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Hijab Makes Women Target of Violence?

March 26, 2012

It’s ironic that while shopping at Wal-Mart last week, I witnessed people cursing under their breath as a woman wearing a hijab and face veil followed behind her husband, who was wearing a jeans in t-shirt and news reports exploded this week about an Iraqi woman being beaten to death with a note alongside her body telling her to “go back to her own country.”  Is it possible that the woman was beaten and killed in a hate crime? Is it possible her husband or some other relative beat her and killed her, leaving the note to implicate Americans?  I suppose anything is possible.

The woman’s story brought to light a number of troubling issues for Americans.  The woman was 32-years old when she was killed, a mother of five, quoted as having a 17-year old daughter, implying that the mother had her first child at 15.  She wore a hijab.  She lacked anything more education than a high school diploma.  She appeared to be embody all the apparent degradation of women championed by Iraqi, and yes, sometimes, Muslim society.

The hard part is that there are also teenage mothers in America.  There are women who begin having children at 15 or 16 and continue to have 4 more.  I know these women personally.  But, they don’t wear a hijab.

I had not realized how much wearing a hijab makes a woman a target.  I heard women and men muttering in Wal-Mart, the women, with derision:  how could a woman present herself that way?  The men muttered things about how they didn’t want people like that in their country.  They muttered about beating up the husband.

My encounter with some men of Arab-descent at a local fairground was both frightening for me and enlightening.  While I was walking through the horse barns, some exchange “students” of Arab descent surrounded me, invaded my personal space, and moved forward toward me when I had my daughter in tow.  They actually formed a physical barrier between my daughter and me and the walkway to move away from the stall.  I was angered that I couldn’t move, angered that they approached en masse toward me and my daughter, to examine me as if I were a horse.  My partner’s reacting was anger when he moved down the last row and came upon that scene.  The other hands nearby were also angry, and I began to wonder how much of this type of interaction is unspoken, how much distrust is unspoken but still very real.

It’s clear that the Iraqi woman died.  It’s clear that there is a visceral response to a woman wearing a hijab in Wal-Mart.  It’s clear that there is a negative response to two women wearing a hijab in Target a year ago.  It’s clear that the negative response toward the women wearing a hijab is related to their clothing, and it’s clear that it’s not just women who find the hijab offensive.  I found it clear that what could have been interpreted as threatening maneuver by men of Arab-looking descent produced a reaction that was immediate but non-verbal from the men nearby who were my friends and family.  I wonder though, do we have more to be worried about in the non-verbal communication?

Yes, a note was found alongside the woman’s body, but it seems unlikely, on the face of the story, that the note was left as evidence to link a killer with a hate crime.  It’s possible.  Maybe it is a threat.  Maybe it was hate crime, but the more disturbing tension I have seen wasn’t even openly verbalized–it was non-verbal.  Does the hijab make women a target here in the States, when it was designed to supposedly protect women from men in other countries?  Do we believe that all of this communication regarding threat is verbal?  Does the hijab itself communicate to the American people that the woman wearing it is being abused?  Does is it communicate that the man with the woman abuses her?  Does it cause an over-generalized anger response in America that transmits even to a seemingly simple fairground encounter?  I can’t tell for certain, but I do know that I grieve for the woman who as killed. I feel for her family.  I hope the killer didn’t pick this woman simply because of her clothing.  Supposedly it’s been done by men before, killing a woman for her clothing, but it’s never been documented that a woman was killed for wearing an hijab.

Hijab ヒジャブ

Hijab ヒジャブ (Photo credit: ssr.ist4u)

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