SILVER SPRING, Maryland - Across from a counter serving up heaping plates of kabobs and curries, Zahid Hussain scrolled through his phone for messages from fellow Pakistani-Americans. The topic was hardly a surprise.
“Pakistanis are afraid. When they see on television, 'Pakistani terrorist in Times Square,' they just want to hide their face,” Hussain said at a brightly lit Pakistani restaurant in suburban Washington.
Hussain, who publishes a local Urdu-language newspaper, said he spoke with his school-age children after hearing that a Pakistani-American, Faisal Shahzad, was arrested in Saturday's plot to sow destruction in one of New York's busiest intersections.
Hussain immigrated to the United States in 2003 and said his children had once even asked if they could change their names due to the image of their homeland in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
But for many Pakistani-Americans, the bomb plot instilled not so much fear but embarrassment. The community has been proud of its prosperity in this nation of immigrants and has come under far less scrutiny than Pakistani British.
“Back in the 1960s, Pakistanis were always held in great esteem. They were seen as making very valuable contributions to America. That deteriorated after September 11,” commented Arshad Qureshi, a 70-year-old actuary after saying his evening prayers at a neatly manicured Maryland mosque.
Qureshi refused to criticise Americans who voice suspicions about Pakistan.
“If you go to the root causes, I would blame ourselves,” he said.
Ashraf Qazi, chairman of the Council on Pakistan Relations, an advocacy group for Pakistani-Americans, believed that Americans understood that only a few terrorism suspects have emerged from a community estimated at more than half a million.
“I don't think the public in general believes in guilt by association,” Qazi said by telephone from Michigan, where he runs a health care company.
“You're really at a loss for words when you look at this situation,” he said. “I think this also shows the need for us to be more vigilant.”
Shahzad, who became a US citizen a little over a year ago, had achieved undergraduate and business degrees in the United States and married a fellow Pakistani-American.
But the 30-year-old was also saddled with debt and his home reportedly went into foreclosure as the US economy entered a tailspin over the housing debt bubble.
Shahzad was not the first Pakistani-American to come under the scanner of US authorities. But there has been significantly less attention to extremism among Pakistani-Americans than among the much larger community of Pakistani British.
In 2005, home-grown extremists bombed three underground trains and a bus in London, killing 52 people.
While some Americans say the US model does a better job at integration, Pakistani immigration to the United States and Britain has followed different patterns.
Pakistani immigrants to the United States are more recent and more dispersed. Unlike in Britain, the United States has few monolithically Pakistani neighbourhoods except arguably for a few small areas in New York, Chicago and Houston.
“There isn't the ghettoisation, where you have this concentration of angry people that just amplifies everyone else's anger,” said Adil Najam, a professor at Boston University who is researching the Pakistani diaspora.
Najam found that Pakistani-Americans are also generally prosperous. While the community ranges from business executives and doctors to cab drivers and gas station attendants, fewer Pakistani-Americans are jobless altogether.
Najam said this was the work of US visa laws which required immigrants to be employable. Many Pakistanis went to Britain after being granted asylum, allowing entire village communities to transplant their social structures.
But Najam warned of risks for younger Pakistani-Americans, saying that in Britain it was not the original immigrants but their descendants who suffered the most acute alienation.
“What I worry about is that you have a generation of Muslims, and not just Pakistanis, who because of September 11 could be developing these feelings that their society is not really theirs,” Najam said.
“If we allow them to be alienated, it would not be good for anyone.”