A hate-filled non-hate crime?

I’ve mentioned my desire for more information on the brutal killing of Shaima Alawadi. And new information we are getting. First, let’s review some of the recent stories about her murder.

Here’s the Daily Mail yesterday:

‘One Million Hijabs for Shaima:’ Women worldwide of all faiths post pictures of themselves in headscarves after race hate murder

Muslim mother-of-five Shaima Alawadi was found beaten and unconscious in her San Diego home last month in an apparent killing which officials described as a ‘hate crime’.

Actually, officials didn’t describe the killing as a hate crime, or a “race hate murder.”
Los Angeles Times last week:

Kassim Al-Himidi told reporters after an Islamic memorial service for his wife, Shaima Alawadi, that he wants to confront the person who bludgeoned her to death and left a threatening note telling her to return to their native country and calling her a terrorist.

“The main question we want to ask,” Al-Himidi said in Arabic, with English translation provided by his 15-year-old son Mohammed, “is ‘what are you getting out of this? Why did you do this?’ “

Reuters:

Iraqi-American murder highlights anti-Muslim hate crimes

The Daily Beast:

Shaima Alawadi’s Brutal Murder Highlights Anti-Muslim Activity in San Diego

The young mother’s killing is the latest in a disturbing increase in anti-Muslim incidents in and around San Diego. Community leaders are asking why, writes Jamie Reno.

And so on and so forth.

Here’s the latest from the San Diego Union-Tribune:

Records hint Iraqi woman’s death not a hate crime

First off, did you read about her injuries? How could you say her death is not a “hate crime”? If hate means anything at all, it has to include bashing in someone’s skull with a large object and beating her so badly that she dies from her injuries, right? Why would it only be a “hate” crime if the perpetrator had the wrong political opinions? I really question whether the media should adopt such phrases as “hate” crimes. It’s completely Orwellian. If political activists want to categorize some vicious attacks as “hateful” and other vicious attacks as “loveful” or whatever, that’s fine. But I really don’t see the journalistic case for adopting such language.

Anyway, here’s the body of the article:

Search warrant records obtained Wednesday in the beating death of an Iraqi-American woman show a family in turmoil and cast doubt on the likelihood that her slaying was a hate crime.

Shaima Alawadi, a 32-year-old mother of five, was apparently planning to divorce her husband and move to Texas when she was killed, a family member told investigators, according to the court documents.

The records, filed in El Cajon Superior Court, also reveal Alawadi’s 17-year-old daughter, Fatima Alhimidi, who called 911 to report the attack, was distraught over her pending arranged marriage to a cousin.

Oh yeah, it’s some pretty salacious stuff. But while I have been nothing but skeptical about the direction the media were going in this case, I’m not sure if, uh, “hate crimes” are only committed against people with perfect families. But this next section of the report doesn’t look too good for the hate crime theory:

A search of Fatima’s cellphone records shows that while she was being interviewed by investigators hours after the attack, someone sent the teen a text message that read, “The detective will find out tell them (can’t) talk,” the affidavit states.

The story includes more details about the crime and what the family told police about the crime. There’s a detail about a neighbor reporting a “skinny dark-skinned male …  wearing a dark blue or black hooded sweatshirt” who was running away from the scene of the crime.

We revisit the details of the “extremely violent” assault and learn that the threatening handwritten note was a copy, not the original. The daughter, we’re told, had a previous run in with the police, on a report she was having sex in a car with a 21-year-old man. When her mother came to pick her up, the girl told her that she loved her before jumping out of the family’s car while it was going 35 mph. At the hospital, she told staff she was being forced to marry her cousin and didn’t want to. She refused to talk to police. She, her father and a brother are currently in Iraq for Alawadi’s funeral.

It will be interesting to see how the media cover this story in the days to come. The San Diego Union-Tribune has received criticism for how it ran with the hate crime angle before there was evidence to support that theory. Obviously other media outlets did the same.

Now that the story is seen to be more complex, what should we look out for in media coverage? Religion News Service had done an interesting story about how Christians and others were fighting against the bigotry that they believed led to Shaima Alawadi’s murder by wearing hijabs. It would be interesting to see how these women — and the ones who started the Facebook protests and other protests — will continue their protest, if they continue their protest, against what led to her murder.

As for other religion angles, the very last line of the Union-Tribune piece is:

Alawadi’s father is a Shia cleric in Iraq.

Readers previously noted that this detail — and the Sunni/Shia breakdown of the Iraqi community in El Cajon — had not been discussed sufficiently.

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  • Bill

    Yes, the whole concept of hate crime has issues that journalists do not adequately deal with (and may not be able to deal with). And this case is beginning to have hints of being an honor killing. Wouldn’t honor killing fall be a hate crime under the general understanding of what hate crimes are?

    The religion ghosts are beginning to approach the size of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in Ghostbusters.

  • sari

    Mollie,

    Media handled this story badly from the beginning, when it assumed facts without verification.

    I really question whether the media should adopt such phrases as “hate” crimes. It’s completely Orwellian. If political activists want to categorize some vicious attacks as “hateful” and other vicious attacks as “loveful” or whatever, that’s fine. But I really don’t see the journalistic case for adopting such language.

    Situations arise which clearly fall into this category: when law enforcement labels a crime as such, for instance. Here we have a case of mistaken assumptions, sloppy research, and (maybe) over-zealous headline writers looking for a hook. But eliminating hate crime from the journalistic lexicon? No. There are times when it is absolutely appropriate and should be used.

  • John Pack Lambert

    I wonder if the San Diego Union-Tribune should have run this story when it did, before the possibly suspect family members returned. This seems to almost invite them to stay in Iraq to avoid the investigation.

    Should the government and the media avoided tipping their hand until the possible suspects were more at hand? If you are a journalist with a story about someone currently abraod that might chose not to return if the story runs, what should you do? Does the journalist have any responsiblity to avoid encoraging someone becoming a fugitive? How easy would extradition from Iraq be?

    I think these are questions that need to be considered. I am not at all sure of the answers.

  • John Pack Lambert

    I think hate crime is a horrible term. “bias motivated crime” would be a much better term. Hate crime is part and parcel of “hate group” and the SPLC’s attempts to class anyone who is pro-life and or pro-man/woman marriage as supporting “hate”. It has come to the point where those of us who want to preserve marriage as an institution that workers to encorage the rearing of children by their biological parents who are firmly committed to joint action are classed as “haters”.

    On the political stage people have a right to so classify people. However the news media is showing an inherent bias by so classifying us.

  • Matt

    I don’t think that this is the forum to debate hate crime laws except to note that the FBI does classify certain types of crimes as hate crimes so they are a real class of criminal offense and to write about them is legitimate. The press may have been off in their rush to judgement about whether or not this really is a bias crime (and I, like you, have had a lot of doubts about the truth of this terrible murder)

    Weren’t you recently writing critically about the use of “scare quotes”? What does a discussion of the validity of hate crimes have to do with the coverage of religious issues in media?

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Matt,

    You raise a good point and here’s the link to the FBI site on hate crimes.

    And I think that means it’s fair to use the terminology in a news story.

    It’s just worth considering whether — when a woman dies after having her head bashed in — that we’ve “downgraded” this crime from a hate crime to a non-hate crime on account of deciding the politics or ideology of the murderer weren’t hateful.

    Just all kind of bizarre, no?

    But I don’t think it’s reasonable to suggest that a discussion of media coverage of hate crimes *would not* fall under the rubric of a blog that analyzes how well the mainstream media handle religion news. In fact, I don’t even understand the argument.

  • Jerry

    Others beat me to posting about the phrase “hate crime”. As has been noted, this is how the FBI refers to them so to not use that phase where appropriate is exactly the same as not using a religion’s description of themselves.

    If political activists want to categorize some vicious attacks as “hateful” and other vicious attacks as “loveful” or whatever, that’s fine.

    And therefore hate crime is not “hateful” but a crime where prejudice is involved. We might wish that a different phrase is used, but we don’t get to decide. Society has decided that “hacker” means criminal and “hate crime” means crimes where the motive is prejudice.

    And to say this in the way you did (hate/love) was to include the logical fallacy of a false dichotomy. Hate is not the only motivation for murder. We speak of cold blooded killers, crimes of passion, fear-based attacks as well as jealousy, most of the seven deadly sins, can be a motivation for murder. There can be killing motivated by love where you see someone suffering and want to put that person out of his misery. So you should be careful in this area.

    One comment about the story itself: in this era where due diligence is deprecated in the desire to get it online immediately, we need to be very, very careful with first or even second reports of a story like this one. Sometimes when the facts finally emerge the picture is very very different.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Jerry,

    I’d only add that we *still* don’t know what happened in this murder. I worry that people will continue to go overboard in deciding that they know exactly what went down (honor crime, angry daughter, etc., etc.) before the facts come in.

  • R9

    “Why would it only be a “hate” crime if the perpetrator had the wrong political opinions? I really question whether the media should adopt such phrases as “hate” crimes”

    There’s a difference between just randomly attacking someone, or doing so because they were in your way, and specifically targetting some minority group. It sends a message to everyone else in that group. “maybe you’re next, because of who you are”.

    And, really, if some nutter decides he wants to beat some gay people senseless (for example).. you’re seriously calling that “wrong political opinion?” That’s an incredibly dismissive choice of words.

    If the media has been too quick to label this instance a hate crime then I think that’s worth highlighting. But the concept of a hate crime itself is another topic I think. And a white straight christian should mindful of their lucky status before being quick to dismiss it.

  • Jerry

    I’d only add that we *still* don’t know what happened in this murder. I worry that people will continue to go overboard in deciding that they know exactly what went down (honor crime, angry daughter, etc., etc.) before the facts come in.

    Mollie, you’re 100% correct here. The ongoing uproar about Martin/Zimmerman is proof that people, liberals and conservatives both, take their assumptions and run with the before all the facts that can be known are revealed.

  • Bill

    Bill (post #1) makes good points. But he’s a different Bill. Or I’m a different Bill. In any case, we’re different Bills.

  • Jay

    Oh, it gets better:

    http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2012/apr/05/brother-iraqi-slaying-victim-wanted-divorce/

    “The brother of a slain Iraqi-American woman said Thursday that she had been planning to divorce her husband and move to Texas with her children for some time before she was fatally beaten last month.”

  • Bern

    Lousy journalism on this one, all around, beginning to end.

    Re nomenclature: I think I understand where Mollie is coming from (and I’m unsure whether I agree with it) but consider that the short=hand “hate crime” has to do more with motivation, not the crime itself. In other words, to be a “non-hate” crime is not a devaluation of the crime, nor its victime. Murder is murder.

    And consider this irony: whether a stranger Islamaphobe bashed this mother’s head in or her husband or relatives or kids it’s religion that is the ultimate motivator. In other words, in either of the two scenarios she was killed because she was a Muslim.

  • Chris

    So its not just the crime but the evil intent behind the crime. At what point do we cross over into a movie plot like say…

    Minority Report

  • nitnot

    “Now that the story is seen to be more complex, what should we look out for in media coverage? ”

    Now that it has been revealed that the Muslim victim wanted to divorce the Muslim overlord who impregnated her at age 14, there will be no media coverage … move along, nothing to see here, honor killings and the like don’t exist, etc …

  • John Pack Lambert

    I have managed to find multiple quotes of what the note said. They are put in quotes and yet differ from eachother. It is quite disconcerting how quickly people put something in quotes without actually having a text to quote.

  • John Pack Lambert

    In this Free Press article http://www.freep.com/article/20120325/NEWS06/120325007/Muslim-woman-with-Michigan-ties-beaten-to-death-in-California we learn that Alwadi’s “brothers” (I put it is quotes, because they do not give the number) worked as cultural advisors to the US Army to aid those being deployed to Iraq.

    She emigrated from Iraq in the wake of the Shi’ah rebellion in the early 1990s. Apparently she came to the US in 1993. This means Fatima was born in the Us, since at 17 she was born in 1994 or 1995.

    The journalists seem to have ignored when during the day the attack occured, and thus aboided the issue of why a 17-year-old girl was not at school at that time on a Wednesday.

  • John Pack Lambert

    Here is an article http://www.takepart.com/article/2012/04/11/anatomy-hate-crime that argues that Alwadi’s killing is a hate crime even if it was not motivated by anti-Muslim animus.

    The problem is that the person is still jumping the gun. Do we know who killed Alwadi? No. If it was her daughter how could we class it as a hate crime? The author above is so intent on getting political gain from murders that they do not bother to wait until there is a clear suspect to proclaim that a killing must be a hate crime.

    True the above linked article is not in a regular publication, but with journalists letting facebook groups and facebook chatter drive the narrative of articles instead of going and talking to actual Shia clerics and asking them the hard questions about Shia marriage practices, we do not have solid journalism to counteract half-baked advocacy peices.