The thing about racism, xenophobia, gender bias, age discrimination, and a host of other prejudices is that unless you’re part of the target group, its very hard to get it. The past few weeks have been gut wrenching as grand juries in the murders of both Eric Garner and Michael Brown returned no indictments against the police officers that killed them. While the overwhelming and appropriate response has been grief and rage against the systematic brutalization of black men, and the lack of accountability for it, there are the inevitable groups that just don’t get it. They see officers forced to make hard decisions, not institutional racism. They see a series of unconnected unfortunate events, not an epidemic of violent responses by law enforcement towards black men, another manifestation of the brutality that drove slavery, Jim Crow laws, and the extra-judicial lynching of black men by whites in this country – even though none of that was very long ago.
They can’t see what’s before their eyes, no matter how many times and how many ways the people who are affected point it out. And the saddest and most ironic thing is that even those who suffer prejudice often don’t recognize the bigotry with which they encounter others.
Which brings me to Adnan, and a courtroom full of Muslims who looked as Muslim as Muslims can look.
Aunty Shamim, Adnan’s mother, told Sarah she believes it was bigotry against Muslims that was at the root of Adnan’s arrest. Sarah was skeptical, and rightly so. I agree with Sarah that it probably was not bigotry that brought the cops to Adnan’s door, but bigotry helped convict him.
At first it was overt. At the bail hearing for the first trial, the community was shocked to hear the following:
Adnan’s attorney was rational enough not to let that slide so then this happened:
Going forward from this point I can only imagine that the prosecution was like “crap we have to reign this in”, and in some ways did a better job of not being so in-your-face with the “he is a crazy angry Muslim man who killed his ex, as they are naturally prone to doing”.
But it was there. Even in the second trial, time and time again I had little internal alarms going off at the focus on Islam and Muslims – there was only one reason, and one reason alone, to even discuss religion in this case. And that was to prejudice the jury against Adnan.
Let’s remember something, the state already had motive and opportunity established for their case. Motive = jilted ex-boyfriend. Opportunity = I dunno, pick the version of Jay’s story you like.
Its not uncommon in the murders of women that law enforcement will look at current or former partners. The State had no reason to spend time at trial examining religious practices other than to color Adnan in a bigoted way without overtly articulating it.
The totality of Yaser’s examination by the state is his confirming the calls to his phone from Adnan’s phone records, whether he knew Jay, a bit about his relationship with Hae (though note the state never asks Yaser if he ever heard Adnan be angry towards Hae, or how he felt when they broke up, or if he was ever violent towards her, OR about that infamous time he indicated, when prompted by police, that if Adnan simply had to ditch a car after killing his girlfriend,he would do it in the woods or by the harbor), and ISLAM. Dun dun dun!
Between Urick and Gutierrez, its hard to figure out who harps more on Islam in questioning Yaser. Its almost unreal. Imagine the court full of Muslims trying to figure out what the fuckity fuck is going on. I can only think (hope?) that Christina thought that she needed to address the Islam thing as thoroughly, and confusingly, as possible to debunk what the State was getting at. She failed miserably of course, and when I start releasing the transcripts you’ll see how badly that went.
So yeah, it was uncomfortable and alarming. It was deeply insulting and straight up inaccurate. We knew what the State was doing, but didn’t know what to do about it. In fact, at that point, the Muslim community at large had no organized response to Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry.
People may think the Muslims only became a fifth column in the US after 9/11, but that’s not quite true. Muslims, who are often thought of as Arabs (though only about 15% of Muslims in the world are Arab, and plenty of Arabs are not Muslim), have long been mistrusted and vilified in the US.
For many decades it was an almost casual bigotry, with little push back from American Muslims. The assumptions made about Muslims and Islam were accepted as fact, without even the consideration that they were in expressions of deep prejudice and xenophobia. It wasn’t until 9/11, when anti-Muslim sentiment in the US began soaring, that Muslims began NAMING the bigotry (hello Islamophobia) and fighting back in an organized fashion.
Sure, in 1999 we had not yet been hit by the post 9/11 fallout. But from the Iran hostage crisis, to the Gulf War part I (during which I remember being asked in middle school if Saddam Hussain was my uncle), to the first World Trade Center bombing, to “Not Without My Daughter”, the anti-Muslim ship had long sailed. By the time I was a freshman in high school, I had already been called a sand nigger three times, once as a 16 year old enjoying Burger King on the Ocean CIty, MD boardwalk by a group of middle aged bikers. Good times.
Now some folks, even those really trying hard to stay PC, may think “yesssss buuuutttt…isn’t there an ‘honor killing’ problem among Muslims?”. For those folks, and though I’m loathe to do so because neither this crime nor Adnan have anything to do with honor killings, let me just briefly explain something.
“Honor killings” are not exactly what you think they are. They are not jilted boyfriends killing their ex’s. They are when the actual family members of a girl or woman kills her for hurting the “honor” of the family. It is an abhorrent and horrific crime that has been committed by Hindus, Sikhs, non-Muslim Arabs, and yes Muslims. It is not a “prevelant” practice (ie, no man in on any side of my family has ever committed it, or my husband’s family, or the families of any Muslim or SouthAsian I’ve ever known in my entire life – in case you’re wondering). And it certainly is not an “Islamic” practice.
It is one more form of violence against women, but it is not what the State is trying to frame this case as. Their theory is actually that the murder was an of act domestic violence crime by a scorned partner. Which, by the way, are as “prevalent” in the US as they are any place in the world. Its just that when a Muslim man beats his wife, the public views it as religiously-motivated violence, but when anyone else does it, it’s plain old domestic violence. As far as I’m concerned, violence-against-women by any other name smells just as awful. I don’t care who the perp is.
Ok, back to the case.
Let me tell you about May 14th, 2014. On that day Sarah came to my office (yes the same one in which we keep little bags of pot littered around as client favors – I kid you Baltimore PD, I kid you) with a document. She switched on the mic, handed me the document, and awaited my reaction.
I think I cursed a lot. I can’t remember exactly. But I felt my face get hot and angry and was hopping around in my chair, gobsmacked and horrified. I had never seen this document before, not in the attorney files or in the court files. Sarah had discovered it among the police files she had FOIA’d.
It was a memo written by a “cultural consultant” specifically for the detectives on the case. As someone who serendipitously has spent the last few years training law enforcement on Islam and Muslims (as a counter to the terrible anti-Muslim trainings they had been getting), every red flag in my head was waving.
I was livid reading that memo but Sarah seemed almost skeptical – so, that stuff isn’t really true she asked? I remember wondering if someone as sophisticated as her could really, on any level, think these eight pages of crap were in fact accurate representations of Islam. Then I remembered most people, whether they’re in the White House or the Bible Belt, know very little about Islam and Muslims.
Sarah read an excerpt of that memo in the podcast, but the public deserves to see it in its entirety. Dear Muslims of Maryland, you may want to pay attention to how your tax dollars are being spent. And you may want to hold the State to account for this:
Sarah had redacted any identifying information about the consultant (afraid I may honor kill her? I dunno), but this document shows up in an index in another file I had where the author is mentioned but the actual document is missing. And so, to the author, I would love to extend an invitation to come to my home to visit with an average Pakistani American family, and even extend an invitation to Pakistan to see that the streets are not, in fact, littered with the bodies of battered women.
Because Pakistan, dear consultant, is not exactly what you think it is. I take personal exception to your characterization because it just so happens that was born there. Pakistan has serious societal ills like any country, including the US. But Pakistan is also this:
Stylish, and look women who forgot their burkas
Brace yourself – Pakistani women read and write:
Pakistani culture includes a rich history of folk and Sufi music sung even by (surprise!) women:
We know how to throw down at a wedding:
And while Islam sometimes looks like the Taliban, it also looks like this:
And some folks in Pakistan really like peace:
The truth is that Adnan, born and raised in the U.S. of A., was and is about as American as the child of immigrants could get. He, much like my own brother, knows next to nothing about Pakistan. I hope one day I’m able to take both him and Saad, and hey anyone else who wants to come, on a tour of the motherland. As uncomfortable as all the talk of Islam and Pakistan was for the rest of us, I can only imagine how deeply distressful and bewildering it must have been for Adnan.
The fact that State conflated Islam, Pakistan, Arabs, honor, culture, and a host of other things is not proof that they understood Adnan and where he was coming from. It was proof that their case was so weak they had to rely on bolstering religious and ethnic bias and bigotry at trial in order to get their conviction. A part of me hopes they didn’t really believe their own crap, but then I’m not sure which is worse. That they believed it, or that they didn’t but used it to convict an innocent boy anyway. Either way, they should be ashamed of themselves.