I am often asked now what Muslims feel like in Britain since the 11 September attacks. How can I possibly answer that question in the way it implies? There are millions of us and we are not monolithic. I am not a representative of British Muslims, nor am I interested in ever being seen as someone whose single voice presumptuously claims to be speaking for all those Muslims who have never given their consent that I should lead their pack.
Through the thousands of letters and e-mails I have received from various British Muslims, I think it is possible to detect common experiences that cut through the enormous diversity of views that are expressed. To be a British Muslim today is to find oneself constantly in the glare of disconcerting spotlights. You are exposed, observed, unprotected by anonymity, painfully self- conscious of every part of your body, face, thoughts and fears. You feel judged by non-Muslims, as well as the faith police who seem to have proliferated since the war. There are various tests, which most of us are subjected to, of what a "true Muslim" must be seen to do these days, and nothing is ever good enough.
Muslims who are easily identified - such as women in hijab, and bearded men - tell me they are pushed off pavements, spat at, abused. Some have been sacked from jobs they have done for years. Afia, a young pharmacist, was told she was no longer wanted by her employer, an independent chemist who insisted she wear Western clothes. …