An Iraqi immigrant woman’s recent murder in California is a warning of the dangers of Islamophobia.
Although no one has yet been charged with the killing of Shaima Alawadi last week, the initial clues reveal that it was a hate crime.
“The daughter, Fatima Al Himidi, told KUSI-TV her mother had been beaten on the head repeatedly with a tire iron, and that the note said ‘go back to your country, you terrorist,’ ” AP reports. “Police said the family had found a similar note earlier this month but did not report it to authorities.”
Alawadi's slaying is just the most recent instance of such appalling violence. Last March, in California itself two older Sikh gentlemen were killed while taking a walk.
“In what may have been a hate crime committed by assailants who mistook their victims for Muslims, two elderly Sikh men were shot to death while taking their customary afternoon stroll in Elk Grove, Calif.—the latest evidence of what appears to be a year-long rash of anti-Muslim hate,” Southern Poverty Law Center’s newsletter reported last year. “Surinder Singh, sixty-five, died on the street where he was shot on March 4. His friend, Gurmej Atwal, seventy-eight, initially survived two gunshot wounds to the chest, but died of his wounds about six weeks later.”
(An Elk Grove police department spokesperson told me that they still haven't found the killer and that the investigation is ongoing.)
In the decade since the September 11 attacks, there have been several people killed due to anti-Muslim and anti-Arab prejudice. A 2009 book, “Backlash 9/11,” documented up to a possible dozen such murders.
Among the perpetrators was a Texas man, Mark Stroman, who set about to take revenge for September 11 by killing Arabs. But in choosing his victims he inadvertently succeeded in uniting most of South Asia in a uniquely horrible way by murdering an Indian Hindu and a Pakistani Muslim and badly injuring a Bangladeshi Muslim.
Instead of being resentful toward Stroman, the wounded and disfigured Bangladeshi-American Rais Bhuiyan led a clemency plea for Stroman. His religion played a strong part in his compassion.
“I was raised very well by my parents and teachers,” Bhuiyan said. “They taught me to put yourself in others’ shoes. Even if they hurt you, don’t take revenge. My Islamic faith teaches me this, too.”
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Bhuiyan’s appeal for mercy for his would-be killer proved to be unsuccessful, and Stroman was executed—but not before he saw the error of his worldview.
“I have the Islamic community joining in,” to get me clemency, Stroman told the New York Times, “spearheaded by one very remarkable man named Rais Bhuiyan, who is a survivor of my hate. His deep Islamic beliefs have gave him the strength to forgive the unforgiveable… that is truly inspiring to me, and should be an example for us all.”
Driven by an image of Islam as being an intrinsically violent and terroristic religion, however, anti-Muslim feelings are widespread in the United States. A March 2011 Gallup poll discovered that nearly three in ten Americans think American Muslims sympathize with Al Qaeda, while barely half think them to be supportive of the United States.
Several U.S. mosques have been firebombed, vandalized, and desecrated (including one just this week in Sacramento), while proposals for the building of mosques and Muslim cultural centers have faced opposition all over the country.
The recent bout of anti-Muslim activism started with the campaign against the Islamic interfaith center in lower Manhattan during the summer of 2010. Subsequently, rightwing politicians have spearheaded anti-Shariah law campaigns in several states. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Congressman Peter King has held a series of hearings on Muslim-Americans and Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain have made repeated anti-Islam statements.
The recent revelations about the New York Police Department’s surveillance of Muslim Americans (topped by special scrutiny for Shiite mosques and the screening of an anti-Muslim movie for recruits) make it obvious that this nonsense shows no sign of abating.
Even President Obama hasn’t helped. He has been so afraid of being tagged as an adherent of Islam that on a 2010 visit to India, he decided to avoid Sikhism’s holiest shrine because it might have made him look Muslim. This was just part of a pattern that started during his candidacy when he spurned the offer of Representative Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, to campaign at mosques for him, and never made the simple statement that there was nothing wrong with being affiliated with the second-largest religion in the world.
His timidity has failed to sink the ridiculous theories—especially among Republicans—that he is Muslim.
“The members of the Obama-is-Muslim congregation number as many as one-third of all Republicans,” writes John Feffer in a Foreign Policy in Focus column. “A recent poll found that only 14 percent of Republicans in Alabama and Mississippi believe that the president is Christian.”
Instead of trying to convince such people, Obama should spend more of his energy trying to combat the sort of hate that took Alawadi’s life.