Saturday, March 26, 2005

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.

6 comment(s):

  • Salaams

    There is a story told by Bob Connell (the gender theorist) about how his late partner Pam Benton was on a woman's day march in Sydney when some guy tried to drive his car into the crowd.

    No one was hurt, but Pam ended up chewing Bob's ear off when he tried to suggest the incident wasn't such a big deal.

    'They are trying to run us off the streets!' She insisted. And she didn't mean just that once - she meant ALL the time!

    If you are a woman, (though I can't speak from experience, being male), it seems you are lucky to get through any day without running into some hastle, however small, for simply being a woman, even if it means not being able to go somewhere or do something because it would mean hastle/risk for being a woman.

    Maybe I'm getting things out of proportion. Maybe it isn't as bad as that. But I know my own partner gets this kind of hastle, not that she ever makes a big deal out of it. In fact, she accepts most of it as inevitable. I wish she wouldn't. I wish more women wouldn't. But more than that, I wish more men wouldn't.



    By Blogger Julaybib, at 3/26/2005 02:20:00 AM  

  • Thank you Itrath, for this post! Are there any groups organizing, or, if there are any web sites, that we can get more information from?


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3/26/2005 12:49:00 PM  

  • As Salaam u Alaikum,

    Thank you Itrath...

    In addition to the reality of Hassiba being a woman, there are also issues of the growing, and quite profitable, prison industry here. The immigrant sector has been identifed as a particularly profitable sector within the prison industry, and with the current War on Muslims and on Immigrants, the problem has become compounded...

    -this is about violence against women
    -this is about profits for the prison industry
    -this is about terrorising and demonising muslims and immigrants
    -and this is about a government agency which has ZERO transparency and accountability to the public

    May Allah give Hassiba and her family Peace, Healing, and Justice.

    May we stand as witnesses on her behalf.

    rab rakha,

    By Blogger malangbaba, at 3/26/2005 06:17:00 PM  

  • I'd like to know if there's any org going on as well.

    By Blogger Leila M., at 3/26/2005 09:29:00 PM  

  • I've been in touch with my friend in Chicago and he says that the community is pulling together to demand a full investigation. I'll post again when I know something more specific. As well people can contact CAIR and the Chicago based Muslim Civil Rights Network. www.mcrcnet.org

    By Blogger itrath, at 3/31/2005 12:06:00 AM  

  • More info and analysis about Hassiba's death:


    By Blogger itrath, at 4/08/2005 11:37:00 AM  

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