On March 21st, Shaima Alawadi’s 17 year-old daughter found her bleeding to death in the family’s California home. Someone had broken into their home, beaten Ms. Alawadi with a tire iron, and left a note next to her mangled body that said, “Go back to your country. You’re a terrorist.”
Alawadi was a 32 year old mother of five who had recently immigrated from Iraq to El Cajon, Ca. by way of Detroit. El Cajon has one of the country’s largest Iraqi populations following the Gulf war and the current Iraq war. Alawadi’s uncle was hanged by Saddam Hussein, and she and her husband fled their native Iraq in 1993.
The persecution of Muslims in America
Shaima Alawadi’s as yet unsolved murder is a horrifying tragedy, but unfortunately it is far from an aberration. Anti-Muslim sentiment in the US is as high as ever, with only one in five Americans reporting a favorable opinion of Muslim countries, and more than one in five believing that American Muslims support extremism. Suspicion of Muslims – a view that arguably lends itself to violent distortion – pervades in both the American media, and in actual public policy.
Recently, the NYPD made headlines as details of their investigation of area Muslims surfaced. The department infiltrated Muslim student groups at 16 local colleges, and surveilled thousands of Muslims in mosques, community centers, and neighborhoods throughout New York for years.
And it isn’t just New York – home of the fabricated “Ground Zero Mosque” scandal – that has taken a public stance of suspicion towards Muslims. Sponsors of TLC’s reality show, “The All-American Muslim”, were threatened with boycotts by a conservative Evangelical group outraged that the show was not a “realistic portrayal” of Muslims in America. Despite the fact that the show literally sent a camera crew to profile five different American Muslims, critics claimed that by not depicting extremists and terrorists, the show was not true to life.
Former GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain stated that he would not select any Muslims for his cabinet. In 2011, House Representative Peter King (R-NY) held a highly publicized Congressional hearing entitled, “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community’s Response”, which sought to draw attention and resources to the alleged proiblem of Muslim extremism on American soil. King, who is chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, vowed to continue the hearings in 2012, despite reports that homegrown Muslim terrorism plots decreased for the third consecutive year last year.
“Flying While Muslim” is still inordinately difficult and dehumanizing, as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) continues to add more stringent profiling measures. GOP presidential candidate and former senator Rick Santorum has voiced enthusiastic support for these profiling measures and more, saying, “Obviously, Muslims would be someone you look at, absolutely”. And speaking of presidential candidates, President Barack Obama has faced incredible scrutiny and negative accusations of being a secret Muslim with a theology that is “not a Bible theology“, despite the fact that the president is a lifelong Christian.
The tragic irony of American misogyny
Another perception that Americans – and the citizens of the Western world in general – overwhelmingly hold is that women are unduly oppressed in Islam and Islamic nations. Bill Maher, a liberal talk-show host, has repeatedly shut down conversations about sexism in America by comparing it to the likes of Saudi Arabia. And the concern for the “liberation” of Muslim women has not only been part of the narrative of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the stated cause for burqa bans in Europe. Of course, the restriction of what women can and cannot wear is about as paternalistic as a government can be.
And while in some countries and circumstances that is certainly true, Islam is far from the only religion that oppresses women, and America is far from perfect when it comes to women’s safety. Americans live in a false sense of security when it comes to the well-being of women. But the leading cause of death for pregnant woman in the US is murder, and 1 in 6 women in the US is the victim of an attempted or completed rape. Those numbers are even higher for women of color.
At this point, it does not seem that Mrs. Alawadi was not beaten to death by another Muslim. She was not murdered by her brother or father. She was not killed in an “honor killing” that has endlessly horrified and fascinated the American media. Though police are still exploring all possibilities, it seems more than plausible that she was murdered by a racially motivated stranger who came into her home and beat her into unconsciousness with a crowbar. Time will tell whether or not this note was a red herring planted by someone with a motivation different than her nationality, race and religion – as it stands now, that seems to be the motive.
Alawadi’s murder is not an isolated incident; rather, it is the culmination of a culture and society that perpetuates negative attitudes and suspicion towards Muslims, and tolerates violence against women. In order to prevent the murder of more mothers, sisters, and daughters, both of these issues must be addressed. And in order to truly possess the precious religious freedom upon which the United States was founded, the persecution of Muslims must stop. It must stop at all levels – political and personal. Until then, none of these pressing – and even life-threatening problems – will be solved.
And then, it’s just a matter of time before another Shaima Alawadi is lost.