The hoodie or the hijab

9 Apr

As the debates, outrage and accusations over the Trayvon Martin shooting continue, there’s notably less debate, outrage and accusation over Shaima Alawadi. Not quite a month after Trayvon’s death, Shaima was killed in her home. According to USA Today:

Shaima Alawadi and her family fled Iraq nearly two decades ago as Saddam Hussein crushed a Shiite uprising, settling in the U.S. so they would no longer face persecution, a family friend said…

Now, after her body was found severely beaten in her suburban San Diego home, police, the FBI and members of the Iraqi community are wondering whether her death was a hate crime or something else.

Among the evidence that police have collected is a threatening note that was near Alawadi’s body. Her daughter told a television station that it said: “Go back to your country, you terrorist” (http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/story/2012-03-27/iraqi-woman-beaten-died/53798042/1).

“Wondering whether her death was a hate crime”? I don’t mean to suggest that we should jump to a hate crime every time a minority in this country is attacked, but what about “Go back to your country, you terrorist” after killing someone is ambiguous?

Shaima Alawadi’s “terrorist” crimes, it appears were (1) wearing a hijab, the Muslim headscarf and (2) attending and volunteering at her mosque.

And while there has been an outcry over Alawadi’s death, blogger Grace Hwang Lynch notes that the big story may ultimately not be Alawadi herself, but the racial bias in our outrage over unjust deaths:

Even the mainstream media quickly jumped on this case to suggest there is not going to be widespread public outrage for Alawadi’s death, and while supporters of Trayvon Martin were able to gather hundreds of people for a Million Hoodie March in New York and and another protest Florida, the talk of a Million Hijab March is just talk. Yesterday Nina Burleigh published an op-ed piece “Where Are The Protests Against the Killing of Shaima Al Awadi?” on the TIME magazine website,  suggesting that because Alawadi was a hijab wearing Muslim Iraqi immigrant, America is simply not ready to embrace her cause the way we might be willing to support a more clearly marginalized group such as young black men (http://m.blogher.com/hoodies-or-hijabs-what-s-difference-neither-should-get-you-killed).

So while Trayvon Martin’s advocates insist that Zimmerman would already have been arrested for killing a white person, Shaima Alawadi’s advocates argue that her death would matter more to more people if she were black. Because as her murderer’s note indicated, Muslim Americans don’t belong here in the first place.

I have to agree when Kwang writes, “[W]hen a racial issue is not just a matter of black and white, people don’t know exactly how to react.” The Trayvon Martin shooting and aftermath was familiar: the roles people played, the rhetoric invoked, the points of view that framed the issues. Trayvon’s was an archetypal US tragedy in black and white. Tellingly, analysis of “public opinion” has been rigidly framed within this dichotomy by esteemed pollsters: Gallup (http://www.gallup.com/poll/153776/Blacks-Nonblacks-Hold-Sharply-Different-Views-Martin-Case.aspx) reports its findings in terms of “black” and “nonblack” responses, while the Pew Research Center (http://www.people-press.org/2012/04/03/wide-racial-partisan-gaps-in-reactions-to-trayvon-martin-coverage/1/) reports only the attitudes of black and “non-Hispanic white” people regarding Zimmerman’s guilt. Apparently, even in a case involving someone who identifies as white Hispanic, there’s no interest or need to include any Hispanic or other voices.

Remove black and white from the headlines, and what do you have left? A story that we don’t yet consider ours.

**Thanks to SP for sharing the blog post.

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