By Harris Zafar
I read with horror the news regarding the shooting of three Muslim students Tuesday night in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. An enraged gunman reportedly killed each of the three young victims — ages 19, 21, and 23 — “execution style,” meaning each was shot in the head. Although it is too early for any investigation to yield conclusive results, many believe this was likely a targeted hate crime.
The victims — 23-year-old Deah Shaddy Barakat, his 21-year-old newlywed wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and her 19-year-old sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha — were all Muslim. The alleged gunman, 46-year-old Craig Stephen Hicks, is in police custody facing three counts of first-degree murder after turning himself in after the shooting. A motive is yet to be determined, but what we know is that Hicks was an outspoken atheist who espoused strong anti-religious sentiment online.
While our hearts and prayers are of course with the victims and their distraught families, we cannot overlook the way we see and analyze tragedies such as this one. Initial reports alleged that Hicks may have committed this crime due to a parking dispute rather than anti-Muslim views. But clearly, a parking spat does not justify being driven to kill three people in a cold-blooded execution. There had to have been some underlying sentiment fueling Hicks’ rage.
Let’s compare this to the brutal murder in Oklahoma a few months ago, when 30-year-old Alton Nolen brutally attacked co-workers at a food processing plant — killing and decapitating 54-year-old Colleen Hufford and attempting to kill 43-year-old Traci Johnson. In that case, it had been established that Nolen harbored a hatred for white people. As such, he had been suspended from work after complaints of his comments about white people, and after being sent home, he came back with a knife and brutally attacked his co-workers. His motive is clear, yet the fact that he happened to be a convert to Islam was emphasized as having a factor to play in his attack.
We do not need to all agree with each other, but we must be able to agree that we all have the right to live in peace and security.
So does the same logic not apply here? Let’s go ahead and assume Hicks is a lunatic vicious enough to heartlessly execute three people over a parking spot. Does his underlying belief system then not come into question? He has been a very outspoken atheist for some time, posting messages online that atheism is the only solution for radicalization and the problems of Muslims and Christians. Why are we not quick to think that his belief in atheism and disgust for religion could have inspired him to harbor an anti-Muslim sentiment that ultimately claimed the lives of these three young Muslims?
Do not dismiss the real possibility that anti-Muslim sentiment played a factor in the loss of these three lives. Anti-Islam and anti-Muslim sentiment has been growing for years. The fear and misrepresentation of Islam that has been spread by some in the media, public officials, and other community leaders and activists has led many in America to feel first distrust and then eventual hatred for Islam and/or Muslims.
Of course, the bottom line is that only a sick and twisted person would ever conclude that taking an innocent life is somehow justified — no matter his belief system. Whether it is lone gunmen like Hicks and Nolen or a group of twisted people joined together, as is the case with ISIS, they share a common thread of dehumanizing and devaluing the lives of those different from them. We cannot brush such things under the rug.
How do we solve this problem? Do we build more parking spots? Do we tolerate racist remarks? Of course such suggestions are absurd. We must understand that the resolution lies in truth and justice. Everyone plays a role in spreading truth and tolerance of others. We do not need to all agree with each other, but we must be able to agree that we all have the right to live in peace and security.
Do not listen to the words of malicious leaders and activists telling you to distrust other religions, races, or cultures. We may look different, but we all have red blood running through our bodies and are children of the same One God. Build understanding and partnerships with those who are different from you and work closely with those who espouse animosity or frustration. This is the recipe for saving our children, our families, our communities, and our nation from an internal collapse.