Social media is fast becoming my main source of information, a fact that speaks volumes in itself. This morning I checked my Twitter feed and found myself filled with horror and sadness. Three young Muslims were killed at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill by a 46-year old madman. What was their crime? What was the murderer’s motivation? The police are silent, or rather they parrot the same lines they always do whenever this kind of incident occurs. Every lead must be investigated, we will not say anything until we are sure. The latest? The murderer had a beef with his victims over parking.
Let’s not fool ourselves. This was probably a hate crime, although it’s not yet clear if the legal threshold of that definition will be reached. Regardless, I felt atremble of fear and anxiety when I read the news. Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23; Yusor Mohammad, 21; and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19 didn’t do anything to deserve death. The young man, his wife of a few months, and her sister shot dead last night were dental students, not vagabonds on the street with criminal records. They were not harming anyone – in fact they had started an online campaign to send funds for dental care to Syrian refugees in Turkey. They were happy – two were married to each other – and well-educated. Their crime? Being Muslim.
True, faith can be dangerous all over the world. For Christians in Iraq, for Jews in the Middle East, for Ahmadi Muslims and Shias in Pakistan, believing in the “wrong” religion can be a death warrant. We can’t even control the crazies in our own backyard, whether they be Timothy McVeigh or the Boston Marathon killers. I can’t disagree that in many instances today it is Muslims who are killing in the name of their religion.
But this triple homicide yesterday was different, maybe because it hit too close to home for me. How could this have happened? Why didn’t we see it coming? After all, this is America, where we pretend to be civilized, where we act like we are all equal under the Constitution and the First Amendment. We like telling our friends and our neighbors that we are not racist, that we are good and kind and rational human beings. But the truth is that some of us are less equal than others. Like me, who feels scared leaving the house because my hijab may make me a target of rude behavior, profanity, and now apparently even a gun. I feel scared for my small children, who don’t even know what being a Muslim is, yet they are branded as such and judged for it. I feel worried for my husband with his beard and Pakistani accent, riding public transport every day as he works hard and pays his taxes and gives up his seat for the old man in the suit. Yet none of that matters because he is Muslim.
My emotions are running high today. I feel angry for the three innocent souls murdered today who didn’t even make it onto the breaking news cycle on our television sets. I feel incensed that the man who killed them is being called a suspect and not a terrorist. If a Muslim had killed three innocent students at a college campus in this country, imagine the hue and cry, imagine the talking heads discussing radicalization. Imagine how many of us would have had to condemn the act on social media and produce scripture about prohibitions against murder. Imagine how I and my family and my friends would be held in contempt and outrage for something someone else did. Yet today, we are silent, because the roles are reversed. Killing Muslims in America today isn’t a hate crime, it isn’t even a tragedy. It is just sad. And frightening.
Saadia Faruqi is an interfaith activist, editor of Interfaith Houston, editor-in-chief of Blue Minaret Literary Journal and author of Brick Walls: Tales of Hope & Courage from Pakistan, available in Summer.Follow her @saadiafaruqi and on her website at www.saadiafaruqi.com.