When Nabra Hassanen’s father was asked about her murder, he told The Guardian that he did not buy the “road rage” explanation: “I don’t believe this story. I tell [sic] the detective the same thing … He killed my daughter because she is Muslim. That’s what I believe. That’s what I told him.”
When Muslims or people of colour are victims of crimes, investigators caution the public and media to be level-headed and unbiased until all the facts are verified. Commentators rush to caution viewers and social media followers that they shouldn’t rush to judgment about the motive of the murderer, instead focusing on blaming the victim, explaining away the hate or just plain dismissing that Muslims are increasingly a targeted group in the US and other Western nations.
It would be fine to ask the public to “wait for the official investigation” if these same commentators would withhold judgment on investigations when a Muslim is a perpetrator of a crime, but that is not the case. When a Muslim is accused of a crime, media analysts immediately begin to report it as terrorism, without taking into account that Muslims who commit crimes do so for the same reasons as other criminals – because they have no regard for laws or for other human lives.
Muslims dehumanised even when they are victims
This double standard doesn’t end there, though. Rather than focusing on the loss of life that the family just suffered, some had the gall to blame Nabra for being out late at night and for her mode of dress. Others chose to vilify the other teenagers who were with her for running away. Perhaps most chillingly, some chose to focus on the murderer’s “legal status” because he had a Hispanic-sounding name, as if American citizens have never or would never commit such crimes!
Focusing on such questions dehumanises Nabra. It makes her murderer the story and finds excuses for his actions. When three young Muslims were murdered in 2015, investigators pinned it on “a parking dispute”, as if that justified the actions of their murderer, denying the family’s narrative that Islamophobia played a role, indicating that he was provoked and diminishing the role the victims’ very visible adherence to Islam had in the crime.
|If in fact Muslims were just playing the role of the victim, then someone like Donald J Trump, who used hate to win votes, wouldn’t have become the president of the US.|
When a former Google employee vandalised a mosque and made alarming statements about wanting to kill “lots of people” and hurt blacks, Jews and Mexicans, her mental illness was cited as an excuse for her actions and she got off with probation after spending just four months behind bars before her sentencing.
There is a trend in the US, and it is that our society has become quite adept at finding excuses for murderers. The black community in America has most often been on the receiving end of this disease: when law enforcement murder a black man or woman in cold blood, the resounding question isn’t why this happened in the first place and why it continues to happen – it is why the black man or woman “didn’t comply with police orders”, or how the victim’s criminal past “contributed to their demise”, as if the victim’s past justifies their murder at the hands of those who are meant to protect them.
“Muslims are playing the victim card”
It’s almost futile to cite, once again, exactly how much attacks against Muslims have gone up in recent years in the US. This is because a review of the facts inevitably leads to a common refrain: “You Muslims need to stop playing the victim card.”
If in fact Muslims were just playing the role of the victim, then someone like Donald Trump, who used hate to win votes, wouldn’t have become president of the US. Anti-Muslim and anti-South Asian hate crime levels wouldn’t be the highest they’ve been since post-9/11. And police wouldn’t decline to name it a hate crime when a visibly Muslim woman was beaten so severely by a white man that she lost four teeth and ended up with facial fractures.
It is not playing the victim card to acknowledge that hate exists in the US, and that law enforcement officials and media outlets are contributing to the disproportionate misrepresentation and misclassification of crimes against Muslims.
One of the most egregious mistakes we made after Nabra’s murder was to make reactionary calls to better protect ourselves. The problem isn’t safety and security. The problem is that the US needs to acknowledge there is a problem with hate in this country and that dismissing or glossing over this will only embolden criminals. Calling out hate despite “official accounts”, as Nabra’s father and family are doing, is the only correct response to her murder at this moment in time.
Next, communities targeted by hate groups in the US must stop apologising for their very existence. When a Muslim is accused of a crime, it is not necessary to bend over backwards to explain how a quarter of the world’s people, who happen to ascribe to the same faith, do not support the criminal and inhumane acts of one or two people.
Furthermore, it is tiring to see all the words of precaution circulating on social media, particularly those directed at Muslim women who wear the hijab – in case it isn’t clear, those who commit acts of hate will do so not just because a woman is wearing the hijab. When two Indian men were killed by a white man telling them to “leave his country”, it wasn’t their faith that provoked him – it was that they looked different. It is misguided to assume that changing our identities and the things we hold dear will be a deterrent to those who hate.