scrutiny.

When I travelled to other places in the UK, I found other young British Asians who felt attitudes had also changed towards them.

One young man in Birmingham - a religious Muslim - said he'd been for a job interview and as soon as he walked into the room and the manager saw the colour of his skin and his beard he was told to "forget it" and sent away.

But it was people in authority, whose role it was to be alert, who were the most suspicious. It seemed now I had a beard - and for the first time in my life - members of the Metropolitan Police thought I looked dodgy.

I wasn't sure whether the two were connected. So when I was stopped by police outside Downing Street, and searched yet again, I asked one of them the question: "Do I look dodgy?" The answer was a very definite yes.


"Would I look less dodgy without my rucksack?" I asked. "Dodgy," he replied. "What about if I wore a suit?" "You'd look like a dodgy bloke in a suit," he said. "How about if I shaved my beard?" "Dodgy. Just face it - you look dodgy," came the disconcerting reply.

Over the seven weeks I was stopped and searched three times under the terrorism act. But it seemed absurd to me, I mean what does a terrorist look like? Do they all have beards and rucksacks? Does making sweeping generalisations make us any safer?

No, said John O'Connor, who was in charge of the Met police flying squad in the late 1980s when London faced the threat of the IRA. He told me a terrorist will always do the unexpected and we shouldn't fall into the trap of having reassuring stereotypes.

Rajesh Thind
No, it's not the hoody
But people were making generalisations and it scared me, especially when the Met introduced a shoot-to-kill policy. If an innocent, beardless, Brazilian man had been killed, was I even more of a target?

As the weeks passed the hostility towards me subsided, people sat next to me on the Tube again. I was grateful as I think what separates the average Briton from a terrorist is tolerance and respect for those who are different from them.

I don't want to point the finger of blame at the public for how I was treated during those first few weeks as their fear was real, just like me they were living in a different reality for a time after the bombings.

But I think as a nation we are too practical to become extreme in this way permanently. I have been to different places in my life, but Britain is my home because you can be who you want. That is why I wanted to make my film, to acknowledge that important characteristic.

After seven weeks my journey had finished and I shaved my beard off. I wanted to go back to being me.

Travels With My Beard will be broadcast in the UK on Thursday 2 February at 2230 GMT on BBC Three.

We need to stick together as a nation, as a people now. As Mr. Thind says, we live in a country of tolerance and we can't let some warped people change that.
Charlie Hutchinson, Winchester

I'm sikh and 6ft 4in, sometimes beared and get this ALL the time...travelling on the train every morning I feel as if everyone is aware I'm there. Not so much now as time goes on, but still happens more often than not. Hey, I get to spread out as as you say people will tend to avoid me, so be is there problem, not mine
Kam, Bromley

I don't usually travel by tube as I usually cycle. I had to once after July last year and was nervous about a bearded asian man, rucksack and all. I'm ashamed of it and won't give into the fears that terrorists inspire again. Long live the beard!
Al, Reading, Berks

Long beards are simply unfamiliar in western culture. Most people's exposure to them has been through the media such, as extremist Islamists such as Chechen rebels and the Taliban. "Association" at work. Simple as that. Don't blame the British public for that. Can anyone really be blamed for giving someone wearing a hoody,dark glasses,and a bushy beard (as in the photo here) suspicious looks? What has this experiment proved? Nothing really. Just another attempt to cry "Racist" in my opinion.
Adam Alexander Smith, Somerset

Scruffy facial hair, baseball cap, hoodie and sunglasses when its not sunny (or at least when other people aren't wearing them). I'll stare, but only because i'll be trying to work out which celebrity is trying to draw attention to themselves by unsuccessfully 'hiding' whilst out in public.
Nick, London

Re stereotypes. 4 of us travelled abroad, passing through 6 airports. One of our party was stopped and searched each time, the rest of us were not. She travels on an Irish passport, the rest of us British Passport. To her this is a regular event.
Karen Salisbury, Rochdale

I am a beardless caucasian male living in London. I work near Victoria and have been stopped and searched 3 times by the police in the past 6 months under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act. Each and every time I was stopped, I was told that it was because of my backpack. The moral of the story is this. Beard or no beard, use a clear rucksack.
Paul Cluver, London

A sad state of affairs. Then again, after all, all burglers wear a striped sweater and carry a bag marked "SWAG", don't they?
Clive C, Hawarden, Wales

This is a wryly witty article, but sadly it just underlines how entrenched racist attitudes are in the UK. I'm a tall white man in his 40's with a large blonde/grey beard and no-one has ever stopped me, searched me or questioned me, despite a very casual dress style and occasional rucksack use!
Stephen James, London,UK

Mmmh, Dark Clothes, sun glasses, hoody...Dodgy what ever ethnich/religious background you come from.
Mick Slowey, Blackpool

What a stupid comment - of COURSE people were nervous of him - it's a natural survival instinct. People bitten by dogs are then wary Of ALL dogs - it's an inbuilt survival mechanism, nothing more and certainly not racism as is being hinted here. In other countries the reaction would have been FAR worse. Celerbarate that!
G .Graham, Morpeth, Northumberland

Thank heavens this awful sounding program has been relegated to BBC3 and is not gracing our screens on BBC1. I'm irish and all the way through the height of the IRA bombings in London people looked at me in these so called 'odd' ways and I was stopped and searched all the time AND rightly so. It's not rocket science to put 2 and 2 together and work out the current threat is from radical British Muslims hence all Muslims will be under greater scrutiny. Honestly, I only wish these wingers would grow up and face the reality of where they are living and give us all a break!
Ryan Cormick, Bristol

Our 'war on terror' 'to protect democracy' has had two major effects - more terror and less democracy. And that's how Dubya and Blair like it.
Stef, London, UK

I think the problem is that stereotypes are our natural defence against things we don't know, or that might be dangerous. We have evolved socially far faster than our body and brain have. Despite trying not to, I will see people in the street and according to certain stereotypes I will make a judgement about them. It's a natural reaction, but with a conscious effort I think you can do something about it.
Cedric Wooding, Brighton, England

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