Big issues hit 'Little Pakistan'
New York community says immigration and the economy are poll concerns.
Last Modified: 17 Oct 2008 18:48 GMT

Little Pakistan has been hit hard by the economic slowdown [GALLO/GETTY]

In the New York district of "Little Pakistan", the US presidential race is being closely followed.

Pakistan has become a key issue in the presidential campaign with Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential candidate, and John McCain, his Republican rival, clashing over the unilateral use of military force to attack inside the country if Osama bin Laden is found to be hiding there.

And while Pakistani-Americans are concerned about the Bush administration's "war on terror" and immigration, there is one issue that resonates above all others.

"The economy first, the economy second and the economy third," says Malik Akbar, a travel agent in the area whose business has suffered, first from the US economic downturn and then from the global credit crunch.

Community concerns

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Little Pakistan, which runs through the Midwood area of Brooklyn in the east of New York City, looks as though it has seen better days.

Many of the community's shops were closed when Al Jazeera visited the area and few people were on the streets.

Community leaders say that the rising cost of food is a major issue for those living there and luxury goods, such as jewellery, are no longer in demand.

Many Pakistanis in New York are taxi drivers, and their income is also being threatened as many people take to travelling across the city using other means of transport.

Mohammed Razvi runs the Council of Peoples Organisation, which helps new immigrants, many of them from Pakistan, to learn English, use public services and adapt to the US.

He is proud to be a community organiser, a role which Sarah Palin disparaged in her Republican vice-presidential nomination acceptance speech as not having "actual responsibilities".

He agrees the community is struggling like the rest of the US economy.

"The economy is really difficult and people are really distressed," he says.

"The bag of flour that used to cost eight dollars is now at $20."

Immigration concerns

"Immigration is a big issue for us in this area and we feel that Obama might be a bit more lenient than McCain"

Farah Affreedi, executive editor of Sada-e-Pakistan

But Razvi says the community has suffered from a deeper decline that struck soon after the two aircraft crashed into the World Trade Center towers on September 11 2001.

Thousands of Pakistani residents were deported from the area after registering with the US authorities as part of new "special registration" demands made on them following the attacks, he says.

Up to 45,000 of the estimated 100,000-strong community were deported or left voluntarily following the attacks, according to reports.

This left Little Pakistan suffering its own economic slowdown that had only recently revived again before the current downturn struck.

"Before 9/11 this area was flourishing. You could never find a parking space there were so many people coming into the area for prayers or for shopping," says Farah Affreedi, the executive editor of the Sada-e-Pakistan weekly newspaper which serves the Pakistani community in the US.

Immigration raids happened almost every night at one point, she says, and sometimes 25 people or more were deported at a time.

"Immigration is a big issue for us in this area and we feel that Obama might be a bit more lenient than McCain," she says.

Razvi says US citizenship applications from Pakistani immigrants are now being delayed while security checks are carried out, leaving many potential citizens unable to vote in November's poll.

Contrasting views

Mohsin says Pakistani-Americans do not
feel there is a war on Islam
But those who are able to vote will also be considering the US and its "war on terror", particularly in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate, has said he would be willing to strike inside Pakistan without the permission of the government if Osama bin Laden were to be found there.

John McCain has rejected the idea, which remains controversial in Pakistan after a series of US military actions in country's North-West Frontier Province led to a number of deaths.

But many Pakistani-Americans in New York do not agree with those still living inside the country.

"In Pakistan, the view is that the 'war on terror' is actually a war on Islam, but Pakistanis living here do not have the same view," says Mohsin Zaheer, a journalist at Sada-e-Pakistan.

Others go even further in backing the US military action inside the country.

"They should go after the terrorists wherever they can find them. Terrorism affects everyone," says Akbar.

"Whether the Pakistani government gives them permission or not, the US should go after them. We saw what happened on 9/11."

Unconvinced voters

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But for some born and raised in the US itself, the question is more about prioritising domestic policies.

"Many people think about issues that are closer to home, not 'will we get bombed?'," says Affreedi.

Whatever their views, the Pakistani community in New York seems mainly unconvinced by either candidate ahead of the crucial poll.
Razvi argues that whoever is elected will be a welcome change as "the community here is fed up with the Bush administration".

But others, like Affreedi, say they remain undecided about who to vote for.

"Sometimes I want to go with Obama, but then I think he doesn't have enough experience.

"But then I look at Sarah Palin and think 'God forbid she is ever made president'!"

Al Jazeera
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