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Behind the Veil of Islamophobia

The murder of Shaima Alawadi isn’t a sign of increasing prejudice, but of writers’ credulousness

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University of Michigan students during a rally for justice in the wake of the deaths of Shaima Alawadi and Trayvon Martin, March 26, 2012. (One Million Hijabs for Shaima Alawadi/Facebook)

Less than a month after the controversial killing of African-American teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida, Shaima Alawadi, a 32-year-old immigrant who fled her native Iraq in 1993, was found in her California home bludgeoned with a tire iron, breathing but barely alive. Next to her brutalized body was a terrifying letter: “Go back to your country you terrorist.” According to Alawadi’s 17-year-old daughter, Fatima, this wasn’t the first racist threat made against the family. A few weeks before the assault, a note left on the family’s car was blunt: “This is my country, go back to yours, terrorist.”

The Washington Post noted the parallels between the Martin and Alawadi cases: “Martin was wearing a hoodie when he was shot, and Alawadi wore a traditional hijab.” This precipitated “hoodies and hijab” rallies on a number of college campuses across the country. At Columbia University, for example, an event sponsored by the Columbia Democrats, the Columbia-Barnard International Socialist Organization, and the Columbia Queer Alliance drew over 100 protesters, many wearing hooded sweatshirts and Islamic headscarves.

Three days after the attack, Alawadi was taken off life support, her body returned to Iraq for burial. The story provoked a torrent of outrage: It was, the New York Times reported, the “most-discussed topic worldwide” on Twitter; it spidered through Facebook; and online petitions protesting growing American Islamophobia proliferated. The San Diego Union-Tribune, the Alawadis’ hometown newspaper, marveled at how “social media exploded” in the wake of her killing.

While the local police urged media restraint, the Alawadi family’s lawyer speculated that because they lived in El Cajon, Calif., a suburb of the “military town” of San Diego, it was possible that the murder was committed by an Islamophobic veteran. The blogger Ferrari Sheppard told his 16,000 Twitter followers, “All politicians who sold that false Iraq war, slaughter has [sic] Shaima Alawad’s [sic] blood on their hands … who continue to push Islamophobia.” Writing on CNN’s religion blog, Linda Sarsour, the director of the Arab American Association of New York, wondered why more people weren’t jumping to conclusions: “[W]ith only initial evidence—a dead black teenager, an iced tea, a pack of Skittles, a neighborhood watchman—a many of us have presumed the Martin killing is an unfortunate result of racism in America. … Why not the same for Alawadi?”

Muslims, Sarsour argued, have themselves fallen for Islamophobic stereotypes: “Muslims allow our internalized oppression to lead us to believe the stereotypes perpetuated against our community,” she wrote. “I have seen tweets and comments from Muslims suggesting the possibility Alawadi’s killing might be an act of domestic violence or, worse, an honor killing.”

Though Sarsour raised these possibilities to dismiss them, police have now concluded that this is most likely what happened. Last week, Kassim Al-Himidi, Alawadi’s husband, was arrested and charged with her murder. (He is pleading innocence.) Court documents obtained by local media outlets reveal a family in turmoil, where traditional religious values often collided with those of their adopted country. They disclosed that Alawadi, who was married at age 15, was in the process of filing for divorce from her husband. And the couple’s own daughter was said to be bristling at an arranged marriage, having recently jumped out of her mother’s speeding car after being discovered with an older, unapproved boyfriend.

If the above is indeed true, the killing of Shaima Alawadi isn’t a warning sign of increasing religious intolerance, but of a shocking degree of credulousness from writers and activists. Why withhold judgment when the initial assessment conformed so neatly to an existing political narrative about the rising tide of American Islamophobia?

***

The truth is that violent Islamophobic outrages are relatively rare in the United States. The latest available FBI statistics recorded 160 anti-Muslim “bias incidents” in 2010, most of which were not violent. (In 2010, there were seven hate crimes classified as “murder and nonnegligent manslaughter” across all groups, with four committed by whites and three by blacks.) The theory that Alawadi’s neighborhood is a magnet for hate crimes is also unfounded. “Crime statistics showed no history of hate crimes or overt hostility toward Iraqi immigrants in El Cajon, even during the 1991 Persian Gulf War or the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq,” The Los Angeles Times observed.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that hate crimes against Muslims are a myth. But despite the killing of six Sikhs last August—the shooter Wade Michael Page, who was affiliated with a variety of anti-Semitic groups, presumed his victims were Muslims—the evidence for “skyrocketing” Islamophobia, as claimed the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Mark Potok, in the United States is thin. Indeed, a look at the FBI’s hate-crimes statistics since the 9/11 attacks shows that attacks against Jews have outpaced attacks against Muslims, even adjusting for differences in population. (According to the Pew Center, Muslims constitute approximately 0.8 percent of the United States, while Jews make up around 2 percent.) In 2008, the FBI recorded 1,013 anti-Jewish hate crimes and 105 against Muslims. In 2010, there were 887 anti-Semitic attacks versus 160 anti-Muslim attacks. Excluding 2001, when crimes against Muslims showed a dramatic single-year spike, following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, these numbers have been rather consistent.

A few caveats about federal hate crimes statistics are necessary: Not every jurisdiction reports hate crimes—some police forces drop out of the assessment—so dramatic increases or decreases are difficult to discern. What constitutes a hate crime is confusing, too. As Sudhir Venkatesh, a professor of sociology at Columbia University, explained on the Freakonomics blog, according to FBI statistics “a ‘victim’ could be a person, installation, building, or ‘society’ in general.” So, if you think that a hate crime is always, or even usually, a physical assault on someone because of ethnic or religious background, you would be wrong.

Nevertheless, the statistics are helpful in observing general trends in racism and anti-religious sentiment. The latest numbers provided by the FBI (for 2010) showed an uptick in anti-Muslim hate crimes, variously described by commentators as a “surge,” “dramatic spike,” and “staggering” increase in criminal Islamophobia. But the numbers jumped from 107 incidents to 160. In a population of 320 million, these hardly demonstrate an “epidemic” of anti-Islamic feeling.

Americans’ feelings toward Islam and Muslims are complicated. Two years after the 9/11 attacks, a Pew poll found that “only 24 percent [of those polled] have an unfavorable view” of Islam. In 2010, that number had increased to 38 percent. But even here we should avoid falling into the trap that an unfavorable view of Islam is ipso facto evidence of racism, any more than we would ascribe dangerous intolerance to those with an “unfavorable view” of Catholicism, or religion in general.

There is, though, a general sense that violent racism is endemic to modern American society. Thus the hate-crime hoaxer naturally sees a racially motivated incident as a reliable way of attracting attention to a particular cause or, as seems to be the case with Shaima Alawadi’s husband, a reliable way of distracting attention from the commissioning of a crime, while provoking a media referendum on the ubiquity of American intolerance.

The Facebook group “One Million Hijabs for Shaima Alawadi,” which was a hive of activity in the weeks following her murder, has since been taken offline. Despite some posts about women’s rights and feminism, the Islamophobia angle was what the organizers were interested in pushing. She was, it now seems, killed because she was a woman who attempted to throw off the shackles of an oppressive husband. Which makes this case doubly tragic. Just because Shaima Alawadi wasn’t killed by an American racist doesn’t mean that there isn’t cause for activist outrage.

***

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julis123 says:

As current events show us (Syria, Iraq etc) it’s perfectly alright for Moslems to slaughter other Moslems. As soon as a non-Moslem kills a Moslem it is Islamophobia or Genocide.

    Who said it’s “perfectly alright” for anyone to slaughter anyone? It’s called a civil war and both sides have been condemned by Western governments.

    And genocide? Stop being hyperbolic.

Surprised there is even an article in the Tablet…progress.

PhillipNagle says:

A note is not evidence of a hate crime. Many so called hate crimes have turned out to be false and until we know who killed the Alawadi woman everything is speculation. Besides, in comparison to the Trayvon Martin case, where there has been so much misinformation, the handling of the Alawadi case looks very good.

genelevit says:

The more Arabs will be in this country – the more attacks will be against Jews (look at Europe). Why do you want it? Are you not happy with the present situation? It is time for the state department to equalize Islam with Nazism and Bolshevism and don’t allow immigrant Muslims to become American citizens

    1) First Amendment:

    “Congress shall make NO law respecting an ESTABLISHMENT OF RELIGION, OR PROHIBITING THE FREE EXERCISE THEREOF; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

    2) What would you do with American citizens who convert to Islam? People like Mohammed Ali, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Mike Tyson and Mos Def?

    3) If you “equalize Islam with Nazism and Bolshevism,” you should do the same with Judaism. Islam and Judaism are very similar. For Quran, there’s the Torah. For ahadith, there’s the Talmud. And for Sharia, there’s halacha.

    4) Not all Arabs are Muslims. Example: Steve Jobs.

Yiftach Levy says:

Heartfelt kudos for this piece, Michael. Really well done.

ajweberman says:

The guy that started the pro-Islamist cable station BRIDGES cut off his wife’s head. Her last words were “Honey I am feeling somewhat discombobulated today.” In Islam your wife is your field and you can do anything you want with her sort of making her swallow an impure substance or shtupping her when she is having her period. Otherwise anything goes. Sounds like the pimp in Taxi driver.

I don’t agree with the author’s contention that Islamophobic incidents are necessarily rare in America. When I was a student at the University of Texas in Austin, Texas I read in the Austin American Statesman that harassment and violence against Muslims was rather common around the time of the Gulf War from 1990 to 91 and I would not be much surprised if this were still the case.

only the post could put these two articles together. 6 foot drug dealer shot in self-defense. By a man who looked almost white. Victim game is so much fun

concerned citizen, amsterdam says:

Fair and to the point – all in all, an excellent and well balanced article! Victims of such hideous hatecrimes deserve our full and unconditional support no doubt, irrespective of their background or the supposed reason for the attack. The perpetrators should of course be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. I think all can agree on this much. But people should also let justice run its course and refrain from jumping to conclusions, because they risk making a bad situation considerably worse. And in this context, I think that the note which was left next to the brutalized body should give many people (eager to point the finger) reason to pause and think…

I just want to add to this, that the misinformation surrounding the Trayvon Martin case was reported without a moments worth of reflection (or correction) by European media. And I fear, only in order to shamelessly pander to anti-American sentiments, i.e. to “anti-American conservative” sentiments. Because it seems to be an article of faith among many progressive liberals, that only conservatives can be bigots, racists, and hate-mongers, and should thus never be listened to or taken serious. This article helps to combat such caricatures and/or counter similarly mistaken and misleading perceptions. Thanks therefore!

KaKa Khan says:

News: Kim Kardashian slammed over pro-Israel tweet, deletes it..

Islamophobia? Are you kidding me? Kim said she’s praying for Israel and gets slammed. I don’t care who Kim Kardashian is, the fact remains it’s gotten to the point where it’s no longer politically correct to even pray for Israel. I can’t believe it. I just can’t believe it’s come this far. God help us all. It’s happening again. All over again.. How did we find ourselves here once more? Absolutely unbelievable…

    14POLK88 says:

    I am a Christian and I stand with you!

    It could be blowback against the Falwells, Robertsons. etc. The Christian fundamentalist/end-timers/Israel-firsters overplayed their hands.

    People are probably quite tired of all these prophets of doom.

    Now its not PC to support Israel due to the Christian’s antics. Friends like these..

      Are you insane? Christian support for Israel is responsible for the rise in anti-Semitism? But the blame, rather, where it is due: on the moral and intellectual cowardice of those who should know better.

“Two Frat Solution” on youtube. It’s a webseries article spoofing the israeli/palestinian conflict.

islam isn’t a race. muslims are white, black, asian, hispanic. there are plenty of arabs that are christian, in fact, there are many chaldeans (christians) in el cajon.
therefore, racism is irelevant here. stop bringing racism up in articles about women that were beaten to death by their husbands, and stop bringing up racism in articles about islam or muslims.

IN THE NAME OF ALLAH

The final decades of the 20th century witnessed another Holocaust – an Islamic one,
in which millions have been and continue to be shot, decapitated and stoned to
death; in which people have been slaughtered and displaced by Islamic states,
political Islamic movements and Islamic terrorists in Iran, the Sudan, Afghanistan, Algeria, Egypt, Nigeria, Central Asia, and now in America. The robe, turban and Quran continue to victimize people. Any voice of dissent or freedom has been silenced on the spot. The oppression maintained by Islamic movements primarily takes the form of opposition to the freedom of women, by crushing women’s civil liberties, by curtailing freedom of expression in the cultural and personal domains, by enforcing brutal laws and traditions, and by the mass killing of people from young children to the elderly.

Essentially, Islam is a set of beliefs and rules that militate against human prosperity,
happiness, welfare, freedom, equality and knowledge. Islam and a full human life are contradictory concepts, opposed to each other. Islam under any kind of interpretation is and always has been a strong force against secularism, modernism, egalitarianism and women’s rights. Political Islam, however, is a political movement that has come to the fore against secular and progressive movements for liberation, and against cultural and intellectual advances. Violence and disregard for human dignity are inherent in the manifestos of political Islamic groups.

After political Islam took power in Iran, creating an Islamic Republic, this movement came out of the margins in other Middle Eastern countries. It was in Iran that political Islam first organized itself into a government and thus turned into a considerable force in the region. In Iran, under an Islamic state, violence has had another dimension: one that is based on Islam. The very statement that an Islamic Republic exists somewhere means that brutal violence exists in it. The mere fact that people are forced to abide by laws based on something some god is believed to have said somewhere, or that some prophet has said, itself represents a form of violence. If anyone protests against such laws, they are subject to punishment and suppression.
Islam means the worst and the most ferocious kind of violence. Iran is the most transparent picture of what Islam is capable of.

Since 1979, a hundred thousand men, women and children have been executed in the name of Allah.

Thousands of men and women throughout the country looked for the names of lovers, husbands, wives, friends, daughters, sons, colleagues and students in
newspapers which daily announced the names of the executed. Days, when the
soldiers of Allah attacked bookstores and publishing houses and burned books.
Days, of armed attacks on universities, killing students all over the country.
Weeks and months, of bloody attacks on workers’ strikes and demonstrations.
Years of assassination of opponents inside and outside Iran. Years of suppression and brutal murder of atheists, freethinkers, socialists, trade union leaders and activists, Marxists, Bahais, women who resisted the misery of hijab and the rule of sexual apartheid, and many others who were none of these, who were arrested in the streets and then executed simply because of their innocent non-Islamic appearance. And to the hundred thousand murdered in Iran must be added the millions who have died in Algeria, the Sudan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere. A silent holocaust about which the civilized world does nothing.

Verses of the Quran about nonbelievers were played in the torture chambers. The voice reading the Quran was mixed with prisoners cries of pain from lashes and other
brutal forms of torture. They raped women political prisoners for the sake of Allah and in expectation of his reward. They prayed before raping them.
Thousands were shot to death by execution squads while Quranic verses were
recited. Prisoners were awakened every day at dawn to the sound of gunshots aimed
at their friends and cellmates. From the numbers of shots one could work out how many had been murdered that day. The killing machine did not stop for a minute. The fathers and mothers, husbands and wives who received the bloody clothes of their loved ones had to pay for the bullets. They created an Islamic Auschwitz. Many of the best, the most passionate and progressive people were massacred. The dimensions of the horror are beyond imagining.

During those years, millions of children were brainwashed and manipulated. The crimes committed by the Islamic Republic of Iran and political Islam in the region are
comparable to the crimes committed by Fascism in the 1930s and early 1940s, and
to the genocide in Rwanda and Indonesia.

Yet these are events that humanity around the world has been largely unaware of. A
Holocaust which, if humanity knew of its dimensions and intensity, would certainly cause it to weep. With the downfall of such regimes, the world will finally be given an opportunity to know the truth – victims will speak out, prisons and torture chambers will be exposed, torturers will make heart-wrenching confessions, Islamic prosecutors and judges will reveal what they did to their victims behind prison walls. Then people all over the world will see what a despicable phenomenon Islam is. They will finally find out the truth about those governments that backed the Islamic movements and the Western mainstream media that deliberately blocked people’s access to the truth.

    “Essentially, Islam is a set of beliefs and rules that militate against human prosperity, happiness, welfare, freedom, equality and knowledge.”

    Islam is no worse than Judaism and Christianity.

    “…the Western mainstream media that deliberately blocked people’s access to the truth.”

    BS. The media never miss a chance to bash Muslims.

      Laila Rasheed says:

      Shalom JJ,

      I didn’t know you had an accident? It seems the brain surgery wasn’t successful. Tough! It must have been a Mohammedan that did the job.

      YOU TUBE

      Pedophilia in islam , thighing children , fondling underage girls
      paedophilia – whole film

      by Hoplit300•7 months ago•3,770 views

      What is “thighing”?

      by neotropic9•4 years ago•46,130 views

      What is “thighing”?

      **Thighing**Mufakhathat

      by bigtone1979Taiwan•4 years ago•17,521 views

      The Sick Muslim practice of Thighing

      HOW TO THIGH

      Now let us see how it is practiced on a female child & who began this evil practice. According to an official Fatwa issued in Saudi Arabia, the prophet Muhammad began to practice thighing his child-bride, Aisha when she was 6 years old until she reached 9 years of age (Fatwa No. 31409). The hadith, which was quoted earlier, mentioned the prophet Muhammad started performing literal sex with Aisha ONLY when she reached the age of 9 (Sahih al-Bukhari, book 62, hadith No. 89).

      Muslim scholars collectively agree, a child becomes an adult, available for sexual intercourse as soon as she reaches the age of nine. Likewise, the Shari’a allows any of the faithful to marry a six-year-old child.

      According to the fatwa, the prophet Muhammad could not have sex with his fiancée, Aisha when she was six due to her small size & age. However, the fatwa said that at age six, he would put his penis between her thighs and massage it gently because he did not want to harm her.

      Imagine a man of 51 removing the clothes of a 6-year-old girl and slipping his erect penis between her thighs, rubbing her until he ejaculated and his semen ran down her thighs. To this day, this is considered a benevolent act on the part of the adult male “not wanting to harm her.” What harm could be inflicted upon a young girl mentally and emotionally if not a
      grown man showing her his penis and stripping her of her clothes and rubbing his male organ between her legs?

      Of course the twisted mind that does such an evil to a female child, would not hesitate to ejaculate on her body. And if this sexually perverted evil frame of mind committed such an act upon a child, the pedophile would not stop at ejaculating on her. His evil desire would go further and rape the child before she was a mature adult. This is exactly what Muhammad did to Aisha when she was yet a child of nine.

      Thighing of children is practiced in many Arab and Muslim countries, notably in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iran, and the Gulf countries. Also evil practices like  altamatu’a bil almuka’aba (pleasure from sexual contact with her breasts), altamatu’a bil alsagirah (pleasure from sexual contact with a baby girl), altamatu’a bil alradi’ah, (pleasure from sexual contact with a suckling female infant), (Reported by Baharini Women’s Rights Activist, Ghada Jamshir)

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Behind the Veil of Islamophobia

The murder of Shaima Alawadi isn’t a sign of increasing prejudice, but of writers’ credulousness

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