Scared for Her Life and Other Stories of Hate [UPDATED]

UPDATED Dec 21, 2011: Looks like Aisha Khan was found and that some of you skeptical commentators were right all along. We will keep you posted as the story develops.

According to Overland Park police, officers made contact with her Wednesday afternoon. She was not abducted or held against her will. Police said there is no criminal investigation. [nbc]

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Are you in Kansas? Pay attention to this photo. Her name is Aisha Khan and she’s missing.

I can’t shake the chills her story gives me. She’s petite, 19 yrs old, newly wed and a college student. Her sister dropped Aisha off at 10am on her college campus so that she could prep for her noon final. But she never made it to her final.

Aisha Khan … has been missing since Friday morning. That is when her older sister said she left frantic text messages with her about a drunken man on the Edwards Campus she described as “creepy.” Faiza Khan said she dropped Aisha off at the campus around 10 a.m. Friday ahead of a noon final. The text messages started arriving within an hour.

 

“There’s a creepy guy that just came up to me, and he was harassing me,” Faiza said her younger sister told her in a message. She told local media outlets that Aisha “was just freaking out at that time. She didn’t know what to do. I guess she pushed him and she slapped him.” [cjonline]

 

I can’t count how many times I’ve been creeped out by harassing men – it often feels that as a woman in the American public we have to brace ourselves for street harassment. But Aisha is a girl in hijab – I can only imagine that her harasser must have said something really islamophobic and sexist to have deserved a slap. Finally, there’s the voicemail message she left her sister.

“Oh my gosh it was so scary,” Aisha said in her voice message. “My heart is like pounding. I’ve never got this scared in my life. Pick up your phones. I am freaked out right now.”

Faiza said she and a cousin went to the campus and found Aisha’s phone, book bag and iPod on a picnic table, but her sister was gone. [cjonline]  

Aisha went missing on Friday morning around 11am. It has been three days since she’s gone missing. Every minute counts right now. Her family has put out a reward for $10,000 for any information on her disappearance.

Aisha’s disappearance is only one in a long line of crimes in the South Asian American community that have happened in the past few weeks.

  • On December 14th in Texas, a 61 yr old Pakistani named Yaqab Bham was attacked when doing an ADT home security installation inspection. Attacked by the home owner after being asked questions of where Bham was from, he had his ear bitten off and 10 broken ribs. [full story]
  • On December 8th, a Hindu Sri Lankan professor in Champaign, Illinois named Dhammika Dharmapala was stabbed in his throat at a train station by a man who wanted to “save his country.” [full story]
  • On December 4th, a turbaned Sikh man was stabbed in his upper torso at the Fresno airport. The man that attacked him was a 26 year old white man and was arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon  and possession of a knife in an airport. [full story]
  • On November 25th, a 32 year old Hindu man originally from Calcutta was attacked in San Jose in the grocery store parking lot. Six of his teeth were knocked out. His attackers spit on him and called him a terrorist. The attackers have not been found. [full story]

Most of the crimes mentioned above are not currently considered hate crimes by local police and local advocates are working hard to make the crimes recognized as such. It’s difficult to imagine, especially seeing the crimes listed side by side, how the incidents were not fueled by islamophobic and xenophobic hate.

One thing I’m sure of, the rise of crimes like those above are directly correlated to the rise in anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant bigotry that we see in popular media. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that Aisha Khan’s disappearance is one that was fueled by islamophobia as well. My prayers are with her family and I’m wishing for her safe return.

30 thoughts on “Scared for Her Life and Other Stories of Hate [UPDATED]

  1. I didn’t even hear about this in the news!i don’t understand that how can someone judge a person by the color of their skin.

  2. Or for their religious, or ethnic traditions or whatever. Regardless of her differences, she has one thing in common with every other person on this planet, she’s a human being. May Allah protect her.

    • Really, you can’t understand how a minority would be mistreated? What happens to minorities in every Muslim-majority country??

      • Not every Muslim country mistreats minorities. And before you call me an apologist, I don’t agree with the poor treatment of minorities anywhere. But that’s a cultural problem, not a religious one. And America’s been spitting on one group after another since its inception over 200 years ago–first the Native Americans and Africans, then the Quakers, then the Catholics, and the Irish, and the Italians, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Hispanics. Now: Mediterraneans, Middle-Easterners, and South Asians. The xenophobia isn’t new here–it just changed faces.

        But the thing is, if America’s supposed to be the greatest country in the world, and if it’s going to boast its diversity, it should set the standard for how to treat people of different ethnic/religious backgrounds.

      • When I visited Egypt (A Muslim majority) country I was treated like a queen, seriously everywhere I went when people realized I was American I would get so many people visiting me, asking me questions of this beautiful country they long to visit :-)

  3. Taz… I see and share your concern, but this is irresponsible reporting. Nothing yet has pointed towards the fact that this might be religiously or racially motivated. Please hold off till there is more information before you write such things. That being said, I really hope Aisha is safe – I live in the area and have forwarded your post to everyone I know. Thank you for sharing this.

    • This isn’t reporting – this is blogging. And it is my opinion and belief that Aisha’s disappearance is potentially xenophobic, islamophobic and misogynistic. The fact that you are seeking is that she would have said something in her voicemail or text messages to her sister that her harrasser was saying things about her being Muslim, or brown, or woman while she was running for her life? It’s semantics. She was scared for her life. Sadly, I don’t think she’ll ever be able to tell us what exactly happened. Unprovoked crime on a stranger, where there is NO mugging or thievery, is always a crime of hate, in my eyes.

    • Sujata: My God, your tone is so condescending. It saddens me how some people are so quick to deny that actions are religiously or racially motivated. Taz provided some examples where racist attacks were not regarded as hate crimes. Anyone who cares about social justice should be concerned about the failure in recognizing Islamophobia as a serious problem in the US. In other words, when the police refuse to report an incident as a hate crime, it is dismissed as an “isolated incident” rather than being reflective of a larger problem.

      The way racism intersects with sexism and misogyny is important to take into consideration, especially in this horrifying case. AltMuslimah recently published a piece that examined anti-Muslim violence against Muslim women. As the author mentions, it is troubling how mainstream western media and even American women’s rights groups go silent when Muslim women are assaulted by non-Muslims. You can read the article here:

      http://www.altmuslimah.com/a/b/gva/4537/

      I pray that Aisha will be found soon, insha’Allah.

    • I’m Muslim and I agree with Sujata. we DON’T KNOW if the motivation of the attack yet, so how can we automatically label it as a racial/religious hate crime? I honestly found the two responders more condescending for acting like it is an absolute fact that it is an anti-Muslim woman crime.

      • The point is to address the broader issue of racialized anti-Muslim violence. The FBI recently reported that anti-Muslim hate crimes have been on the increase.

        I found Sujata’s comment condescending because of this remark: “Please hold off till there is more information before you write such things.” This comment speaks as if it is a crime to highlight on the growing Islamophobia in the US and how racism intersects with sexism.

        Rather than seeing the possibility in this crime being racially and/or religiously motivated, comments that accuse the author of making “assumptions” are counter-productive and derail the conversation.

  4. Prof Dhamikka Dharmapala was not Hindu Sri Lankan but a Buddhist. Please get your facts right before reporting.

    • Do you have a link please? My facts were based on the link seen through the “full story” link. Will change it if you can find me a link.

  5. This is very frightening for me. I hope that Aisha is alright.

    On another note, the Muslim girls wear the hijab/purdah/burqa/etc. to avoid being harassed. Obviously, it’s not working in the USA or Europe. They should re-consider how they show off their individuality.

    • Wow, I can’t believe you’re blaming the victim. Victim-blaming is rape culture. You should be ashamed of yourself for suggesting that hijab-wearing Muslim women invite this kind of harassment.

    • And how, exactly, should one stop showing their individuality? No Hijab, check. No turban, check. No sari, check. No bottu, check. I’m not sure I can do much about my accent or skin tone. Can you assure me now that I will never be victimized based on my obvious “otherness”?

  6. Why is it that whenever a muslim/south asian girl goes missing I automatically think she ran away? Everything looks to thought out in this story. A text message while being harassed? Then a voice mail about it? A good looking girl being married off before she is 19? All this happening on a college campus in the afternoon during finals?

    I hope my gut feeling is right and I will feel absolutely horrible if I am wrong, but the “boy who cried wolf” syndrome has kicked in with me when it comes to these matters.

  7. oh snap… you played the victim card!… I don’t think you understand what a “hate crime” is, but thanks for your baseless opinion.

  8. “This isn’t reporting – this is blogging.”

    THANK YOU! I can’t believe how many people flub it along thinking they’re the same thing. And yes, this is a very disturbing scenario…more or less why I got my sister a knife umbrella when she went off to college…but thanks for bringing attention to this. Nonwhite women in distress rarely get attention.

  9. Taz, please monitor this thread and delete deepa/rob and the other trolls that might.emerge. the family members and friends of this probably murdered girl don’t need any more pain. delete/ban with impunity.

    Can you update on whom we can contact about the Pakistani who was beaten half to death in Texas case to be defined as a hate crime. The Texas police /DA will not label it as such.

    These incidents are disturbingly common now. I watched an African family in Jonah taunted at the bus stop just the other day. Everyone just watched. Nobody cared.

  10. I came across this blog while researching the Aisha Khan story. And while I am Muslim myself and understand that religious hate crimes do exist…we don’t know what happened yet so let’s not jump to a conclusion one way or another. Many girls get harrassed while wearing the hijab and still many others without wearing it. Something about this story however does not really click. I’ve watched interviews with Aisha’s sister and the story seems all too rehearsed but at the same time she seems very careful with her words…something just doesn’t add up. Why would she be studying in such a deserted area? and why outside when it’s cold? And why would she slap a random stranger and then put herself in an isolated location? Common sense would tell you that if you find yourself in that situation to be somewhere with other people. Something just seems very off….

    Again, I do hope and pray for her safe return. Her father’s pleas for her safe return are absolutely heartbreaking

    • I agree with you here. This blog story has a lot of assumptions. YES, Islamophobia is there, YES, Aisha was a “visible” Muslim, but that does not mean Aisha was necessarily a victim of an Islamophobic crime.

      Even if it was a nonMuslim person, it doesn’t mean they are anti-Muslim. Perhaps the guy was just really upset that she slapped him and got provoked. I think any physical contact like that is an extreme step; it’s probably better to scream or run, than to actually slap a guy but…we don’t know the exact circumstances she was in. Also I hope it isn’t a case where she got wedding cold feet or ran off with somebody; that would be really embarrassing for her family :( But, obviously, it is more important that she is found than worrying about national embarrassment.

      • It’s really sad that people are doubting her story. You all speak as if you know her or her family. I think that is utterly shameful.

        You should be praying the best for her instead of imagining problematic narratives in your own heads. There’s a “blaming-the-victim” tone in your comment, too. It is NEVER the victim’s fault. Period.

        Also, if you admit that Islampohobia exists, then you know pervasive it is, right? You are aware of how a hijab immediately marks a woman as a racialized “Other” regardless of what her skin color or citizenship is, right? Instead of denying the possibility, you should consider it.

  11. “it often feels that as a woman in the American public we have to brace ourselves for street harassment.” -Never been to a Middle Eastern country I take it???

    “But Aisha is a girl in hijab – I can only imagine that her harasser must have said something really islamophobic and sexist to have deserved a slap.”

    And you know this…how???

  12. I’m becoming skeptical about this whole thing. I just heard her last voice mail message. This girl probably got married against her wishes to her first cousin, and she’s probably wearing the hijab against her wishes (or had tremendous societal pressure to do so). Now, I’d like to point out that white Christians, Indian Christians, Hindus, Sikh girls ALL also have their equivalent of this. White girls are sometimes forbidden to date certain ethnicities. Ditto for the Sikh/Hindus. Hindu kids are not allowed to eat the food that they want to eat (i.e. beef), etc. Anyways, I’ve heard the tapes, and I think that she’s running away from a marriage because she couldn’t say “tilaq tilaq tilaq”.

    • I’m sceptical as well. why? Because: 1. what are the odds of someone showing up drunk and smelling of drugs at noon time? 2. why did she call her sister and not her husband or 9-11? 3. why did she speak to her sister in not-so-frantic english but not urdu or her native first language? something tells me that this very traditional family speaks their native language more than they speak english. also, wouldn’t you NOT want the potential abductor to understand what you’re saying? 4. why didn’t she get up and leave the area and go to a more public area? 5. this sounds too much like a cheezy plot for a cheap b-film. this is so typical of an indian-movie scene: drunk rowdy comes along, slap, and she gets abducted. this is the quintessential bollywood theme it seems. 6. why would a 5’2″ girl SLAP a man who’s drunk and not go to a more public place? 7. in her voicemail, she says that she’s so “confused”. this is an odd thing to say when you’re scared or your life is in jeaopardy.

      OK – i’m sure that she’ll be found alive, and moreover, we will soon see that she was never kidnapped. i just hope that she wasn’t shopping at low’s.

  13. Thanks for the post Taz. Don’t let the trolls bring you down. You made a positive addition to the world by bringing awareness to the story of a missing young woman and adding to much needed conversation on injustice toward women and islamaphobia. People who find themselves blaming the victim as a response to the situation rather than feeling compassion can only benefit from exposure to more knowledge and discussion like this.

  14. Look, women of all colors, religions, races and clothing get harassed. I’m sure all of the women reading this have been harassed at some time or another, whether in the US or the subcontinent. What’s the basis for concluding that her hijab had something to do with the harassment? I too have lots of sympathy for her family, but I don’t think it does anyone any favours to assume it’s a hate crime without any evidence.