updated 8/8/2005 6:40:28 PM ET 2005-08-08T22:40:28

Inayat Bunglawala was born in northwest England, speaks English as his native language and only once visited his ancestral homeland, India.

That makes him bridle at a proposal being floated in the government to give members of minorities hyphenated identities — he would be Indian-British — to strengthen their bond to Britain.

The idea “simply makes no sense,” the 36-year-old said. “I am 100 percent British.”

The British government is discussing a variety of ways to improve community cohesion after last month’s bombing attacks, and it was not clear in what ways such a label might be used. But minority groups were angry at the very idea that they need a new identity label to tie them closer to a country that has been the only home many of them know.

Hazel Blears, a senior minister in the Home Office, said that one idea under consideration was adopting American-style hyphenated identities such as Pakistani-British or Indian-British, rather than simply Muslim or Asian as many — even second-generation Britons — are commonly known as now.

“In America, they do seem to have the idea that you’re an Italian-American, or you’re Irish-American, and that’s quite interesting,” Blears was quoted as telling The Times of London. “I think it’s really important, if you want a society that is really welded together, there are certain things that unite us because you are British, but you can be a bit different too.”

Many in the government believe a feeling of isolation among some immigrant communities in Britain has made them a fertile breeding ground for radicalism.

Three of the four suicide bombers in the July 7 attack were British of Pakistani descent, and the fourth moved to Britain from Jamaica. Three of the four suspected attackers in the failed July 21 attacks were originally from East Africa but were living legally in Britain.

Long struggle with national identity
Britain has long struggled with the idea of what it means to be British, a problem that grew more acute after waves of immigrants began arriving a generation ago from former British colonies in the Caribbean and Southeast Asia.

The British census asks people to identify their ethnic group as white, mixed or Asian, with subcategories, but the issue otherwise rarely comes up in official documents.

The former Conservative Party lawmaker Norman Tebbitt sparked wide criticism when he declared in 1990 that the “cricket test” — observing what teams Britons support in a game widely popular at home and in former British colonies — was a good way to determine where true loyalties lie.

A spokesman for the Home Office, who like all British civil servants is barred from being quoted by name, said that the idea of creating a new double-barreled identity label is not a government initiative at this stage and there are no clear outlines of how it would work.

The spokesman said it had been raised by Muslims during meetings between the Home Office minister and senior Muslim leaders.

Fears of permanent ‘lower strata’
But on Monday, minority groups criticized the idea. “What is being proposed is divisive ... it would create a lower strata of British,” said Manzoor Moghal, chairman of the Muslim Forum.

He said he was afraid it could become “official and permanent,” and could even find its way onto proposed identity cards that Prime Minister Tony Blair has pushed for as a way to combat terrorism and crime.

Doug Jewell, spokesman for the civil rights group Liberty, said the group was reserving judgment while it examined Blears’ comments.

“It could be a way of recognizing the shared values that we have as a society, or it could be a way of branding people,” he said.

‘A step backward’
Bunglawala, a member of the Muslim Council of Britain, said he would not object to a faith-based identifier as opposed to an ethnic one, noting that much of Britain’s 1.8 million strong Muslim community was born in Britain.

“We have been for years describing ourselves as British. To tag an ethnic marker onto ourselves would be a step backward,” he said.

The idea also looked unlikely to win the kind of cross-party support that Blair is counting on as he tries to push through a package of tough new measures after last month’s attacks.

Edward Garnier, the Conservative Party lawmaker who focuses on Home Office issues, said he has a growing number of South Asian British people in his constituency and “they think of themselves as British. They don’t need a government minister to tell them how to describe themselves.”

“Why should British-born Asians have to be only half-British?” he said.

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