DEARBORN — In the wake of the murders of three Muslims in a quiet neighborhood in North Carolina, national and local organizations quickly released statements claiming the incident was a hate crime.
“We reach out to the families of the victims and the communities in and around Chapel Hill to express our heartfelt sorrow for their loss,” said Fatina Abdrabboh, director of the American-Arab Discrimination Committee of Michigan (ADC-MI). “This tragedy shows there are all forms of religious extremism.
Vulnerable communities such as ours need to be more vigilant. We call for tolerance, safety and unity. We hope this horrific tragedy will shed light on ethnic intimidation, hate crimes, and racial violence. We urge U.S. leadership to enact and enforce legislation that protects vulnerable communities.”
The Arab-American Civil Rights League (ACRL) also issued a similar statement on the matter.
“The ACRL is heartbroken and outraged at the senseless shooting and murder of three innocent Muslim-American students [who] all fell victim to a senseless crime,” the ACRL said in a press release. “State and federal authorities are being urged to investigate this matter for a religious bias motive.”
On the evening of Tuesday, February 10, 23-year-old Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, were murdered execution style at their home in Chapel Hill, with gunshot wounds to the head.
The suspect, their neighbor Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, a Caucasian male, was arrested on three counts of first degree murder. He is being held without bond until a court hearing on March 4.
Barakat was a dental student at the University of North Carolina and his wife of two months also planned on enrolling in dental school in the fall at UNC. Razan Abu-Salha loved photography and art and was a student at North Carolina State University, where she was studying architecture and environmental design.
Close family and friends of the victims are left devastated by the incident. All three students have been described by the Chapel Hill community as well mannered and bright students who had a future ahead of them. They were heavily involved in extra curricular activities at schools and with charities in their community.
Immediately after the incident began making the media rounds, Chapel Hill authorities began to dispel speculation that it was a hate crime. According to a statement, the murders were “motivated by an ongoing neighbor dispute over parking.”
Following that statement, national news outlets quickly began taking a similar angle with the story. “US gunman kills three young Muslims in parking spat,” read the headline at Reuters. “UNC shooting deaths sparked by parking dispute,” read the headline at FOX.
Despite this angle in the media, it was clear to the Muslim and Arab communities that the intention behind the murders was directly linked to a country that has reached a new peak of Islamophobic fever.
The fatal shootings also sparked a huge uproar on social media, as hashtags such as #MuslimLivesMatter and #ChapelHillMurders became top trends on twitter.
Take On Hate, powered by the National Network for Arab American Communities (NNAAC), a project of ACCESS, issued a statement that criticized the media’s coverage of the events.
“TAKE ON HATE is dismayed about the lack of media coverage of this incident, particularly one that is so shocking and disturbing,” the statement said. “The Twitter hashtag #MuslimLivesMatter has already gone viral, indicating that the public thinks it was tied to the victims’ religion.”
Muslim Advocates, a California-based civil rights organization, called on President Obama and Attorney General Holder to hold a press conference and publicly condemn the attacks in Chapel Hill.
The father of the female victims, Dr. Mohammad Abu-Salha, told the North Carolina News and Observer that he believed the shooting was based on their religion and culture. The three victims had several uncomfortable encounters with Hicks in the days leading up to their deaths.
“This was not a dispute over a parking space; this was a hate crime,” Abu-Salha said. “This man had picked on my daughter and her husband a couple of times before and he talked with them with his gun in his belt. And they were uncomfortable with him, but they did not know he would go this far.”
Abu-Salha said his daughter, who lived next door to Hicks, wore a Muslim head scarf and told her family a week ago that she had “a hateful neighbor.”
Furthermore, a recent posting on Hicks’ Facebook page could further indicate that the three victims’ religion and culture enticed him to commit murder.
Earlier this month, he posted a picture from United Atheists of America asking “why radical Christians and radical Muslims are so opposed to each others’ influence when they agree about so many ideological issues?”
Atheism appears to be a common theme on Hicks’ Facebook page, as it largely consists of images with text mocking religion. TV programs liked by Hicks included “The Atheist Experience,” while he describes himself as a fan of Thomas Paine’s “The Age of Reason” and Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion.”
In the Detroit metro region, the Arab and Muslim community grieved the loss of the three victims.
Students at the University of Michigan-Dearborn held a candlelight vigil at the University Center patio on Wednesday evening, led by the Student Government, Arab Student Union, the Muslim Student Association and Students for Islamic Awareness.
“These students resembled us by the life they carried out,” said Student Government President Sarah Elhelou. “It’s a true wake up call for many of us, because no matter where we are living in the U.S. we can be victims just like Yusor, Deah and Razan. Whether this was a hate crime or not, we need to be aware of what’s going on around us. Whatever the motive was for the killer, these students did not deserve it.”
Former State Representative Rashida Tlaib was also in attendance at the vigil and delivered an emotional speech. Tlaib has had a heavy involvement with the Take On Hate movement and urged students to join the fight.
“These are kids that look just like you,” Tlaib told students. “We are some of the most compassionate people. We love feeding people, we love our culture, we make people laugh. In many ways this was terrorism and we need to be able to go out there and use our social media. This is the result of hate and hate results into violence. We need to be able to stand up together and this movement with Take on Hate is the way to do it.”
Students at Wayne State University also held a march for the victims on Thursday. A prayer at the Islamic Center of America is also scheduled for Friday at 12:30 p.m. In Dearborn Heights, the Islamic House of Wisdom is holding a Sunday breakfast in honor of the victims at 11:00 a.m.
Imam Mardini of the American Muslim Center in Dearborn told The Arab American News that his center will be holding a memorial service for the victims on Sunday, Feb. 15 at 5 p.m. that it will be open to the community.
“We as a Muslim community should stand together and refuse this state of aggression that is targeting our community in our great country of the United States,” Mardini said. “This is a tragedy for everyone in America. These acts are not part of our American values.”
By Arab American News