As she lay on her living room floor, bleeding to death, Shaima Al Awadi must have asked herself at least once — would I have been spared if I was not a hijabi?
In the days leading to the attack, she had been warned once by her attacker, a note she dismissed as a child's prank.
As investigators gathered clues to decide whether the attack on the 32-year-old Iraqi-American was a hate crime, women across the UAE — hijabis and non-hijabis alike — said they wished Shaima had paid heed to the warning.
"Whoever committed the crime saw Shaima's hijab and assumed that her religion makes her a terrorist. The killer did not see her as a person and seems to believe that Islam equals terrorism, a falsehood that is a product of fear and ignorance on the part of people who propagate it," Helen Williams, 35, a Dubai resident said.
Williams, who has two daughters living in Canada, said she was shocked that an innocent woman had to pay the price for being a Muslim.
What happened to Shaima is not the first or lone incident. Two years ago, two Muslim women in Seattle were subjected to a similar attack, when they stopped to fill petrol.
The attendant — later identified as 37-year-old Jennifer Leigh Jennings — allegedly kicked one, slammed a car door on her leg, before pushing her aunt to the ground.
Just like the message in the note sent to Shaima, Jennings, too, had asked the women to ‘go back to your country', after calling one a ‘suicide bomber'. She has since been charged with two counts of malicious harassment under the state's hate-crime law.
Eman and Maryam, identified only by their first names, were lucky — unlike Shaima they survived to narrate their experience.
According to humanrightsfirst.org, after the 9/11 terror attacks, the number of hate crimes directed against Arab Americans and Muslims escalated dramatically.
In California alone, where Shaima resided with her family, 197 people were victims of anti-Islamic hate crimes, with 186 offences recorded in 2010.
The figures speak volumes. As do the victims of the hate crimes.
"I have seen and experienced hate crime post 9/11 but never to this degree. It takes a very sick, mentally-disturbed, a hard core racist and extremely ignorant individual to do something this horrific," Rabia Zargarpour, an Emirati-Afghan fashion designer and entrepreneur said.
Rabia, who has lived in the US for more than half of her life, says this is not the country that she had loved to call home. "I feel outrage that hate crimes are still rampant in the US today! The note called Shaima a "terrorist". Terrorists don't have a religion; they kill innocent women, children, and civilians," she said.
Statistics show that while acts of bias-driven violence against Muslims increased in 2007 and 2008, the more serious offences included assaults — sometimes deadly — against Muslim religious leaders, ordinary Muslims, and those perceived to be Muslim.
Something that Heba Noureldine, a 22-year-old American, agrees with. "Shaima was attacked because she was a hijabi, an Iraqi, but also because she was seen only as a Muslim. That is racism at its ugliest," Noureldine, a HR Coordinator at Emirates Airlines, said.
She is quick to add that individual cases of malice should not be a yardstick to brand America as anti-Muslim. "Hijabis do not need to stop wearing the veil. My mum is a hijabi and goes to the states all the time. We have never faced a problem. If a person has decided to attack a Muslim or an Arab, it does not matter what the victims wear."
Williams agrees. "Sometimes people who discriminate have their own issues which they project onto others. They need someone to blame for their own shortcomings. Discrimination is usually based on just what people see on the surface."
By Nasheet Jaffer Khan
© Al Nisr Publishing LLC 2021. All rights reserved.