26. CHAPEL HILL SHOOTING: THERE’S NO PLACE FOR MUSLIM VICTIMHOOD

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Humans can be very funny sometimes. If I told you that a hate-filled man killed three young students it would be tragic news. If I told you they were community-serving, charitable, integrated and happy young people it would be even worse, no? Well, no, not really, certainly not if they’re Muslims. Because if they’re Muslims, their victimhood reduces in value.

Deah Barakat was a dental student who provided emergency dental care in Palestine and helped in the local community. His young wife, Yusor Abu-Salha was about to embark on her own studies and her sister, Razan, was studying Architecture and Environmental design. On Tuesday, all three ended up with a bullet in the head in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. It is a massacre that has not been awarded its proper place in the media.

Humanity is in poor shape when twitter hashtags like #MuslimLivesMatter speak more truth than mainstream headlines or presidential addresses.The Chapel Hill shooter is an avowed atheist, which means we’ll never hear him described as a ‘terrorist’, a ‘radical’, an ‘extremist’ or any other twenty-first century euphemism for ‘Muslim’. The shooter is white, so history’s taught us that he’ll be regarded as either a lunatic or a lone-wolf. Moreover, atheists won’t feel any need to collectively apologize nor risk an upsurge of racial profiling. Needless to say, were the roles reversed, were the Muslims behind – instead of in front of – the gun, then the headlines would be painfully, almost comically, predictable and ubiquitous. A variant of the reactions played (and over-played) in the horrific aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack. But as it is, I doubt world leaders will descend on North Carolina. Hell, Obama, the nation’s president hasn’t yet issued a statement. Instead, we’re being told there was a dispute over a parking space – a myth about convincing as Michael Brown being shot in self defense. Indeed, Hicks’ wife said: ‘This incident had nothing to do with religion or the victim’s faiths’.

There’s a narrative being spun, make no mistake. Put crassly, it is an ‘us vs. them’ dichotomy that entrenches the notion of a ‘barbaric East’ seeking the ruin of the ‘Civilised West’ – the epitome, essentially, of Orientalism. What has kept these three students off the front pages is the same phenomenon that will propagate the ‘War on Terror’: in short, Huntingdon’s clash of civilizations. That social media (a machine as brutal as it is omnipresent) reminds us that ‘Black/Brown/Muslim lives matter’ is telling and goes a long way to highlighting just how dehumanized these groups – groups that constitute the majority of the ‘global South’ – have become.

Let’s call a spade a spade, this was a hate-crime. The media, by depriving the victims of coverage have simultaneously strengthened the bigotry and polarization of the ‘us and them’ mentality whilst robbing three young people of their victimhood and turning them into collateral damage in the ‘War on Terror’. Take away their ‘foreign-sounding’ names, their ‘Other’ features and their ‘extremist’ religion and you’ll find three humans just like you and I who were killed in a shooting motivated by intolerance. We should stand up against that. As Islamophobia continues to take hold and Muslim voices continue to be sidelined, our place in the West is rapidly becoming the site of insecurity. This is neither new nor news, but the Chapel Hill shooting illustrates that some Muslim voices will be ignored in death as well as in life.

Originally published on Infita7 on February 13th. 

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