Hassiba Belbachir - the story of any woman ...
A few nights ago, a dear old friend from Chicago called and told me about Hassiba Belbachir. And she has been with me ever since.
It was the night before her Janaza, and my friend, who is one of the leaders of the Muslim community there, was in the midst of calling other Imams and community leaders to let them know of her death.
Hassiba died in custody at the McHenry county jail on March 17th, 2005.
Hassiba was an Algerian national who had been living in the U.S. She was detained a week earlier, while enroute to Spain, by US Immigration officials and was returned to the U.S. where she was being held in custody. The story from the officials is that she committed suicide. Her family does not believe this and the community is demanding a full investigation.
The media reports do not say what it is that her family fears.
They don’t need to.
We know what they fear. It is a fear that we all share.
We are living in this moment in history in which our collective fears, that were once the stuff of nightmares, are now increasingly embodied and familiar. Between the horrors of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, we move forward believing that it will always be someone else, somewhere else. We hold onto this belief desperately clinging to the comfort it provides us.
We tell ourselves that Hassiba was an illegal immigrant. We tell ourselves whatever we need to, so that we can feel distant from her life and her death. So that we can feel that it could not have been us.
This is a common strategy. Women have been doing this for centuries when confronted with the reality of violence against women. We create elaborate justifications that make the violence seem "logical", i.e. containable. We tell ourselves that she should not have been wearing that outfit, walking that street, married to that guy, born to that man, ….
But what women’s movements around the world have also learned, is that the first step in mobilizing a resistance to the pervasive violence against women in society, is to understand that no one is safe. And to accept, at a visceral level, that what happens to any woman, could happen to any woman. To me. To my sister.
Hassiba Belbachir was our sister.
And yes we mourn. And yes, we pray.
We pray for her soul, we pray for the mercy of Allah, and we pray for justice.
And then, we organize.