By WAQAR RIZVI
‘There is no specific reaction from the White House.’
That was the dismissive statement of Josh Earnest, the White House spokesperson, when asked about the killing of three innocent Muslims in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
The collective yawn
Much like the White House, the overall American reaction to the executions of Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha at the hands of atheist Craig Hicks, especially in an increasingly right-wing media, has been a long yawn.
It is not that the case hasn’t received attention, but the light shone on the case briefly, has only been to justify the idea that this was nothing to do with hatred towards Muslims; it was a deranged man who was simply worked up about a parking spot, so he decided to execute three visibly-Muslim youngsters. The message, as always when the victims are Muslims, is to say, ‘it was a lone-wolf criminal, likely crazy, acting out – nothing to see here, look away.’
The yawn, then, is when it comes to the context this case must be seen in, when it comes to Muslims, including family members of the victims, insisting this must be investigated as a hate crime. For an American media and government which have done so much to demonize Muslims worldwide, both implicitly and explicitly, to achieve their worldwide political goals, how can they admit that the hate they have fostered is now backfiring on Muslims even within their own borders?
It must be clarified that those in the dock are not the American peoples, or even Western populations as a whole, because their growing hatred of all things Islamic and Muslim is not of their own doing. It is a testament to the power of the media that people of goodwill can even be brainwashed into believing the worst about their fellow humans, especially Muslims, and to be secretly and openly prejudicial towards them.
There are exceptions to the above. There are many people of truly goodwill who have not yet been caught by the trap of anti-Islam hate, and their words and actions of support of Muslims in this time of such overwhelming hate is both appreciated and important.
Deah, Yusor, and Razan were all contributing members of American society. They were educated, outgoing, and loved the country their parents adopted as home. Each was a gem, and as has been said, their executions have been a loss not only for the Muslim-American community, but for their respective overall American community as well.
It is a known fact that Muslims in America represent a significantly more educated and wealthy segment within overall American society. Muslims have played a vital role, and continue to do so, in their communities. One such example was Deah Barakat, whose volunteer work is now well known, both for the homeless people of his community, and the Muslim refugees displaced because of the Syrian crisis.
The outpouring of hate
Though many successive polls have indicated a negative view towards Islam and Muslims in the US, it has been proven that those who have had contact with, and regularly have such contact with Muslims do not hold such negative views. Contact and knowledge then can shatter the hateful prejudices media such as Fox News, and the likes of Pamela Geller and the rest of her entourage may spew and propagate.
In case anyone feels that the Chapel Hill shootings were a one-off incident, in the aftermath of the executions, several visibly-Muslim women have experienced verbal abuse, with some being followed in their cars and feeling clearly in danger.
That then is the absurdity of the current atmosphere of Islamophobia in the West. For a West which believes that Muslim women are ‘oppressed,’ it is almost comical that it is then Muslim women it most prejudices and mistreats because of their visible Muslim headscarf, which most choose to wear of their own free-will. That should be a sign to those who still sign on to this idea of anti-Islam hate. You oppress further the very segment of Muslims whom you, in your mind, believe are most ‘oppressed by Islam.’ Does that make any sense?
As has been said, among the tidal wave of hate, has been a lot of support. Though there will be no chants like ‘Je Suis Charlie’ seen in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack spoken by celebrities during awards’ ceremonies, some like comedian Chris Rock are, through their Twitter posts, at least bringing some attention to the absurd double-standards that exist in US media when it comes to how Muslim perpetrators versus Muslim victims’ cases are spoken of. The former shall always be an automatic ‘terrorist’ regardless of the facts, and the latter shall never be terrorism, regardless of the facts.
Beyond that, social media posts have shown that some reactions in the aftermath of the Chapel Hill shootings were in fact celebratory of the fact that it happened, with some even wishing that more Muslims be killed.
It is important to note that Muslims who moved to America moved there for a better life, with some leaving countries ruled by US-backed dictators. Many have built a good life for themselves, and their children have been brought up with the Western ideals of standing up for themselves, something that would’ve been unimaginable had they stayed back in the respective and repressive dictatorships they emigrated from.
That then is the catch-22. America has welcomed Muslims in, and many have integrated themselves into American society, adopting its straight-forward, fear no-one attitude. That very American ideal shall now come back to bite those who are asking for Muslims to now be repressed and prejudiced, and for them to be seen as nothing more than second-class citizens and humans.
A reaction with finesse
After the news of the Chapel Hill shootings came out, the families of the victims reacted, in part, by putting forth a crisp response. They set up a Facebook page through which they could directly communicate with the outside world. Suzanne Barakat, Deah’s sister gave a well-worded and direct press conference demanding, on behalf of all the families that this be treated as a hate crime.
Suzanne also appeared on CNN’s AC360 with Anderson Cooper and gave an emotional interview showing the human side of the loss of her brother as well as his wife and wife’s sister. The father of the two Abu-Salha sisters clearly said his daughters did feel Hicks was Islamophobic, and were uncomfortable around him for that reason. A friend also blasted Fox News and Republican Governor Bobby Jindal for dehumanizing Muslims.
The American-Muslim community too, especially the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) too has spoken out forcefully, pointing out the clear hypocrisy and double-standard in which this case has been approached and reported by the Western mainstream media.The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) asked authorities to look into whether hate played a part in this crime.
Even the Bahraini opposition group, Al-Wefaq, has condemned the killings and atmosphere of hate growing in the US, even though its hands are fulling in dealing with the suppression a US-backed dictatorship metes out daily on it and the majority of Bahrainis.
In this is a lesson. Muslims must no longer silently accept oppression, but must speak up, for only those who stand up for themselves get respect. Though some Muslim leaders in the US naively advised Muslims not to see this as a hate crime, and to ‘trust the police’ in investigating this crime properly, it is time for Muslims to stop deluding themselves. One cannot trust that things will magically work out for the Muslim community in the US, or elsewhere in the world. Muslims will need to make that happen. As the Prophet famously said, ‘Believe in God, but tie your camel too.’
The lesson is that it is America and the West themselves which have preached standing up for yourself, and speaking up for what is right. The various hashtag movements online gaining momentum, be it #MuslimLivesMatter, #CallItTerrorism, #IslamophobiaOnTheRise, and many others are a good start to bring attention to the issue. Yet, Muslims need to increase the cost of such hate. They must make it known that they too are citizens with voting rights and can exercise their democratic rights to ensure their rights are protected.
America and the West have for too long preached the good lessons of humanity, moral authority, equality, freedom, tolerance, and now is the time for the proof that they too live by these worthy ideals. Muslims’ lives, quite literally, hang in the balance.