As the George Zimmerman trial came to a close this past week, I couldn’t help but reflect on the overwhelming disparities between the tragic racially motivated death of Trayvon Martin, and the sectarian violence that engulfs the Middle East.
Trayvon Martin was just two years younger than myself when he was shot dead – George Zimmerman, his shooter, was on a self-proclaimed unregistered ‘neighbourhood watch’ shift when he called 911 and alleged that a “suspicious looking” black man in a hoodie was walking out of a convenience store. What was a cell phone in Trayvon Martin’s pocket was assumed to be a gun, and combined with the colour of Martin’s skin, his black hoodie jumper, and the fact that Martin was out late at night, lead to a confrontation, which lead to Zimmerman’s gun going off, and Martin losing his life.
George Zimmerman stood trial, but was acquitted of second-degree murder after pleading not guilty and claiming self defence
From America to the GCC, hope exists
The American justice system did not fail Trayvon Martin’s family because it was broken, rather because it is designed to combat settler colonialism. The contrasting themes of post-racist America are not limited to the Middle East’s sectarian violence, but also to the racially motivated attacks in the GCC region.
As I filmed a flash-mob on New York’s 5th Avenue just a month after Trayvon’s death, a police car conveniently parked around the corner. To them, a group of 30 young people wearing black hooded jumpers – even in the daytime – was suspicious enough.
Although the themes are similar, the case in the Middle East is yet to reach the seriousness of The United States; a police car is unlikely to park and watch 30 young people in ethnic clothes from South East Asia.
Despite the situation in the Middle East not reaching the level of that in the United States, our distant neighbours are not shy of blaming the Middle East’s ongoing battle with dictatorships, weakening economies, and wars on sectarian violence. How can a country that is unable to overcome its own racial divide and tension, expect the Middle East to resolve its sectarian tensions?
Thankfully, we do not hear of a neighbourhood watch being set up in a sect-specific neighbourhood by a member of another sect; we do not hear of young men losing their lives because of the colour of their skin, the shape of their nose, or the colour of the ribbon that wraps around their wrist.
That doesn’t go to say that sectarian violence doesn’t exist in the Middle East. It does and is prevalent and escalating, however, it seems to be a developed concept of a predisposition reality. The roots of racism trace back several centuries in the United States, but sectarian violence in the Middle East, at the rate it is at now, do not.
Calm before the storm, Hijab or Hoodie
If anything, this is a case where the Middle Eastern society can take initiative and prevail as a future-motivated society and put a complete end to the current state of sectarian-motivated violence. We are yet to have organizations that come up with statistics that compare the number of Sunni-versus-Shiite prisoners in our justice system, or compare the education level of the various sects in our community. We must observe ourselves before we reach a level that requires us to have watchdogs. The KKK and other hate groups burnt houses to the ground and killed for the sake of killing, George Zimmerman stalked a young man, shot him to death, and claimed self defence. On a general level, we in the Middle East are not there, and we must not allow ourselves to reach that level.
If it was a hijab instead of a hoodie, could it have been me? Would I look suspicious, would my killer walk, and at that point, would it even matter which sect I belonged to? Putting our differences aside is the key to moving forward as a region and eventually shaking off our dependency on foreign intervention and aid.
Yara al-Wazir is a humanitarian activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories. She can be followed and contacted on twitter @YaraWazir