On March 21, just one day after the ninth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Shaima Alawadi, a 32-year-old Iraqi immigrant and mother of five, was savagely beaten in the head with a tire iron in her home in El Cajon, Calif.. Her 17-year-old daughter, Fatima, found her on the kitchen floor in a pool of blood with a note near her saying, "Go back to your country, you terrorist."
In 1993, Alawadi immigrated from Iraq to Dearborn, Mich., a suburb of Detroit. She had moved into the suburban home near San Diego just a few weeks before the slaying, and had received a similar threatening note taped to her front door just a week before that read: "This is my country. Go back to yours, terrorist."
El Cajon, Calif., is home to one of the largest Iraqi immigrant populations in the country. Home to over 40,000 Iraqis, it is a community that grew exponentially after the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Hundreds from the community, which has suffered other incidents of hate crimes, attended vigils to support Alawadi's family. While the general experience of Islamophobia and racism is nothing new to Muslims in the United States, this incident is certainly the most extreme example since the explosion of anti-Muslim bigotry after 9/11.
Refuting the 'isolated incident' buffer
But what made Alawadi a foreign terrorist in the eyes of the murderer? It was the racist equalization between the terms "terrorist" and "Muslim." The only outward expression of her faith in Islam was her hijab, a traditional headscarf worn by Muslim women as an expression of piety and modesty. It was also worn by other women in her immediate family and is no doubt the reason that Alawadi and her family were targeted.
The Islamophobic and xenophobic nature of the threatening messages left with the family, before and after the racist murder, is sufficient evidence that this was in fact a hate crime.
But El Cajon Police Chief Jim Redman, Lt. Mark Coit and officials from the FBI and State Department have all called this hate crime an “isolated incident.” They claim they do not want to end up with "tunnel vision" on the case while they investigate. Meanwhile they promote the “isolated incident” hypothesis in the capitalist media in contradiction to the evidence, attempting to push the masses into the tunnel vision that suits their needs.
This is a blatant tactic aimed at quelling the latent, potential power of a mass anti-racist movement. It is no surprise that this tactic is being deployed by the capitalist state as tens of thousands of Black youth pour into the streets demanding justice for Trayvon Martin.
A brief glimpse at recent history, however, reveals that this is not an isolated incident, and is just one piece of the thread of Islamophobia that has been woven into our society in the last decade. It is a fabric that we must move immediately to shred and reconstruct without the age-old racist, sexist and bigoted threads.
Imperialism engenders Islamophobia
The "War on Terror," launched by the Bush administration and carried forward by the Obama administration, was immediately and perpetually transliterated as a "War on Muslims" by imperialist propaganda and the far right.
This became a matter of convenience for the ruling class as imperialists sought to conquer resource-rich and geo-politically strategic regions of the Middle East that were predominantly Muslim. Muslims needed to be demonized in order to sell a war to the masses, and this campaign was carried forth by politicians, far-right pundits and the military brass.
The U.S. public was taught that Muslims hate democracy and want to destroy this country because “we have freedom.” U.S. troops were taught cadences for their marches that celebrated massacring Muslims inside mosques and public parks. But when soldiers burn the Quran en masse it is a "mistake." And when soldiers massacre Afghan civilians or pose with big grins near Afghan corpses, we are assured that it is only an "isolated incident" involving a "rogue" soldier or two.
The truth is that the strategic aims of imperialism in the Middle East and Asia mean that the demonization of Muslims will continue to be a prevailing idea. This racist ideology is promoted by those in power, the capitalist class, which controls the media and state institutions that are at the center of disseminating ideology. This fact illustrates the pressing need to struggle against this ideology with a new ideology centered on working-class unity and international solidarity—socialism.
The 'Islamic Scare' in the belly of the beast
The most notorious post-9/11 affront to Muslims at home and abroad has been the Guantanamo Bay prison, where hundreds of people have been detained indefinitely as "terrorists" or "enemy combatants" with very little hope of release. These illegal detentions marked the beginning of the "Islamic Scare." Muslims were illegally detained, mosques were raided and one of the largest Muslim charities in the country, the Holy Land Foundation, was shut down with leaders imprisoned for allegedly providing material support to terrorists. Some, like Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist and graduate of Brandeis University here in the United States, were abducted by U.S. intelligence agencies without a trace and interrogated for years before being imprisoned on trumped up charges.
Court challenges have revealed that many of the people detained have no connection to organizations the U.S. government would consider to be terrorists. In 2008, five Algerians illegally detained were ordered released along with 17 men of the Uighur ethnicity, a Muslim minority from western China. The most famous person to be released, in 2008, was Sami al-Hajj, who was a journalist interrogated almost exclusively about the al-Jazeera network for whom he worked at the time of his capture in 2001, as revealed by WikiLeaks cables.
It is clear from developments in recent years that the “Islamic Scare” is not over, and has already had a formative impact on social relations. The most recent hate crime report released by the FBI last November revealed that hate crimes targeting Muslims increased by 50 percent in 2010.
Throughout 2011, at least 13 states introduced bills and state constitutional amendments intended to ban Sharia law. No Muslims have ever attempted to codify Sharia law in the United States, and these measures, laughable to most, must be recognized as the continuation of the broader campaign to vilify Muslims as the "enemy within" that is attempting to overtake the United States covertly, not unlike the propaganda used against communists in the 1950s.
It should come as no surprise that David Yerushalmi, a notorious white supremacist and founder of the Society of Americans for National Excellence, was the original author behind these anti-Sharia laws and worked closely with the American Public Policy Alliance to push them into fruition. The American Public Policy Alliance is a far-right coalition that has formed to codify anti-Muslim laws and is supported primarily by the Tea Party, former military commanders and the CIA.
In March 2011, extremist pastor Terry Jones burned the Quran at his church after putting the book "on trial." In that same month, Villa Park City Councilwoman Deborah Pauly announced at a Tea Party rally against an Islamic Circle of North America fundraiser that her military son would be happy to help the “terrorists to an early meeting in paradise.” Pauly’s comments were met with a massive demonstration organized by the ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), Council on American Islamic Relations and the local community.
The Muslim community in the New York region amassed at the Playland Amusement Park in Rye, N.Y., during Eid al-Fitr, the celebration of the end of Ramadan, on Aug. 30, 2011. A scuffle ensued after the amusement park refused to refund women who were prevented from riding a roller coaster because they wore a hijab. The police responded by violently attacking a crowd of Muslims and arresting 15 people.
Over 100 officers from nine different departments responded to the incident, which comes as no surprise since it has been revealed that NYPD are trained to target Muslims, and are responsible for a massive spying operation that targeted Muslim Student Associations from over 16 universities in the Northeast as well as mosques and Muslim-owned businesses across the region. The operation was not only unchecked but was openly defended by NYPD and politicians on the local and national level.
State surveillance has been promoted as an acceptable tactic to ensure American safety. At the same time, a new reality television show, “All-American Muslim,” which showed Muslims in the United States going about their daily lives like everybody else, had advertisements from Lowe’s home improvement company pulled under pressure from the Florida Family Association, an evangelical group that promotes "traditional, biblical values." The Muslim community could not even be commercialized and made profitable to the entertainment industry without drawing significant vilification.
The way forward—organize and fight
The climate and social norm of targeting Muslims in recent history, coupled with the details of the case make it clear: The murder of Shaima Alawadi is a hate crime aimed at terrorizing Alawadi’s family and the Muslim community at large. The case is a product of the system itself, not a lone killer. The sanctioned hate speech, paranoia, state repression and institutionalized racism against Muslims is as responsible for the brutal killing of Alawadi as surely as is the individual or individuals who wielded the tire iron.
The idea of a Muslim "enemy" at home and abroad functions doubly for the ruling capitalist class to wedge another division within the working class, and to justify the imperialist occupation of sovereign nations. The time is now for our class to unite in a broad-based movement against racism.
We cannot rely on liberal politicians or organizations to take the lead on this issue, because the entire bourgeois political establishment fails to act when it comes to involvement with or defense of Muslims. The most recent illustration of this fact was the decision of the chair of the Democratic National Committee, Wasserman Schultz, to withdraw from a speaking engagement at an event held by a liberal Muslim organization. This movement can only be carried forward by principled organizations that will not bend when the breeze of establishment public opinion passes over them.
Many have already noted the similarities between the cases of Trayvon Martin and Shaima Alawadi, and spontaneous "hoodie and hijab" demonstrations have already sprung up around the country. These spontaneous demonstrations involving multiple sections of the working class must be forged into a movement by increasing organization and staying on the offensive. Only a fighting movement in the streets can ensure that there will never be another Shaima Alawadi.
The most disturbing aspect of the case, however, is the fact that Alawadi dismissed the first threatening note because she had grown accustomed to being called a terrorist and being told to leave the country. No person should be forced to accept a system where discrimination and abuse are a normal part of life. This should be the central tenet of the burgeoning anti-racist struggle.