Last Tuesday, a gunman entered a private residence and shot and killed three students of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Their names were Deah Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha. All three of the victims were Muslims, the two girls visibly so, because they chose to wear hijab, the traditional Muslim head covering.
The religion of the victims is important to note, because it explains the comparative lack of coverage of their deaths. It is also being speculated that the killer’s motive was hatred for Islam, and that these murders were in fact a hate crime.
The killer, Craig Stephen Hicks, posted several long anti-religious posts on his Facebook before the attacks, including many emphasizing the role he felt Islam played in the 9/11 attacks. With these facts in mind, it is not unreasonable to think that the victims’ religion may have played a role in their murder.
Right now, the police are investigating the possibility that a parking lot dispute led to the attacks. It is hard to believe that this could be all there is to it; the victims were shot execution-style within their own home.
However, even if we accept, for argument’s sake, that the trigger for the attack was a parking lot dispute, we still have to ask the important question of what made Hicks feel as though he could kill three people over such a dispute. Actions don’t exist in a cultural vacuum. We live in a world where a hashtag like #KillAllMuslims can exist in a mainstream forum and be an accepted part of the general discourse. We live in a world where a president can be insulted by being accused of being Muslim. We live in a world where a movie like American Sniper, which glorifies the killing of Muslims, can break box office records. All of these facts mean something. Muslims are seen as outsiders, and dangerous ones at that. If you are socialized into believing all Muslims are inherently violent, then it becomes very easy to just pick up a gun and shoot one.
But why am I writing this here, in the pages of The Daily Princetonian? I want to start a campus conversation about this. I see the memories of these victims slowly sliding away, and, as a Muslim, that terrifies me. It isn’t usually productive to think in hypotheticals, but I can’t help but wonder what the reaction would have been had the situation been reversed: had the gunman been Muslim and the victims not. I believe their pictures would have been plastered all over every news outlet, international, national and local. The victims’ names would have been on everyone’s tongues. The words “parking lot dispute” would certainly not have been brought up in conjunction with the killer —only the Muslim affiliation. But because this situation doesn’t fit neatly into the media’s preferred stereotypes, Barakat and the Abu-Salha sisters are being slowly erased.
I want you, the average Princeton student, to be thinking about them and talking about them. I want you to imagine what it would be like to have a man who hates you based on your identity come into your home and press a gun to your forehead. I want you to think about the agony your parents, siblings and loved ones would go through when they heard the news.
I want you to get mad.
Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha was 19 when she died. She had a bright future ahead of her, and it was ripped from her hands. I want you to feel the injustice of that tragedy burn in your soul.
It is absolutely imperative that we mourn our fellow American college students. Because the same attitude that is making it so easy to forget them is likely the same attitude that caused their deaths in the first place: the lack of value placed on Muslim lives.
Zeena Mubarak is a sophomore from Fairfax, Va. She can be reached at email@example.com.