Nabra Hassanen’s murder doesn’t come out of nowhere; it is embedded into the structure of American society

Published: July 3, 2017
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At the end of the day, Hassanen’s sole crime was her innocence.

In the early hours of June 18thNabra Hassanen, a 17-year-old black Egyptian Muslim girl was kidnapped, beaten with a bat, and dumped into a pond.

The Virginia police ruled out the incident as ‘road rage’. However, it’s incredibly difficult to believe any instance of road rage involves the premeditated forethought of kidnapping a girl, dragging her into a car, and covering up the evidence by submerging what’s left of her into a body of water.

The murder sparked a fresh wave of fear for Muslims in America, who have lived in terror of hate crimes since 9/11. Muslims now struggle with the possibility of being shot cold in the doorways of their homes by a neighbour they’ve shared a parking lot with for the past two years, which is what happened with the 2015 murders of three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

America is supposed to offer the promise of safety, security, and success for Muslims who leave their homelands in search of a better and more liveable future. But the recent spike in hate crimes and tragedies like Hassanen’s murder have cast the American dream for Muslims in irrevocable doubt. Like Hassanen’s death, once lost, it’s almost impossible to believe in again and retrieve.

Hassanen was born to Nubian-Egyptian immigrants in the US, thus she was a natural citizen. She was American in that she was born in and lived in America her whole life, and knew life in this country best.

But Hassanen was caramel-skinned and wore the hijab. She was the daughter of immigrants. She was a practicing Muslim and an unapologetic member of her community, a dated photo on Facebook showing her holding a placard against Donald Trump’s deportations.

At the end of the day, her belonging in the US didn’t protect her from the rage of a 22-year-old man. Ironically, he is an undocumented Salvadoran immigrant himself, who brutally tortured her before killing her and who the police say may have raped her before she died.

Hassanen’s murder was oddly, almost chillingly, specific. She was only 17-years-old, a child, a young girl with a future to experience and enjoy. She was at the cusp of her life, when high school students get ready to graduate and start applying to universities. But more than anything else, she was innocent.

In her smiling face, Muslims around the US saw the faces of their sisters, daughters, and friends. They saw the purity and innocence of a young girl who had her entire life ahead of her. Hassanen’s life was snatched from her before she ever had the chance to really live it.

But Hassanen’s murder doesn’t come out of nowhere; it is embedded into the structure and fabric of American society. The rage and premeditated cruelty that killed her wasn’t random, but targeted against women and girls who fall outside the fold of whiteness and fail to adhere to the gendered stereotypes that uphold American patriarchy.

The hyper visibility of girls and women like Hassanen who wear the hijab render them targets to masculine violence. Thus, it constructs a violent and patriarchal American identity on the disempowerment of women challenging the social order. Whether a woman who puts on a headscarf before she leaves the house believes it’s a political act or not, the religious act has been politicised in a country that waged war against Afghanistan and Iraq on images of veiled, oppressed Muslim women.

But the war on Muslim women in America is even more directly militarised than just political gendered images perpetuated by the media. Until 2012, Navy SEALs used images of hijab-clad Muslim women for target practice.

The hijab then becomes more than an act of religious worship, a form of lehaaz (etiquette) or an aesthetic assertion of identity. It becomes a racial marker for people who are ‘other’, and who implicitly challenge America and western imperialism by the virtue of their existence. Moreover, it becomes a marker for how they choose to practice their lives, and through this, they are categorised by those that fall outside the implicit rules of what’s acceptable in America and what’s not.

But Hassanen did not become ‘other’ by only wearing the hijab. She was a black Egyptian girl, the daughter of immigrants and a practicing Muslim. In a country with severe anxiety about race, and a tenuous relationship with its centuries-old black population, Hassanen tended towards the opposite side of the black-white binary.

While she was not African American, the pathological fear and hatred for blackness in America informs almost all racial encounters and relationships, laying the blueprint for a skin colour-based racism (as opposed to ethnic racism). African Muslim immigrants find themselves caught in the midst of an anti-black racialised Islamophobia, sometimes even experiencing erasure or exclusion perpetrated by their non-black Arab and South Asian Muslim peers.

At the end of the day, Hassanen’s sole crime was her innocence, her youth and the fact that she dared to express who she was without any shame or apology. There are no words which can bring her back, or can invoke martyrdom to make peace with her death. She is yet another soul of this generation buried in the earth before she could change the world we live in for the better. We will mourn and remember her, and we will work to make sure this never, ever happens again.

 

Iman Sultan

Iman Sultan

The author is a freelance writer and activist, currently based in Philadelphia. She tweets @karachiiite (twitter.com/karachiiite)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • vinsin

    TNT is again right. Recommend

  • wb

    I don’t see how ONE girl is being allegedly killed for being Muslim in America is any worse than 100s of 1000s of Muslim girls/women raped /murdered by Muslim men all in the name of ISLAM, across the world on a freaking monthly basis?!!

    Because it’s not. Unless Muslims correct their own culture, you’ll get ZERO sympathies from us. Not only should you get your stuff right, you’ll have to start respecting non-Muslims more than you respect Muslims (simply because our contribution for the progress of the world is vastly greater than yours).

    So, let such incidences increase in numbers.Recommend

  • MJ

    The incident might have started as road rage but what followed cannot be separated from a hate crime, racism and terrorism. But those terms are very hard to pin on non-Muslims living within the new world order.Recommend

  • Ahmar

    I agree. America is unsafe especially for Muslim girls. You should move back to Pakistan?

    Why are these blogs full of articles from ex-pats and feminists?? Talking about Hijabi girl, of Egyptian descent, living in the US.

    Her life is more important that this man shot dead in Pakistan? https://tribune.com.pk/story/1448818/man-shot-dead-sargodha/Recommend

  • wb

    “She was American in that she was born in and lived in America her whole life, and knew life in this country best.”

    NO. She cannot be an American as long as she espouses the symbol of oppression of women called Hijab. She cannot be an American as long as she espouses the ideas of going to heaven while others going to hell. She cannot be an American as long as she espouses the ideas of women being the second class citizens. She cannot be American as long as she espouses the ideas of killing Jews and Pagans.

    She cannot be a real American as long as she remains a Muslim.Recommend

  • wb

    “She is yet another soul of this generation buried in the earth before she could change the world we live in for the better.”

    An overwhelming majority of Muslims on the face of the Earth has changed the world we live in for the worse. Can you tell me one contribution of Muslims to this world that has brought more peace and happiness? You can’t. Because, it doesn’t exist.Recommend

  • Rajiv

    Muslims in general don’t change things to better.Recommend

  • ZS

    Not to say about the massive rape of Hindu girls in India by tgeir own relatives a neighbors and then hanged on mango trees. Nothing to say about them for that is Hindu culture.Recommend

  • ZS

    What hate you are spouting? You must be a Hindu from India. Recommend

  • Doda

    LOL, let me shred your ignorance, and dburst your bubble of rape myth of India, By Last UN report on sexual crimes against women, of 2010, RAPE RATE of India was 1.8 per 100,000 population and same for pakistan was 2. Going by recent available data on rape rate in India, according to National Crime Records Bureau 2013 annual report, Rape rate of India was 2. There is no recent data on Rape Rate of Pakistan i found but, they must be around 2 also. India has a huge population of 1.3 billion population due ti which the total number of rape cases is among the highest but going by RAPE RATE it’s better than 50% of the countries. http://www.nationmaster.com/country-info/stats/Crime/Rape-rate From here you can download the UN report, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rape_statistics#cite_note-undata-13 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rape_statistics#By_countryRecommend

  • Milind A

    Look pal… We don’t condone the rape of Hindu girls here. We don’t look into our religious texts to search for verses justifying our act as holy duty.. Moreover we protest for every killing/rape, regardless of the victim being Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist etc.. develop some critical thinking…Recommend

  • Milind A

    When has showing the mirror become hate? And yes we’re Hindus from India who have the integrity to accept wrongs in our religion, rather than being defensive and putting a spin on vile acts.Recommend

  • Eddied

    certainly Muslims can be real Americans?…there are plenty of Muslim American soldiers who are ready to fight for the USA?…they are probably much better Americans than you are…Recommend

  • Eddied

    all reports from people at the scene say this was road rage?…but the author want to believe it is a hate crime against a Muslim?.but I am reminded of the recent story of the American guys who were killed defending a Muslim girl from abuse…that is what America is really like…Recommend

  • wb

    Way off target. Those who are fighting for America are not Muslims at all according to Islam. Do you even get my point?Recommend

  • ErikKengaard

    Wow! The pot calling the kettle black.Recommend

  • Muhammad Zeb

    This article does not invite the sort of comments you have posted here. It is strange to see that you carry so much hate in your heart for the people of a certain religion. The problem is that the moment you start thinking of yourself as a person of high morals, you have already placed yourself in the abyss of immorality. Although I do not comment on these kind of issues, I might try to help you remove your bias. Before Muslims started ruling it, India was known to the world only in stories and books. The world have always been divided between West and East and there was no India in this division. It is only the last 50 years that Indian have been incorporated in the stream of this world (Thanks to the British Rule). Ancient people belonging to Eqypt, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Palestine are the one who have contributed knowledge to this world. These are the same people who today call themselves Muslims. It was Muslims that connect India to the rest of the world. How can India contribute anything to this world when it was not even communicating with it. Even in India, this is the Muslim Architecture that is famous. No one talk about the Indian Architecture. Muslims are passing through a difficult time but at the end of the day, they would end up learning a lot from it. And I know majority of the west is not hate mongers. But I cannot say the same about India. However, I wish every nation evolve and grow and see prosperity as we humans are the same. In the end, I would say that the hate you carry in your heart would only hurt you and not any one else.Recommend

  • Usman Ansari

    Who’s this “us” to which you refer? This story is about an American Muslim. I’m an American Muslim. Your odd style of writing and language pattern makes it obvious you aren’t American. So don’t speak for Americans…they have been sympathizing with the American Muslim community over this killing.Recommend

  • wb

    All nonsense aside, it’s my moral, ethical duty to hate evil.

    That people of a certain religion are the most violent of all people in the history of UNIVERSE.

    So, it’s my unwavering duty to hate that culture.Recommend

  • wb

    Being an American and being a Muslim is completely mutually exclusive. They both stand for absolute opposite values.

    Try telling ISIS you’re a Muslim and see what happens to your head.

    Anyway, the “us” I’m referring to are 6 billion non-Muslims of the world.Recommend

  • peter pan

    Look, we are here and we will continue to be here until we get all your women into hijab!!!! So take a long breadth and start adjusting to the new normal.Recommend

  • wb

    I took a long BREADTH, now how do I come back? LOL, shows what a fool you’re. A deluded at that too.Recommend

  • http://solomon2.blogspot.com/ Solomon2

    “…While she was not African American, the pathological fear and hatred for blackness in America informs almost all racial encounters and relationships, laying the blueprint for a skin colour-based racism -”

    Unfortunately for the author, the facts of this case don’t back up her ideology. The perp was, as she points out, an undocumented immigrant – that is, an illegal one. His nationality is Salvadoran, and his extremely violent and cruel reaction – contrary to the author, there is no indication of premeditation – are characteristic of members of the secretive Salvadoran transnational criminal gang MS-13, which President Trump noted in April as a high threat to Americans’ security, vowing to expel its members from the country.

    The Northern Virginia Islamic community has suffered a terrible tragedy with Nabra’s murder. Hyping it further by portraying it as something it was not in order to induce fear and division among Muslim Americans is far from an act of sympathy; rather, it is a heartless and slanderous attempt to employ Nabra’s death for political purposes.Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    “America is supposed to offer the promise of safety, security, and success for Muslims who leave their homelands in search of a better and more liveable future.”

    Wrong. America is not supposed to but it still offers the promise and you should be grateful to it, what the Americans rather see is the Muslim immigrants teaching them how not to live their lives. You almost sound as if Muslims are doing a favour by going to America.

    “She was a practicing Muslim and an unapologetic member of her community, a dated photo on Facebook showing her holding a placard against Donald Trump’s deportations.”

    What’s their to be apologetic of who you are as if non Muslims are being who they are apologetically, it is this mindset which Muslims need to get out of and if they can’t, atleast do not pass it over to your next generations. She was 17 and was anti Trump when the children of most of the non Muslim immigrants were busy putting in the effort to secure good scores.

    ” We will mourn and remember her, and we will work to make sure this never, ever happens again.”

    Yes do remember your own words even when the victim is not a Muslim.Recommend

  • MJ

    wb … you have too much hate in yourself. You must be a paid internet troll.

    Have you even read the American constitution? Where does it say that a certain religion or in your words, not having a certain faith is what makes someone an American? Secondly, how do you know what she believes in? Did she confide in you that she wants to kill Jews and Pagans?
    Also how someone wearing a piece of cloth on their head be a symbol of oppression? What if some woman wears a bikini? Is that a symbol of liberation and not exploitation? When people like you think that they are better than others and want to decide what others can believe in, wear, eat or do is what is called slavery. You want to enslave everyone in your definition of what a person should be … I have friends (Hindus) who eat more beef than what even regular Americans do … and they are better Hindus than most of those who eat vegetables and lentils in India.Recommend

  • MJ

    The biggest contribution that directly impacted you is that your ancestors in India were not forcefully converted to Islam when Muslims ruled for 100’s of years. You are lucky that your ancestors were not Jewish or Muslims living in Spain, or Buddhists living in present India that were killed and driven from the lands that they inhabited.Recommend

  • wb

    Yes. I get paid two idlies and half a cup of tea for each post.Recommend

  • wb

    Despite the confidence you have in the evil of the Muslim rulers of India…let me assure you that that did not happen because nobody believes in Islam. Not even Wahabi Muslims. That’s why terrorism, dear. Fanaticism is overcompensation for doubt. that’s Islamic fanaticism for you.Recommend

  • MJ

    I am not a fan of the evil Muslim rulers of India either. Most of them were in it for the power and money. Just like the one invader of India that Hindus love to hate, Mahmud of Ghazni, if you read history books you will be shocked to know that his army comprised of more Hindu generals and soldiers than Muslims.
    As far as terrorism is concerned, it is 90% a tool used by imperialist powers now to control the world. They create, control and fund all these fringe groups to control media and minds of general population while they themselves bomb and kill innocent by the millions.
    You seem to have fallen for their propaganda hook line and sinker. But, from your writings I can sense that you are not too dumb, so you are maliciously maligning Islam, something that just shows you have an agenda here to begin with.Recommend

  • Joseph

    Do You Even Know Who Is Fighting ISIS In Syria and Iraq.It Is Either Muslim Kurds or Iraqi Army Both Muslims.

    And Who On Earth Has Given You The Right To Represent The 6 Billion Non UslimsRecommend

  • Joseph

    You Say 1.8,Here Is What Is Written In Wikipedia

    “The National Crime Records Bureau of India suggests a reported rape rate of 2 per 100,000 people, much lower than reported rape incidence rate in the local Indian media”.Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    Aurangzeb tried with more army than male population of Hindus of western Maharashtra between age 15 to 35. Result was that within 27 years his empire reduced to Dilli muncipalty. Thanks to the spirit of Shivaji, the great. Even when he had gone at age 50, his people fought and freed 75% of India (yes, beyond Attock) in 27 years. Anglos feared Marathas more. Even in 1857 Marathas mainly fought. If Maratha Scindia had entered in the war of independence then EIC was toast. Todays exploitative world economic order is continuation of EIC. Yale of Yale university fame was Chennai EIC governor.Recommend