EL CAJON, San Diego - The murder of a young Iraqi-American mother on the outskirts of San Diego has shed light on a rise in hate crimes against Muslims in the United States, The Daily Beast reported on Sunday, April 1.
We've seen an increase of reports just in the last few months, including some disturbing bullying of young Muslim students, discrimination in employment, and even harassment in prisons, and not just by fellow prisoners but even by prison guards, said Hanif Mohebi, director of Council of American Islamic Relation (CAIR) in San Diego.
And now this tragedy, which has many Muslims in this community concerned, especially those that wear scarves.
Shaima Alawadi, a 32-year-old mother of five, was found unconscious on March 21 in the living room of their home in El Cajon in San Diego County.
Three days later, she was declared dead after taking her off life support.
Police said that hate crime was an option after an apparently xenophobic note was found beside the body of the Iraqi mother.
Considering other options, hate crime remained the highest possibility considered by community activists who pointed to a history of violence and intimidation toward the local Muslim community.
Maybe this wasn't a hate crime. But I have cases that are hate crimes," Besma Coda, Culture Adviser for Chaldean-Middle Eastern Social Services in El Cajon, told Reuters on Saturday.
In a sign of how closely the case was being watched, the US State Department expressed condolences for Alawadi's death, and Iraqi government representatives attended the funeral.
Alawadi's death comes at a time of renewed anti-Muslim sentiment nationwide.
In the first quarter of 2012, the number of hostile incidents against Muslims in and around San Diego was nearly equal to the total number of incidents in 2011, according to Mohebi.
There was a big jump in hate crimes against Muslims after the September 11, 2001 attacks, but the number subsided during the middle of the decade of the 2000s.
Hate crimes are on the rise again, reaching 186 separate offenses in 2010, the highest in five years, the FBI data show.
Hostile San Diego
The recent murder of the Iraqi mother was the latest in a series of increasing anti-Muslim hate crimes in San Diego area, Muslim residents said.
The animosity in the San Diego area toward Muslims is actually worse now than it was even right after the 9/11 attack, attorney Randy Hamud, an American-born Muslim and a member of the Arab-American Advisory Board for the San Diego Police Department since before 9/11, told the Daily Beast.
Giving examples of anti-Muslim crimes, a San Diego cab driver attacked a Muslim man praying near a local park last year shouting You idiot, you ----, go back to where you came from.
Another attack occurred when a hijab clad woman was removed from a Southwest Airlines flight at San Diego International Airport and was told the captain didn't feel comfortable with her on the flight.
Last October, a San Diego group called Defend Christians launched a campaign focused on passing out anti-Muslim literature to high school students.
Nationally, the number of anti-Muslim hate groups tripled to 30 in 2011, according to a recent report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which advocates for civil rights.
But Muslims in San Diego are feeling particularly concerned of the increasing attacks.
Hamud believes this has more to do with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq than with the terror attack itself.
This is a military city, and county, with several military bases, and I think intolerance is a residual effect of a war that has lasted so long, he said.
As for Alawadi's killing, Hamud said it is either a hate crime or an attack by veteran American troops returning to the US with war trauma.
If this was a hate crime, it could be the result of an increased frustration some people in this community have with
Muslims because of what happened in Iraq and what is happening in Afghanistan, where even some of the people we are there to support have attacked and killed us, he added.
Hamud fears the possibility that Southern California could be harboring another Robert Bales, who is charged with going on a rampage and killing 17 civilians in Southern Afghanistan in March.
I'd be lying if I said I wasn't concerned about it, Hamud said.
We have a very large veteran population here, and so many of our troops do multiple deployments and come home with post-traumatic stress. And we have so many identifiable people of Middle Eastern background. It's something I can't help but think about.