Chapel Hill and Violence Against the Veil

Inna lil lahi wa ilayhi rajioon. To God we belong, and to Him we shall return.

Yesterday, the lives of three young Muslim college students were brutally ended by a lone gunman. They were husband and wife, Deah Barakat, 23, and Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and Yusor’s sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19. Their deaths are an unspeakable tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers are with their families in this difficult time.

There’s no question that a grave injustice was done to these students. Unfortunately, this injustice is being compounded by the treatment of their deaths.

Although we still do not know the motive of the killer for sure, it is not unreasonable to assume that they were murdered because of their Muslim identity. The killer, Craig Stephen Hicks, posted several anti-religion creeds on his Facebook wall, and emphasized the role he felt religion played in the 9/11 attacks. Coincidence? Or was it just another “mentally unstable white man” who went a little too far this time?

Clearly, Islamophobia targets Muslim women disproportionately. Muslim women are often easy to identify, because they wear religious garb. This gives the hateful a clear target, especially when crimes against Muslims spark after incidences of so called “Islamic violence.”

Last summer, The Guardian reported on the increase in violence against Muslims, particularly women in religious garb, after the death of soldier Lee Rigby. It is not improbable that the UNC attack reflects the same sort of trend, as a reaction to the recent Charlie Hebdo attacks.

In short, this man could likely be responding very literally to the call to #KillAllMuslims.

All three of the victims were shot in the head execution style. It isn’t hard to make the leap that this was the result of a media climate in which all Muslims are treated as criminals, guilty until proven innocent.

We don’t see middle-aged white men rush to condemn the actions of Craig Hicks, but we see thousands of Muslims rush to social media and the streets condemning the actions of Muslim extremists every day.

Even in death, these Muslim victims are not afforded the same concern and treatment that might be given to victims of other faiths. Let’s look at the media coverage.

The New York Times didn’t deign to write anything about the killing until 8:35 this morning, many, many hours after the news was already out.

The Washington Post wrote about the killing early on, but gave us the wonderful headline: “Killing of 3 in Chapel Hill stirs alarm among Muslims,” as though the reason the attack was bad was because it caused unrest in the Muslim population. Shouldn’t our focus instead be on the three people that lost their lives?

The fact of the matter is that we need to treat these tragic deaths like any other tragic deaths. We need to talk about them and mourn them. We need to allow for and discuss the possibility of this being a hate crime. We need to begin to take the steps in treating this cancerous hatred that has spread throughout our communities.

When the only image of Islam and Muslims that the media pushes is that of us as violent aggressors, then an atmosphere is created in which Muslim lives do not matter. In short, if all Muslims are terrorists, it isn’t that bad to just kill one. Or three.

But the inescapable truth is that these poor college students did not deserve to die this way. And now, having been slaughtered by a terrible hateful individual, we owe it to their memory to remember them, to not let their image disappear just because they don’t fit the media narrative of what a Muslim should be.

Image from The Independent