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.”

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.

If you liked this article by Amitabh Pal, the managing editor of the Progressive magazine, please check out his article entitled "New Report Shows Extent of Global Arms Complex."

Follow Amitabh Pal @amitpal on Twitter

Add new comment

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.


Forty years ago the UN General Assembly passed a resolution against "hostile environmental modification techniques...

The beauty and the tragedy of everyday life in a war zone.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

Public School Shakedown

Progressive Media Project