There's an interesting article over on the Beeb's magazine today about the experiences of Rajesh Thind, a British Asian who decided to grow a full beard in order to see if people's attitudes to him changed in the wake of the London bombings. Short answer: yes.
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.
The police of course were more interested in walking towards him than away and he was stopped and searched three times in seven weeks under the Terrorist act. Outside Downing Street he confronted the officers patting him down:
"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.
But should citizens who have done nothing wrong 'just face it' that they'll be hassled more than others simply because of their appearance? Well from a tactical point of view the answer is no. Just because one terrorist sports a certain look does not mean that future terrorists will stand out in the same way (emphasising that the need to protect public transport will seem the most logical thing to do right up until a different 'target' is hit). It's human nature to be nervous following such an attack and even though tube travellers seem a lot more relaxed these days, it's important to remember that the cars trundling along overhead are much more likely to kill and maim you than any of your fellow travellers. In a city this crowded, facial hair is the least of your worries.
The comments below the article offer a fair cross section of responses so far, but this one stands out for its utter ridiculousness:
People bitten by dogs are then wary Of ALL dogs
How fucking succinct. By that logic we should be 'wary' of everyone from Morpeth in Northumberland because if G Graham is anything to go by it's filled with absolute tools.
Note: Annie Mole on the ever excellent Going Underground Blog has exchanged an email or two with Rajesh and reminds us that you can see more about this on BBC3 on Thursday evening at 10.30pm.