#ChapelHillShooting: Do #MuslimLivesMatter in Islamophobic US?

Published: February 12, 2015
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Deah Shaddy Barakat was 23-years-old and his wife of one month, Yusor Mohammad, was 21-years-old. The third victim, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, aged 19, was Yusor’s younger sister. PHOTO: TWITTER (@samahahmeed)

Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, enters the courtroom for his first appearance at the Durham County Detention Center in Durham, North Carolina February 11, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS Deah Shaddy Barakat was 23-years-old and his wife of one month, Yusor Mohammad, was 21-years-old. The third victim, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, aged 19, was Yusor’s younger sister. PHOTO: TWITTER (@samahahmeed)

The front page of the New York Post on Wednesday morning, February 11, 2015, did not have a single mention of the three Muslim students, belonging to the same family, who were brutally gunned down in North Carolina on Tuesday night. The front page was dominated, among other stories, with Brian Williams’ ‘fall from Grace’ and John Stewart’s decision to quit The Daily Show.

The same goes for the LA Times, Chicago TribuneUSA Today and The Wall Street Journal; all among the top 10 newspapers in the country. For the Muslims in the US, who still like to believe there is no prejudice against them in the West, now would be the moment to get their heads out of the sand.

The shooting occurred at a condominium near the University of North Carolina. Deah Shaddy Barakat was 23-years-old and his wife of one month, Yusor Mohammad, was 21-years-old. The third victim, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, aged 19, was Yusor’s younger sister. The fact that Deah had a beard and both Yusor and Razan wore hijabs clearly indicates the brutal act as being a hate crime. All three were shot in the head and died on the spot. Later on Tuesday night, the suspect Craig Hicks, a self-proclaimed atheist, surrendered voluntarily to the police and is now being held on charge of three first degree murders.

Where the American Muslim community is horrified over the brutality of the act itself, it is equally aghast at the lack of insensitivity displayed by the media in the hours immediately following the killings. Some of the reports that eventually did start trickling in later on the day on Wednesday hinted that this obvious act of violence was the possible result of a petty dispute over parking issues between Barakat and Hicks. However, the hate crime motive is further evidenced with Hicks’ post, where he writes,

“When it comes to insults, your religion started this, not me. If your religion kept its big mouth shut, so would I.”

With rising statistics of Islamophobia in the West, the murder of these three young students should be, and is, taken very seriously by Muslims in the US. To the contrary, the media seems to be watering down the savagery from being as extreme as it actually is.

Islamophobia is as real and as much to be dreaded as it propounds to be. As defined by Fear, Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America, it is,

“An exaggerated fear, hatred, and hostility toward Islam and Muslims that is perpetuated by negative stereotypes resulting in bias, discrimination, and the marginalisation and exclusion of Muslims from social, political and civic life”.

According to a Pew Research Centre study, Americans are more prone to disregard Muslims than the followers of any other faith. On a scale of one to 10, Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) measures Islamophobia at 5.9 out of 10. Because this statistic is prior to the damage rendered to the Islamic identity by the onslaught of Islamic State, it is assumed to be higher now.

Flip this situation for an instant and one fears to even imagine the scenario had the three victims been of some other faith and nationality and the killer had been a Muslim. All hell must surely have broken loose across the world with condemnation for the Muslims pouring in from around the globe. Every single instance of violence where the perpetrator had been Muslim would have been dragged out of the archives and revaluated by ‘leading experts’. Let alone front page news, the story would be the raging topic of morning talk shows, headline news, local news and newspapers. A varied assortment of psychiatrists, psychologists and political analysts would be live on air, dissecting the Muslim mindset, their hateful ideologies and the reason why they should all be deported from all countries immediately.

When the media goes mum over incidences such as these and opts to treat them as any other act of violence, it is actually strengthening the very foundation of Islamophobia around the world. There is more coverage for one non-Muslim killed by a Muslim than a hundred Muslims killed by one non-Muslim. The global sentiment that is being nurtured is that ‘Muslims deserve it’ and hence there is no cause for remorse. When the non-Muslim dies, he is the victim. Depressingly enough, Islamophobic lobbies are the ones who have helped shape this idea by controlling how much or how little information the public is given about a certain act. They control public sentiment and people’s level of sensitivity for human suffering; there is more sadness for a comedy talk show host quitting his show than the mindless slaughter of three young people.

Gallup polls continually show US as the number one country sporting Islamophobia, although it is rampant in other Western countries too. A poll reveals that 52% of Americans feel that the West in general has no respect for the Muslim society. In another Gallup poll, 66% Jewish Americans and 60% of Muslim Americans feel that the American public harbours prejudice against Muslim Americans.

The only way this mindset will change is when Muslims, just like non-Muslims, take issues such as these beyond just table talk and coffee table discussions. We have heated talk shows, intelligent hosts, think tanks, passionate leaders and eager followers. But sadly enough, that is all we seem to have and hence the label ‘Muslims deserve what they get’. We don’t stick together, we don’t agree on a single agenda, we refuse to see beyond our own gain and we don’t look at the larger picture. The result is the fragmentation of the identity of a nation and people.

The problem is very evident but the solution is anybody’s guess.

aalia.suleman

Aalia Suleman

A freelance writer and poet who is keenly interested in the status of women in 21st century Pakistan. Her writing also zones in on Pakistan's new social and political status on a redefined global chessboard. She has a masters degree in English Literature and blogs and invites debates at 'Socio-politically Pakistani'. She tweets @aaliasuleman (twitter.com/aaliasuleman)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.