Foreign Policy Blogs

Shaima Alawadi and the Fickle Discourse of Instant Obsession

Kassim Al-Himidi with the body of his wife, Shaima Alawadi, during a memorial service. (Nelvin C. Cepeda / Associated Press via LA Times)

America is in a state of public mourning for a young man by the name of Trayvon Martin, whose death at the hands of an over-zealous neighborhood watch volunteer – and under suspicions of racial profiling – has sparked a national dialogue on race.

His shooting death has prompted outrage across with country, with dozens of rallies dotting the social landscape. President Obama remarked that if he had a son, the young man would bear an uncanny resemblance to the murdered Martin, in an executive homage to the alleged homicide.

Largely absent the conversation is another name – Shaima Alawadi – a 32 year old Iraqi national, whose family fled her native soil amidst Saddam Hussein’s brutal crackdown on the Shi’a uprising in the wake of America’s first invasion of Iraq. She settled in suburban San Diego, growing up in one of the largest enclaves of America’s expatriate Iraqi society. She wore the traditional hijab, and volunteered at her neighborhood mosque.

And then, like Trayvon Martin, she was found savagely murdered. Only she was found within her modest home, beaten to death, with a threatening note beside her body. According to her daughter, it read, simply: “Go back to your country, you terrorist.” Alawadi’s family reportedly told the police that they had received a note similar to one left at the murder scene a week prior.

So while Twitter and Facebook have blown up with user-created hashtags and pages in honor of Martin’s now-signature hooded sweatshirt and penchant for Skittles candy – all on the immediate heels of feigned e-outrage over #kony2012 fiasco – one wonders why an Iraqi national, targeted for wearing a Muslim headscarf, hasn’t enjoyed the same sort of instant obsession. One needs not even mention that both her brothers and her husband worked with the U.S. Army as cultural advisors in training soldiers to be sent to the Middle East.

Shaima Alwadi

If there’s a silver lining to this story, it’s that Alawadi has been spared the indignity Martin’s family is now experiencing at the nexus of national, racial scrutiny. Conservative pundits have counterpunched against allegations of inequity by summoning injuries done a 13 year old white boy from Kansas City, who was doused with gasoline and lit on fire last week while walking home from school. Their obtuse suggestion implies the lack of media attention is due to the color of the victim’s skins…and the color of the criminal assailants. Police have described the perpetrators of the criminal assault as black 16-year olds, and the act a “hate crime.”

Although her murder has garnered international acclaim – including a call for justice from the Iraqi parliament – its tones are considerably mellowed. But perhaps Alawadi’s family can take some solace in the fact that those who care about their daughter, sister and mother — not to mention her murder — do so absent the hysterical polemics of national fascination – preferring to remember her with the heartfelt thoughts of a grieving, Iraqi community, abroad.

Her body will be flown to Baghdad, said Iraq’s foreign minister Monday.



Reid Smith
Reid Smith

Reid Smith has worked as a research associate specializing on U.S. policy in the Middle East and as a political speechwriter. He is currently a doctoral student and graduate associate with the University of Delaware's Department of Political Science and International Relations. He blogs and writes for The American Spectator.