By Rhea Arora
Elm Staff Writer
Three Muslims were shot dead near the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill over what was apparently a long-standing argument about a parking spot. I would have said “three people,” but I don’t think that would have caught your attention as much as Muslims did. Have you ever thought about why that is? Why the religious identity of an individual would be of more importance than the fact that the individual was killed?
I want to tell you about the lives of those who were murdered. I want to tell you that Deah Shaddy Barakat and Yusor Abu-Salha were newly-weds, and Razan Abu-Salha was Yusor’s sister. I want to tell you about how stunningly gorgeous Yusor looked in her white wedding gown when she married Barakat and how happy they looked from photographs of their special day. I want to tell you that Barakat was a sophomore dental student at UNC and that Yusor was planning to join him at the same university to study dentistry as well. I want to tell you about Global Deaf Muslim, a charity organization that Razan worked with to help educate deaf Muslims about their needs and rights, and that Barakat was raising money to provide free dental care to people in Turkey.
I want to tell you so much about these three wonderful human beings, but I’m not going to continue because they shouldn’t need their good deeds to build sympathy for them. They don’t need society to know how pure they were in order for their lives to be mourned and for senseless shootings to be condemned. That’s the problem. Society needs to know that they were good Samaritans in order to forget, for one moment, that they’re Muslims.
We’re human beings. We have the same flesh and blood. We divide ourselves. We draw religious borders. We identify people first based on their gender, then on their creed; not as a person. A person who goes through the same struggles and celebrates the same joys that we do. The news about Bakarat’s, Yusor’s, and Razan’s killings made headlines like “Chapel Hill Shooting: Three American Muslims Killed” in The Telegraph. Was “Chapel Hill Shooting” inadequate? Why do we need to identify what religion the victims adhered to? I’ll tell you why: because religion, for many, is not faith and belief anymore. It’s become a practice that says “if you’re not with us, you’re against us.”
Craig Stephen Hicks, the man who shot Barakat, Yusor, and Razan, wrote his solution for Middle Eastern unrest on his Facebook page. He said, “People say nothing can solve the Middle East problem, not mediation, not arms, not financial aid. I say there is something. Atheism.” So Hicks shot believers of Islam, a religion he believes will benefit from atheism. Why only Islam? Why can’t other religions benefit from atheism? Are we trying to say that there are absolutely no cases of religious extremism in Christianity or Hinduism, for example?
One example is the Hindu group Sri Ram Sena, which has ties to militants. They promised to violently attack couples out on Valentine’s Day because public displays of affection were “against Indian culture.” No one brands Hinduism as a contributing religion to terrorism and extremism. The word is that all attacks in the name of religions like Hinduism are isolated incidents. Why is Islam then not awarded the same fate, because atrocities in the name of Islam are more public?
There was an FBI investigation to decide whether Hicks’ killings were religiously motivated, since on the day of the shooting there was immense media coverage on the ISIS murder of American aid worker Kayla Mueller and Yusor always wore religious attire like hijabs. Reports claim that evidence points to a dispute over a parking spot and not religious hatred. Many of the comments I’ve read about Hicks have alluded to his disturbed state of mind, lack of compassion, violent physical tendencies, and short temper, but none about his religion. Think about it. I mean genuinely think about it. If this man happened to be a Muslim shooting three American Christians, would we still be talking about his individual character, or would the debate stretch to Islamic domestic terrorism in the US?
Religion is a difficult topic to argue because believers say that it is a subject beyond human understanding that just needs trust and loyalty. I can respect that. The war isn’t on Islam or Christianity or Hinduism. The war is on certain groups or people who corrupt religion and all the pure faith that it stands for and the strength it gives people in times of need. The war is on mentally unstable human beings who justify their violence in the name of religion. It’s time we stopped creating boundaries between people of different faiths and race and giving fuel to extremists who thrive on the conflict. It is time we understand that all lives matter equally and that we aren’t authorities on how someone should live theirs.