On Saturday, doctors took Shaima Alawadi, 32, an Iraqi mother of five, off life support, three days after her 17-year-old daughter, Fatima Al Himidi, found her brutally beaten and unconscious in the dining room of the family’s home in El Cajon, Calif. She died a short while later at 3 p.m.
Fatima told reporters that her mother’s head had been repeatedly smashed in with a tire iron—a metal rod used to pry the rubber tube from a bike tire. Next to Alawadi’s barely breathing body was a note: “Go back to your country, you terrorist."
“You took my mother away from me. You took my best friend away from me. Why? Why did you do it?” Fatima begged the KUSI-TV news camera as she was interviewed.
I can scarcely fathom how the shock, grief and outrage are no doubt ravaging Fatima, her four siblings, and her father.
The 20th century witnessed two terrible genocides: The Jewish Holocaust at the hands of the Nazis in Europe, and the Hutu slaughter of the Tutsis in Rwanda. When communities ostracize a people group based on religion or race, when they employ scapegoats in an atempt to lessen the burden of sadness or the struggles of their circumstances, innocent people die. The process of other-ing is insidious, and should be stopped as soon as it is recognized to prevent hatred from growing limbs that bruise, and strangle, and maim.
Islamophobia is such a nefarious disease, one that plagues our country like an unrelenting cancer — compromising the molecules of our morality and compelling us toward irreversible violence.
Since 9/11, I have watched Muslims become the "other" in our country, demonized by media, comedians, teachers, politicians and religious leaders alike. The kufi has become dangerously (and inappropriately) synonymous with terrorism, the hijab — the traditional head covering Alawadi was wearing when she was brutally beaten — a sign of mistrust.
We have allowed the voice of a loud, tragic minority in the Islamic tradition — those inclined toward violence in the name of Allah — to commandeer our image (and imagination) of an entire people group.
I heard a woman speak a month ago about her encounter with Islamophobia. Born and raised in the United States, she is Muslim-American who works as a government attorney in San Diego.
“What is your response to violence that is perpetrated in the name of your religion?” I asked after her presentation.
She responded without hesitation. “That is not my Islam, and I denounce it as evil” she said confidently. “The Islam I know, the Islam I practice, is committed to justice, to love, and does not defame its God through mindless violence.”
Islam has been hijacked by a radical, extremist minority, a hijacking that has wrongly tainted (in the minds of too many Americans, at least) what is an otherwise peaceful religion. This unfair characterization sparked protests at the proposition of a mosque being built in the New York City neighborhood where the Twin Towers once stood, and caused a Christian pastor in Florida to harmfully and ruthlessly threaten to publicly burn the Quran.
Shaima Alawadi was not a terrorist. She was a mother, a sister, a wife; a woman who laughed, and loved, and prayed. An Iraqi-American, Alawadi was a faithful Muslim committed to loving the other, and giving generously.
The dehumanizing, the other-ing, and the mockery must stop before more innocents die.
Because Muslims have been inappropriately homogenized in our imaginations as a consistent, univocal group, and because many Americans seem tragically inclined toward violent, vicious revenge, the actions of an unfaithful few have put the lives of millions in danger.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. poignantly noted that, “At the center of non-violence stands the principle of love.”
I can only hope that Americans heed King's wisdom.
May Alawadi will be the last to suffer violence because of tragic ignorance and hateful prejudice.
Todd Clayton is an AmeriCorps service member, working in National City, Calif., as a mentor for violent, underserved, minority youth. Read more of Todd's writing on his blog HERE.