Muslims react swiftly to Chapel Hill, NC, killings
February 11, 2015
On Tuesday, a man named Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, turned himself into police in the shooting deaths of a young Muslim family in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. According to authorities, the three victims, age 19-23, were killed in their home with gunshot wounds to the head in what many are calling “execution style murders.”
The victims are Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife, Yusor Mohammad, 21, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19. Reaction from the Muslim community was immediate. Statements were quickly released by Islamic groups such as Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Universal Muslim Association of America (UMAA) calling for investigations as to whether the killings could be classified as hate crimes. (Disclosure: I am affiliated with UMAA.)
The Muslim Public Affairs Council posted a tweet about how Muslim community members were responding, quoting one person as saying, “I told so many parents not to send their kids to school today.”
On social media, the reactions have been just as pronounced. The Twitter hashtags #MuslimLivesMatter, #ChapelHillShotting and #OurThreeWinners gained near instant popularity. Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the first Muslim elected to Congress, posted “My thoughts and prayers are with the families and loved ones of those senselessly murdered in Chapel Hill last night #MuslimLivesMatter” on his Twitter account.
A relative of the victims, Haya Barakat, took her grief to Twitter as well, posting @HayaBarakat: “My cousin, his wife and sister in law were murdered for being muslim. Someone tell me racism/hate crimes don’t exist. #MuslimLivesMatter”
Other community leaders called for calm, hoping to avert panic and fear among American Muslims.
Within hours of hearing of the news, candlelight vigils have been organized by Muslim organizations across North America, including in Fullerton, California; New Brunswick, New Jersey; Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Los Angeles; Tempe, Arizona; Chicago, and Atlanta.
Media outlets have been put under the spotlight for their response. In an opinion peace posted on Al Jazeera, Dr. Mohamad Elmasry, an assistant professor at the University of North Alabama, wrote “Western media outlets will likely frame the most recent perpetrator of what some speculate is an anti-Muslim crime in the same way they frame most anti-Muslim criminals – as crazed, misguided bigots who acted alone. If past coverage is any indication, there will likely be very little suggestion that the killer acted on the basis of an ideology or as part of any larger pattern or system.
“But what if acts of anti-Muslim violence are consistent with at least some strands of current western ideology? What if Islamophobia has become so commonplace, so accepted, that it now represents a hegemonic system of thought, at least for relatively large pockets of people in some regions of the West?”
According to the Los Angeles Times, “Authorities will investigate whether religious hate played a role in the shooting deaths of three young Muslims in an incident police said stemmed from a parking dispute at a housing complex in Chapel Hill near the University of North Carolina.”
Each victim was separately known for social activism and charity. “By all accounts, all three victims were fierce fighters for those who are less fortunate, attending fundraisers for worthy causes, like a group supporting deaf Muslims, or raising cash for Deah Barakat’s trip to Turkey, where he planned to hold free dental clinics for Syrian refugee children this summer.
‘We’ll be doing extractions, fillings, root canals and oral hygiene instruction to those most in need,” he says in a posted in September to a YouCaring fundraising site. ‘… Let’s relieve their pain. If you want to make a difference in the life of a child most in need, then I urge you to take advantage of this opportunity’ ” reports the New York Daily News.
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This article was originally posted on The Washington Times and can be read here.