Our Three Winners: Chapel Hill and a Galvanizing Moment

Muhammad Hudhud, JHU:

University students, educated, American. Deah Barakat, 23, Yusor Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister Razan Abu-Salha, 19, were laid to rest this past Thursday. I tell myself that could have been me. Before their dubbed ‘execution-style’ killing, the three young individuals had loved their families, communities, country, and faith; they were very much ‘gems of their communities’ —contributors to society who were well-loved. [1] Through social media, the American public, and the Muslim-American public in particular, have loudly underscored the three individuals’ exemplary character people should follow. More specifically, the American public has highlighted Deah, Yusor, and Razan’s personas and their frequent involvement with charities abroad and at home in Chapel Hill. But let’s step back, was this another hate-filled manifestation of Islamophobia or simply an isolated incident? A few killings over a ‘parking dispute’ nonetheless?

While North Carolina’s Middle District U.S. Attorney Ripley Rand passed off the shooting as an isolated incident, the sisters’ father declared it a hate crime. [2] Investigations including a federal inquiry have only begun, and the American public is eager for results. Whether a hate crime or not, Craig Hicks was a self described ‘anti-theist,’ owned a multitude of firearms among other weapons, and frequently blasted religion on his personal Facebook page. The slow reaction of media coverage and and their inability to label the act as terrorism have only affirmed the double standard to which American news telling holds Muslims. After all, hate crimes against Muslims have only exploded since 9/11. [3]

The nasty concoction of the rapid expansion of ISIL, reinforced vitriol towards Muslims on the part of outlets like Fox News, and the GOP’s increased targeting of Islam have only fueled anti-Muslim sentiments further. The recent release of “American Sniper” saw a sharp spike in ‘hateful rhetoric’ against Muslims—“Great f@&!@% [sic] movie and now I really want to kill some f@&!*%$ [sic] ragheads,” read a tweet. [4] Many Muslims share the same sentiments as Suzanne Barakat, Deah’s brother, in that the film ‘dehumanizes Muslims.’ [5] The plight of the American Muslim in 2015 is not entirely disastrous however. As the criticisms of Islam grow harsher, many Americans have also expressed their solidarity with their Muslim brothers and sisters, insisting that it is not “us vs. them.”

Although Hicks was purportedly against all religion, one might wonder if the film and the execution are even remotely connected somehow. The above phenomena create the components for dangerous poison that is fed to the American public through various media outlets. In turn, a distorted, myopic construct of Islam and Muslims is formed in our minds.

It seems as though the label of terrorism is reserved for a specific demographic. The New Yorker’s Philip Gourevitch asks us to imagine the incident with the roles reversed, a freakish Muslim as the executioner. [6] For killer Craig Hicks, he will not be portrayed as a homegrown terrorist. Rather, as a Caucasian man, the media will be inclined to depict him ‘mentally unstable,’ crazy, or a lone wolf, not representative of any one group but himself. The fact of the matter is that Hicks is a terrorist, plain and simple. Terrorists do not simply come in the form of brown skin and foreign tongues. Yusor complained to her parents that Hicks repeatedly harassed her and her husband verbally and with a gun; in response, her mother had told the couple to be kind to him. [7] Is that not terrorism? Wedging fear into a family, a community, a nation?

To understand the gravity of the Chapel Hill shooting, one must examine how the American Muslim community is collectively handling it. For instance, the hashtags #MuslimLivesMatter and #OurThreeWinners have been trending across social media platforms; numerous candle light vigils have been held by both Muslims and non-Muslims together across the country as they mourn the death of three fellow humans beings. One Facebook page was even set up to coordinate bussing down people from Washington, D.C. who wished to attend the funeral. Most interestingly however, is the outpour of support and unity of the American Muslim public at this point in time. Rather than focusing on the negatives, the families and friends of the Deah, Yusor, and Razan have highlighted the way in which they lived their lives—through the way they treated others in their immediate surroundings, through constant service to the disenfranchised, and through their culture as proud Americans.

In life, they challenged terrorism; acting with kindness to their would-be killer, serving the homeless domestically, and aiding refugees abroad. These are among the few acts that defined their character. Not only did the charity Deah start collect over $405,000 (and counting), the following days since the individuals’ death has seen an unprecedented solidarity of people from all walks of life.

While Muslims collectively lament the plight of the Palestinians, Syrians, Rohingyas, Central Africans, and others, the circumstances proximity, and age of the three individuals strike a chord within the American Muslim community. This incident was not a parking dispute, nor an isolated incident. Rather, it stands to reason that this is a galvanizing moment for Americans, particularly American Muslims. This is about all of us, as human beings, standing up against terrorism. Yes, that could have been me.

 

Sources:
[1] – http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/12/us/muslim-student-shootings-north-carolina.html
[2] – http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/guns-chapel-hill-myth-american-vigilante
[3] – http://rt.com/usa/231839-muslim-hate-crime-religion/
[4] – http://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/jan/24/american-sniper-anti-muslim-threats-skyrocket
[5] – http://www.mediaite.com/tv/sister-of-chapel-hill-victim-american-sniper-dehumanizes-muslims/
[6] – http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/guns-chapel-hill-myth-american-vigilante
[7] – http://www.mediaite.com/tv/sister-of-chapel-hill-victim-american-sniper-dehumanizes-muslims/
[8] – http://www.npr.org/2015/02/13/385846609/chapel-hill-shooting-victims-were-radiant-teacher-says
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3 Comments

  1. The loss of these remarkable youth was quite sad for all of us. But I think it is a mistake and quite inflammatory to call this a terrorist act. It was not. The guy did not “target” Muslims. He could have killed anybody who crossed his path that day and argued with him in the parking lot . It could have been a Jew, a Singh, or a Muslim. Unlike Jews around campuses and around the world who are being targeted for being Jews, this case was the case of an unfortunate encounter with a hateful and disturbed guy who had access to guns. As Americans we have seen many of these shootings, and have mourn many of these losses. I’m sorry to mourn the loss of these young and promising people, but their loss should not be used to wash out the real acts of terrorism plaguing the world today.
    May their names be a blessing to their families and those who knew them.

    Like

    1. Nancy, your comment is not only ignorant but very offensive. First, it is no “mistake” and certainly not “inflammatory” to call Craig Hicks a terrorist. He inflicted fear in this family and proceeded to stalk and kill a young couple and their beloved sister and sister-in-law. As the author of this article states, “Yusor complained to her parents that Hicks repeatedly harassed her and her husband verbally and with a gun.” If you don’t think that armed harassment induces terror, then I would encourage you to review the definition of “terror” in a dictionary.

      Second, this tragedy was not “unfortunate” — your word choice suggests that it was inevitable. It was not. Three deaths could have been avoided had this man not harbored so much hate towards Deah, Yusor, and Razan that he sought them out and shot them dead.

      Third, yes, this man targeted these three people because they were Muslim. Hicks was outspoken in his criticism toward religion, and Deah, Yusor, and Razan were very openly Muslim. You call this man “disturbed,” but that implies that he was emotionally and mentally unstable. Don’t make a victim out of a murderer. And don’t ignore the fact that Deah, Yusor, and Razan were Muslim because it is not insignificant. They were Muslim and that meant everything.

      Fourth, not everyone is a victim. Don’t make this about anyone else — this would not have happened to a person of any religion. After all, this story was only released by major news outlets because of the pressure they had endured while trying to bury this story under others of little or less significance. The Islamophobia exhibited by the media and the unwillingness of people like you to call this crime what it is (a hate crime against Muslims) reflects the truth that American culture regards Muslim lives as trivial.

      Finally, this act does not “wash out the real acts of terrorism plaguing world today.” This act is one of them. What, if not inflicted terror and murder, qualifies as a “real act of terrorism?” To quote the author of this article again, “It seems as though the label of terrorism is reserved for a specific demographic.” You are feeding this horribly skewed stereotype by suggesting that Hicks was disturbed and that this act was but one “unfortunate” act (that did not target Muslims) among other acts that target people of other religions. You are suggesting that people of all religions, except for Muslims, are discriminated against.

      Call him what you like and I’ll him what he is. Craig Hicks is a terrorist.

      Like

  2. This is indeed a terrorist act. If the was an Arab or Muslim committing such heinous crime, it would have made headline news on day one, but it took a lot of pressure from social media and world news before we finally started reporting the story. For once, we should admit our bias in slapping on the word terrorism to Islam or Arabs.

    Like

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