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Rallies demand justice for slain Iraqi woman

Published Apr 7, 2012 9:58 AM

Students at UNC-Chapel Hill rally against racism, March 29.

Even as the failure of authorities in Florida to arrest the killer of 17-year-old African-American Trayvon Martin continues to stoke the fires of righteous anger at racism, another killing has taken place that has touched a nerve of outrage and solidarity around the U.S.

This time it happened in the Southern California city of El Cajon, a suburb of San Diego that is home to some 50,000 people from Middle Eastern countries, second only to Detroit in that population. This time the victim was a 32-year-old woman. Her name was Shaima Alawadi, an Iraqi immigrant, a devout Muslim and the mother of five children.

On March 21, Alawadi was discovered by her 17-year-old daughter Fatima on the family’s dining room floor, bleeding profusely after being severely beaten with what police say was a tire iron. A note was found which read, “Go back to your country, you terrorist.” Several weeks before the attack, a note stating the same sentiment was found at the family’s house, but Alawadi had dismissed it as the doings of misguided youth. Despite the notes, so far police and the FBI have not declared it a hate crime, even though doing so would give the federal agency, which has persecuted many Muslims since 9/11, more powers in the investigation.

On March 24, Alawadi died after being removed from life support. She was buried in her homeland on March 31.

At least two members of El Cajon’s Muslim community have reported receiving threatening phone calls since Alawadi’s death, according to Sadaf Hane, civil rights director of the San Diego chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Incidents of bias and racism toward Muslims and peoples of Middle Eastern origin are on the increase. In 2011, the number of anti-Muslim hate groups tripled to 30, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups and documents Civil Rights abuses. FBI data show 186 separate bias crimes against Muslims in 2010, the highest number in five years. (msn.com, March 31) Bias crimes and threats are also largely underreported by the Muslim community.

But people in the community and around the country are raising their voices to demand justice. Vigils and rallies have been held around the U.S. in solidarity with Alawadi’s family, including a candlelight vigil March 28 outside Alawadi’s home.

‘Hoodies and hijabs for justice’

“Hoodies and hijabs rallies for justice” — referring to the garb worn by Trayvon Martin and the traditional headscarf worn by Alawadi and other Muslim women — took place at several college campuses around the U.S. on March 29, including at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Queens College in New York.

The cases of Martin and Alawadi have been linked increasingly on social media, including the popular Twitter hashtag #hoodiesandhijabs. Hashtags #RIPTrayvonMartin and #RIPShaima are showing up together in hundreds of messages such as “hoodie or hijab — this must stop.” The Facebook page “One Million Hijabs for Shaima Alawadi” surpassed 10,000 “likes” on April 2.

At the vigil in El Cajon, Alawadi’s 15-year-old son Muhammed stated as he wept, “My condolences go out to the family of Trayvon. My candle goes out to you as well.” (Reuters, March 29)

Since the attacks in 2001 on the World Trade Center, the U.S. ruling class of capitalists and bankers has blamed “terrorism” on oppressed peoples around the world, particularly in Arab and Muslim countries. This charge was used to justify the long, bloody U.S.-led wars and occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some 5 million Iraqis — 18 percent to 20 percent of Iraq’s entire population — became refugees, with 2 million dispersed around the world and 3 million internally displaced. The FBI has infiltrated mosques and organizations and framed up hundreds of innocent Muslims in the U.S. on false and manufactured charges.

It is within the context of imperialist wars and occupations, racism and national oppression, chauvinism and religious bigotry — all of it cultivated and promoted by the capitalist ruling class, or the 1%, as those in the Occupy Wall Street movement refer to them — that the killings of both Martin and Alawadi must be placed. A growing people’s movement against racism will help unite the 99% to fight back against the capitalist system that is the root of all racism, oppression and exploitation.

Justice for Shaima Alawadi! Justice for Trayvon Martin!