Less than a month after the killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida, Shaima Alawadi, an Iraqi immigrant living with her five children and husband, was found beaten to death in her San Diego home. A note found next to her body read, “This is my country. Go back to yours, terrorist.” Despite the hesitancy of law enforcement, and conflicting information regarding Shaima’s difficult family life, many have begun to classify the murder as a hate crime.
It is worth noting that a number of aspects of Alawadi’s publicly embodied identity – as an Arab, Iraqi, non-white woman, speaker of Arabic, etc. – might be imbricated in her brutal death. For the “One Million Hijabs” project, however, her identity as a Muslim, as signaled by the hijab, has been identified as the motive behind the murder. As one member recently explained, “[s]he was killed for wearing a hijab. Not directly, no, but the person who committed this atrocious act connected hijabs in their mind with terrorists.”
Like Martin’s s killing, Alawadi’s has also resulted in a fairly broad public movement via social media. One Million Hijabs for Shaima Alawadi, for example, has called for women to show solidarity by posting pictures of themselves in hijab. A great many (who do not ordinarily wear it) pledged to do so for a few days, and then blogged or posted videos concerning their experiences after appearing in public.These experiences seem to be quite varied, yielding a rather complex picture of ill treatment in some cases and acceptance and even support in others. In still other instances, public protests and gatherings have emphasized that which the Martin and Alawadi killings have in common: the hoodie and hijab as publicly marking identities different from those of the dominant white and non-Muslim culture. A great deal, then, is at stake in the identities we embody, sometimes as much as life and death.