If three Muslim students are shot in the head in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, is it rhetorical to ask if #MuslimLivesMatter?
If a fire is deliberately started in an Islamic Institute in Houston, Texas, does anyone see the smoke?
If an old Muslim woman stands up to Islamic militants in Syria, quoting the Qur’an and saying, “Turn back to God. What you are doing is forbidden,” do the Sean Hannity’s of the world listen?
I should preface that the Chapel Hill shooting and the Houston arson events, respectively, are still being investigated, but no matter how the investigations pan out, the way in which these events are characterized and discussed is instructive.
Do I even have to exhaust explanation on why, if Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha, the victims of the shooting, were Christian rather than Muslim and killed by a self-proclaimed atheist, the coverage would be different? If they were Jewish?
If the Islamic Institute set ablaze was a church or a synagogue?
Could you imagine, as Arsalan Iftikhar does in The Islamic Monthly, “… if 300 million of us Americans woke up one morning to the news that a gun-wielding brown Muslim man had killed three white college students in cold blood, execution-style?”
I shudder to think.
Given that Bill O’Reilly on his show called the shooter, Craig Stephen Hicks, “disturbed,” I think so. As others have pointed out on Twitter, it ought not be inconceivable that the shooter killed these three Muslims over a parking dispute and hatred of their religion.
After all, despite it being a sad meme at this point, it should be obvious that a brown-skinned shooter is seen as a terrorist, a black-skinned shooter a thug and a white-skinned shooter a “disturbed lone wolf.”
If it’s not so obvious to those who may be reading this, then ask yourself why it took so long for the Chapel Hill shooting to receive saturated national media coverage (the #MuslimLivesMatter started from the lack of coverage). Ask yourself why the fire in Houston still hasn’t.
Muslims are dehumanized, whether here in America or abroad. Islamophobia is indeed a real facet of American culture, especially post-9/11 with a potency than can and does turn violent.
In 2014, according to the Arab American Institute, only 27 percent of Americans have a favorable view of Muslims. Compare that to 58 percent favorable for Roman Catholics, 60 percent for Presbyterians, and 65 percent for Jews, respectively.
The reasoning for that may be 52 percent of respondents feel they need to know more about Islam and Muslims. Ignorance of the “other” breeds hatred.
On the flip side, the better side of American culture can envelope those like one of the shooting victims, Yusor Abu-Salha, killed at the tragically young age of 21.
Just last year, she recorded a conversation for the storytelling project StoryCorps where she said, “Growing up in America has been such a blessing, you know, although in some ways, I do stand out, you know, such as the hijab I wear on my head, there are still so many ways I feel embedded in the fabric of the culture.”
Deah’s last Facebook post was posting about an event held in Durham where he and others provided free dental supplies and food to over 75 homeless people in the downtown area.
The group American Atheists have already denounced the shooting, although they didn’t need to. Nor do Muslims when a Muslim commits violence, but the Sean Hannity’s of the world demand otherwise.
In a newly released video going viral in the Arabic-speaking world, it shows a small, old woman talking with Islamic militants in Syria.
“It’s all shit (making us go backward) none of you is good. You’re not (good) neither is he,” the old woman said in the video.
Her courage to stand up in a war-zone to the ones doing the warring brought tears to my eyes. Meanwhile, Sean Hannity bloviates about how Muslims need to do more from his posh studio in Rockefeller Center.
If these three examples of the problem with how we discuss Muslim Americans and Islam more broadly has left you with rolling eyes, let me turn to 13-year old Mohammed Tuaiman of Yemen.
He was killed in a Jan. 26 American drone attack. While we rightly condemned and are repulsed by ISIS burning alive Jordanian pilot, Moaz al-Kasasbeh, our government’s own missiles burned alive a kid.
From The Guardian:
“I saw all the bodies completely burned, like charcoal,” Mohammed’s older brother Maqded said. “When we arrived we couldn’t do anything. We couldn’t move the bodies so we just buried them there, near the car.”
Don’t expect much ado about it in mainstream news coverage.
Tuaiman told The Guardian before he died that he “lived in constant fear of the death machines.”
“I see them every day and we are scared of them,” said Mohammed Tuaiman, speaking from al-Zur village in Marib province, where he would be killed, according to The Guardian.
His father and teenage brother were also killed by a drone attack in 2011 while they herded the family’s camels.
Sure, Yusor may look different than us with the hijab atop her head or Mohammed may sound different than us speaking in Arabic, but they are still human beings, whether 8,000 miles away in Yemen or an 8-hour drive to Chapel Hill.
They. Are. Human.
I turn to Mohammed for the last word:
“In their eyes, we don’t deserve to live like people in the rest of the world and we don’t have feelings or emotions or cry or feel pain like all the other humans around the world.”