Last week, Shaima Alawadi’s 17-year-old daughter found her lying unconscious in the living room of the family’s suburban San Diego home. She was suffering from injuries sustained from being repeatedly struck in the head with a large object (a tire iron, according to the daughter). Found next to her lifeless body was a note that read “go back to your country, you terrorist.”
On Saturday, the Iraqi woman’s family decided she was to be taken off life support. Alawadi was only 32 years old.
The stark reality is this did not occur in a vacuum. This wasn’t simply an isolated incident, a lone murder carried out by one hateful racist. It is the result of close to a decade of war that saw the death of more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians. It is a product of the post-9/11 xenophobic reverberation that expressed itself in the Park51 “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy and Rep. Peter King’s congressional hearing on the “radicalization” of Muslims in the U.S. Alawadi’s death was fueled by the same fear and paranoia that created what we now know as Homeland Security and the War on Terror. The same irrational climate that led to U.S. Marines slaying 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians in the city of Haditha in 2005 is what killed Alawadi.
Despite the rhetorical efforts of both Presidents Bush and Obama to establish that the U.S. was never at war with Islam or all people of Middle Eastern descent, the optics of American war planes dropping bombs on Iraqi and Afghan people coupled with declarations of defeating the enemy had the effect of 'otherin' all of those who looked the part. FBI reports showed that anti-Muslim hate crimes jumped 50% from 2009 to 2010. The NYPD has been revealed they conduct surveillance on entire American Muslim neighborhoods. It’s important to remember that people who look like Alawadi, whether donning the traditional hijab or not, have been deemed terrorists.
This was not just the work of a a lone murderer that viewed Alawadi or her family as a threat, but a whole system that views them as such. Sadly, this is the American narrative. Alawadi’s death is not unconnected to that of Trayvon Martin, or Rekia Boyd, or the 16 Afghan villagers massacred by a single U.S. soldier earlier this month. They are all victims of the constant dehumanization and devaluing of black and brown bodies. And so long as black and brown folks are viewed as expendable, they will be killed with abandon and their deaths will fail to matter. It should not be incumbent upon loved ones and zealous activists to affirm the humanity of those loss to bigoted violence. We should all be able recognize it before their names become another cause.
Alawadi was a mother of five. Those children are left to mourn the tragic loss of their mother in a country that forces them to defend and justify their existence. That’s a burden no child should have to bear. Here’s to hoping we find the capacity to build a world where their children never have to life with that fear.