Joanna Schroeder suggests that regardless of whether Shaima Alawadi’s murder was a hate crime, her death is still socially and culturally relevant.
I commented on Mrs. Alawadi’s murder two weeks ago, after she was beaten in her home with what is assumed to be a tire iron. She died a few days later, leaving behind a husband and children, including her eldest, Fatima, who is 17 years old.
I also reported about a note found in Alawadi’s home that implied the family were terrorists, and that they should go back where they came from. Based upon that very early information, it seemed that Alawadi’s murder was a hate crime.
Or, perhaps, framed to look like a hate crime.
The new facts emerging, according to the U-T San Diego news, involve eldest daughter Fatima’s alleged displeasure at an impeding arranged marriage, as well as Mrs. Alawadi’s alleged plan to seek a divorce from her husband and to move to Texas.
U-T San Diego reports this about her alleged interest in seeking a divorce, which raises questions about what could have been the true motive behind the crime:
During a search of the home and the couple’s vehicles in the hours after the attack, police found court paperwork to file for divorce in Alawadi’s Ford Explorer. The packet was not filled out, but a form requesting a court fee waiver was filled out in handwriting with Alawadi’s name, address and phone number.
Majhed Alhasan, secretary for the Islamic Center of Lakeside and a close friend of the family, said Wednesday he had never heard that Alawadi had been thinking about a divorce and moving.
“This is the first time I’ve heard of it,” Alhasan said. “About a month ago, her mother, non-married sister and two non-married brothers moved to Texas.”
He said a married sister of Alawadi already was living in Houston.
What’s not in question is that a 32 year old woman, a mother of 5, was murdered. Beaten with a tire iron, in her own home.
What’s in question, and is in nearly every murder, are the words and testimony of the people near the crime. The family insists there were hate-notes. The neighbor insists they saw a young man running away from the scene of the crime: a young, thin, dark-skinned man.
To further confound matters, daughter Fatima, received a text that, according to U-T San Diego read:
“The detective will find out tell them (can’t) talk,”
To me, this could indicate anything, even just that she was mad at her mom, or that she didn’t want to go through with the arranged marriage she is reported to have been against. But without a doubt, the way it is framed in this article, it seems Fatima had a secret.
People have been rallying around this family. People (like myself) are fed up with racism. And racism does exist—even if it turns out it was not a factor in Alawadi’s death. It exists in many forms: in violence, in institutional discrimination, in systematic disenfranchisement. It takes different forms depending upon who is being perpetrated against, but it exists.
And prejudices exist within all of us. Whether our prejudices are something relatively harmless (thinking people who have cats are weird, for instance), or something more sinister (like assuming someone who is Latino and has tattoos is in a gang).
When we look at someone, what do we see? It seems to be a part of our human nature to see what is different about them, not what makes them our brother or our sister. I grew up in West Michigan, where everyone was Christian, with very few exceptions. When I first saw a woman wearing a hijab (when I was living in Ann Arbor, MI—nearby Dearborn has the largest concentration of Arabs outside of the Middle East), I first saw the head cover, not the woman. It was new to me. And I had prejudices that incorrectly informed me of what her life must be like: oppressed, afraid, cowering to a man.
Then I had the honor of going to UCLA with a very diverse group of people, and learning from them, with them. I learned about the hijab and cultural relativism. I learned about the pride with which many women choose to cover. When we expose ourselves to diversity, we grow and learn in ways we cannot otherwise learn. That’s part of why I love this job at GMP.
Lisa Hickey and I talked for a while yesterday about how challenging it can be to put yourself out there and talk about these things, knowing you’ll probably get it wrong sometimes. I’m a White Midwestern middle-class woman. I’ve never been in the trenches of racism. I might get it wrong sometimes, but I want to learn. Those of us at The Good Men Project agree that we’ve got to try to do what we can to explore the areas where racism exists, and how we can stop it.
When it comes down to it, there is one thing I know:
The death of Mrs. Alawadi tells us something about hate, and this case is still very much about social justice.
As far as we know, as far as the U-T San Diego article tells us, this crime wasn’t about money, it wasn’t about business or politics as usual. As far as we know, it wasn’t a robbery-gone-bad. According to the theories posited in the original article, it was about either family violence, the role of a young woman in regards to the cultural tradition of arranged marriage, or about anti-Muslim/Arab racism.
More facts from this case will emerge, so we need to wait and see what it actually turns out to be, but what we know is that a woman died a brutal death. One most likely fueled by hate. How could it not be? She was hit in the head with a tire iron at least four times. She wasn’t raped, she wasn’t robbed, her children weren’t kidnapped.
Whether it was simple, rage-fuelled hate or a prosecutable hate crime, Shaima Alawadi’s death is socially relevant. Even if it turns out the only link to racism was a note implying the family were terrorists—faked or real—almost all of us believed it, because we know racism is alive and well in this country. We know notes like this one exist.
And in the case of Trayvon Martin: Whether or not it is proven that George Zimmerman is indeed a racist, what emerges from this case is a wider knowledge of the racism that black men face every single day. We are discussing the judgements made against men of color because of a way they may choose dress, in full knowledge of the fact that a white person in the same clothes wouldn’t face those same judgements. We are talking about the national disenfranchisement of black men, about the massive gap in education relating to gender and race. The general population cares, even if just for a moment, about the lives of young black men.
If the case of Trayvon Martin were an isolated incident, were there no other innocent young black men slain by police or neighborhood watches, this case wouldn’t have the cultural impact it has had. It impacted us because somewhere inside, we’ve always known that racism is still very much alive. Regardless of what we learn about George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin must continue to live within each of us, just as Shaima Alawadi must live within us (because nobody deserves to die like that, regardless of motive), and cause us to fight for real change.
Because we know the hate is real.