Murder, Hijabs, and Islamphobia


“This is my country. Go back to yours, terrorist.”

This was the note left for Shaima Alawadi, a 32-year-old Iraqi-American mother of five who lived in El Cajon (an area near San Diego), California, three days before she was brutally killed.

First off, so many things are wrong with this statement. So. Many. For one, the U.S. is generally
regarded as a nation of immigrants. That being said, it isn’t really any one particular group’s
country. On some point in the ancestry line, everyone’s roots came from someone else-the only
people that can claim the most original status are Native Americans (it should be noted that the
majority of hate crimes are perpetrated by whites- the FBI estimates 58.6percent for whites, 18.4
percent black, 12 percent unknown, and 11 percent “other”).

A note of this nature is sickening for many reasons, one of them being that it seems they didn’t
know Alawadi or her family at all: She, her father, and her husband had worked as private
contractors for the U.S. Army, aiding them by serving as cultural advisers to train soldiers who
were to be deployed to the Middle East.

Whether or not this was a note framed by someone within Alawadi’s own family (as some new
sources are suggesting) is important to the case, but the note (whether framed or not) reflects an
anti-Islam (or the newly coined “Islamphobic”) sentiment that has been dangerously festering in
the U.S., particularly since the events of 9/11.

What’s curious is that in the first quarter of 2012 alone, the San Diego area had already tallied
a number of hostile incidents against Muslims nearly equal to the entire amount of incidents in
2011. According to Hanif Mohebi, director of the Council on America-Islamic Relations in San
Diego, the council has seen some “disturbing bullying of young Muslim students, discrimination
in employment, and even harassment in prisons, not just by fellow prisoners but even by prison

Some particular incidents in San Diego last year stand out: A cab driver attacked a Muslim
praying near a local park, expressing the same sentiment on the note to Alawadi: “Go back to
where you came from.” A woman wearing a hijab was personally removed from a Southwest
Airlines flight because the captain “didn’t feel comfortable” with her on the flight. In October, a
group called “Defend Christians” tried to pass out anti-Muslim literature to high school students.

If this is confirmed as a hate crime, it reveals a disturbing pattern indeed: According to the
Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of anti-Muslim hate groups tripled in 2011. In 2010,
there was a 50 percent jump (FBI stats) in anti-Muslim hate crimes.

And yet the El Cajon police chief, James Redman, “said he was confident it was an isolated
incident but would not say why” (Associated Press).

Yeah…honestly? I don’t know why, either.

Needless to say, it hasn’t just been in San Diego. Last year, Lowe’s Home Improvement chose
to pull ads from the TLC program “All-American Muslim” after heated complaints from the
Floriday Family Association, that claimed showing the lives of average Muslim families was an
attempt to “manipulate Americans.” All sorts of myths have been perpetuated by the American
media, as early as in the year 2010: Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy wrote in
the Washington Times that “most mosques in the U.S. are actually engaged in a totalitarian
agenda…its express purpose in undermining…the U.S. gov. and its founding documents.” On

CNN Sunday Morning, Pamela Gellar said that “four out of five mosques preach hate.” Fox
News commentator Bill O’Reilly said that “violent extremism and sharia law is being condoned
in 75 percent of the American Muslim mosques.”

The fears and paranoia of Islamphobia are unfounded. Research shows that the majority of
terrorist plots in the U.S. since 9/11 have been perpetrated by non-Muslims, mainly right-wing
extremists and white supremacists (Congressional Research Service, Heritage Foundation).

So, I’m white. And yet, somehow, I’ve never received a note telling me to go back to my country
(which would be Italy, actually, in case you were wondering) and accusing me of being a
terrorist. But if the majority of terrorist plotters since 9/11 have been white…?

But I haven’t. Because phobia and paranoia don’t follow facts; they follow fear and ignorance.
If this was a hate crime, fear, ignorance, mistrust and brutality caused it, and all of those things
are what need to be targeted, not those who are hated.