This post was written by guest contributor Maheen Nusrat.
On March 24th, 2012, a 32-year-old Iraqi-American woman, Shaima Alawadi, passed away. She been found three days earlier by her 17-year-old daughter, brutally beaten in her home with a note next to her that said, “Go back to your country, you terrorist.” The story made national headlines, and drew many parallels with the story of Trayvon Martin, a young black man from Florida who was also recently killed for reasons involving race. Alawadi’s death reflects the large profiling of a particular faith group, and the unchecked issue of Islamophobia. The truth is that being Muslim in America means being under constant suspicion, and fear of being targeted and profiled may keep many Muslims in the US silent on the death of Alawadi. Muslims are portrayed as dangerous infiltrators in the media, and political rhetoric, which causes the general American populace to buy into that hype, even (especially?) when Muslims are portrayed as “normal” human beings, as was seen in some of the reactions to TLC’s All-American Muslim.
In drawing parallels between the Trayvon Martin murder and Shaima Alawadi’s brutal death, Judy Chu, chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, said:
“The tragedy of what happened to Trayvon was a product of racial profiling. Last week, Shaima Alawadi, a 32-year-old Iraq American woman from California, was beaten to death with a tire iron because of racial profiling. One wore a hoodie, and the other wore a hijab, but both were killed due to ignorance.”
Profiling of Muslims is not a big secret. Recently, the NYPD came under scrutiny for its surveillance of Muslims across New York, from campuses, to cafés, to restaurants, to grocery stores and pastry shops. These investigations have often been conducted without leads or reason for suspicion. The investigations have simply been for the fact that these people happened to be Muslims and these neighbourhoods happened to be heavily populated by Muslims.
Less than two weeks prior to Alawadi’s death, on March 11th, 2012 a U.S. sergeant opened fire and killed 17 Afghans, nine of them were children who were asleep in their beds. The sergeant is now under investigation and has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder, six counts of attempted murder amongst other charges. Whereas Alawadi’s story has still picked up significant press, the incident in Afghanistan did not gather as much publicity. The silence from the media and the government is another example of side-stepping the issue of Islamophobia and hatred that would provoke a soldier to kill innocent civilians. (It is interesting to note that the U.S. Muslim community has also given much more attention to Alawadi’s story than to these 17 murders in Afghanistan. The silence from the community may be due to the fact that it has less of an impact on our daily lives than a hate crime committed within the US, or maybe because it requires us to examine the larger arguments about US presence and the war in Afghanistan.)
There are many other incidents of people being targeted by authorities, simply because of a connection to Islam. In May 2010, Pascal Abidor was removed from an Amtrak train heading from Montreal to New York. He was interrogated by customs officers for hours all because he said he was studying Islamic Studies at McGill University. His academic area of study led the officers to think of him as a threat, which led to the confiscation of his laptop and a thorough search of its contents.
On the surface, all of these stories seem to have nothing in common. But on closer inspection, these incidents shed light on what is missing largely from the public discourse: acknowledgement and denunciation of systemic discrimination and oppression, and of their impact on social lives and people’s identities. The surveillance of the NYPD, the killing of 17 Afghans by a US Sergeant, the removal of an American-French citizen off a train at the U.S.-Canadian border because he is studying Islamic studies, and Shaima Alawadi’s murder are all connected to one another because they stem from a place of mistrust, they feed further into the stereotypes about Muslims, and they contribute towards fueling the hatred against Muslims. [Read more...]