If you haven't heard of Mariam Moustafa, don't be surprised

If you haven't heard of Mariam Moustafa, don't be surprised
Comment: Institutional racism and xenophobia leads to the neglect of migrants, working class people, Muslims and people of colour, like Mariam, writes Malia Bouattia.
4 min read
23 Mar, 2018
In a video on YouTube, Mariam desperately tells us, "I'm going to die here" [Twitter]
If you haven't heard about the tragic death of Mariam Moustafa Abdel Salam in Nottingham, it's probably because the media coverage and public outrage has, so far, been virtually nonexistent. 

The 18-year-old Italian-born student was brutally attacked by six young women in late February.

Following what the family have said is a racially motivated assault, went to hospital but was released a few hours later, despite the gravity of her injuries. Just days later she fell into a coma and died  from a cerebral haemorrhage.

Detective Superintendent Rob Griffin of Nottinghamshire police has since stated, "We had recorded a hate incident, however, the investigation has progressed really well... we have been able to establish what happened on 20 February, and all the evidence indicates that this incident is not in any way hate-related."

Many took to social media outraged over this conclusion, with accusations of whitewashing the attack in order to downplay the severity of her death.

Regardless of the exact motivation of her attackers, it is clear that there was a long line of institutional failures from the health services to the police, in adequately responding to the cries for help made even prior to the attack by both Mariam and her family. Her case demonstrated the structural racism at play, that has long cost the lives of countless individuals. 

Mariam and her sister Malak had previously complained about the same girls targeting them in August 2017, but her father explained that no action was taken because of the lack of evidence in the form of CCTV footage.

It feels like there is never quite enough proof for victims to be taken seriously

This response feels all too familiar for victims of oppression, and is one of the reasons why there is distrust and suspicion over local authorities responding adequately to racist incidents. It feels like there is never quite enough proof for victims to be taken seriously, or for provisions to be made to protect plaintiffs.

Griffin maintained that, "The level of investigation at that time was appropriate and unfortunately no suspects were identified at the time."

And yet, a young woman has lost her life.

Nottinghamshire police appear to have been more concerned with dispelling media reports that Mariam had broken her leg in the summer attack, than with recognising their failures to prevent the worst from happening. Broken bones are not the only indication of harassment or violence. Whether she was verbally or physically assaulted isn't a marker of urgency for state institutions to take action.

Mass movements against racism have shifted institutional oppression before

Activist Maz Saleem, whose father was brutally murdered outside a mosque in Birmingham by a neo-Nazi, has been campaigning to bring justice for Mariam and her family.

She feels that Mariam's death was the outcome of, "people accepting islamophobia and xenophobic racism. People can internalise poisonous ideas even if it's against their own interest."

Saleem is urging people to, "not turn on each other, but we should hold the authorities accountable for the wilful neglect of Mariam. Institutional racism is organised from the top-down, it encourages the politics of divide and rule which makes people reluctant to speak out."

In a heartbreaking video that was filmed by Mariam, she is seen desperately telling us, "I'm going to die here, I don't feel safe" as she pleads for help and support after feeling ignored by the health services as well as the police.

She explains the trail of oversight by the very institutions that should have helped her, and asks "do they care more about the system than the person's life?". 

When the system plays a role in the violence of racialised people, whether it is at the hands of the police, immigration, or health services, one has to interrogate its structures and purpose.

The racism and xenophobia at play within our system leads to the neglect of migrants, working class people, Muslims, and people of colour, like Mariam. Their pain and suffering are played down, and even their death is depoliticised and defined as a 'non-hate crime' despite a history of complaints and alarm bells that points to the contrary. 

A vigil was organised in Nottingham City Centre on Monday, with hundreds in attendance to pay their respects to the family and extend their solidarity.

Activists around the world are calling for accountability, and #JusticeforMariam. As we express our grief at yesterday's dead, we also need to turn to the future and face the causes of these losses.

Mass movements against racism have shifted institutional oppression before, and we will need more of them to do it again. As the immortal words of Joe Hill would have it: "Don't mourn. Organise."

Malia Bouattia is an activist, a former president of the National Union of Students, and co-founder of the Students not Suspects/Educators not Informants Network.

Follow her on Twitter: @MaliaBouattia

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.