Last Wednesday, Shaima Alawadi, an Iraqi immigrant and mother of five was brutally beaten to death in her California home in what is likely a racially-motivated attack. She was taken off life support and died on Sunday. According to her daughter, a note was left close by her mother’s body which called the family “terrorists” and said “go back to your country.”
Unfortunately, this tragic event is just one of many anti-Muslim crimes which have increased dramatically over the past decade. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, anti-Muslim hate crimes jumped from 107 in 2009 to 160 in 2010, the highest since 2001, the year of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Through the racialization of Islam, Muslims and individuals perceived as Muslim have become targets of racist harassment and violence. Experts say Muslim women, more specifically women who wear the hijab, are targeted because they are more easily identified as Muslim.
Dr. Saher Selod has studied how religious identifiers impact experiences of Muslim American men and women in the Chicago area. According to Selod, “Muslim women who wear religious signifiers (such as the hijab) are held accountable for 9/11 in public spaces. Muslim women who wear the hijab had their nationality questioned (it was assumed they were foreigners) as well as their cultural and American values questioned.”
Hate crimes and threats against Muslims and mosques have increased in California over the past few years. In 2010, a mosque in Madera was vandalized with a sign saying “No temple for the god of terrorism at Ground Zero.” California is also a hotbed for many Islamophobic groups. In an ironic twist, the same county where Shaima Alawadi was killed has a chapter of the largest anti-Muslim group in the country, ACT! for America.
ACT! is an organization that promulgates conspiracy theories claiming violent Muslim terrorists have infiltrated government institutions. The violent rhetoric and racialization of Islam is isolating Muslims in the United States and making them increasingly vulnerable.
Xenophobic and racist rhetoric does have consequences. It turns into deadly violence.