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When Muslims Die

By Idrees M. Kahloon

On Tuesday, gunshots were heard a little after 5:00 p.m. in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and the gruesome tragedy was soon known: Deah Shaddy Barakat, a 23-year-old dental student, his 21-year-old wife of six weeks, Yusor Mohammad, and her 19-year-old sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha were shot in the head, executed by their neighbor in their own home and in their own country.

Since the murder of the three Muslim students of Arab descent three days ago, America’s Muslims have been left reeling.

I wish I could write that it isn’t just America’s Muslims who are suffering, that it is America, as one nation, mourning these three stolen souls. But I can't bring myself to write that.

Perhaps it’s harder to think clearly when tragedy strikes your community. Perhaps it becomes too easy to convince yourself of discrimination and prejudice when two women who wear hijabs like your mother and sisters do are gunned down.

But those comparisons come, and the “what if"s and “why not”s overwhelm you.

You wonder whether the media would have covered this sooner if the attackers, rather than the victims, were Muslim. You wonder where the word “terrorism” has gone when the people with whom you share a religion and culture are the ones being terrorized.

You wonder whether the police and district attorney would have labeled the massacre “an ongoing neighbor dispute over parking” and an “isolated incident” that was “not part of a targeted campaign” if it weren’t young Muslims who had been killed.

You wonder whether we would have so quickly accepted that the killer were clearly deranged if he spoke Arabic instead of English. You wonder where all those calls for the moderates to stand up and denigrate violence went.

To me, it’s impossible that shooting three Muslims in the head could have been the sole result of a parking dispute. It’s impossible for me to dismiss as these murders as that, or as a mere “isolated incident,” in the same way that the black community couldn’t, wouldn’t, and will not dismiss Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, or Eric Garner as “isolated incidents” of police brutality.

Instead, everything about the killings, from their very execution to the sluggish reporting that followed them, seems under the shadow of the festering anti-Muslim sentiments that some politicians and pundits have spoken, while the others let their ugly assertions go unchallenged. It’s a noxious system of thought that allows people to see their Muslims as subhuman, people who can be killed and easily discarded en masse over a parking dispute.

Because in our haste to conflate Islamism with everyday Muslims, we have subtly and subconsciously grafted the images of the extreme fringe onto an entire people. When people like Bill Maher ask moderate Muslims to condemn the attack on Charlie Hebdo, there is an implication that all Muslims carry a default liking of bloodshed, one that must be publicly disavowed to be considered a member of civilization.

Here, a host on the nation’s most watched cable news channel can go on a seven-minute rant saying, “We need to kill them. We need to kill them. The radical Muslim terrorists hell bent on killing us,” without any repercussions.

Here, calling the president a “secret Muslim” is a slur to some, as if Islam and patriotism are entirely antithetical.

Just a month before the Chapel Hill killings, nearby Duke University canceled plans to allow the Muslim call to prayer to be sounded from the school’s chapel, after fierce criticism. “To use the bell tower as a minaret, to call on the god of Islam, we as Christians are being marginalized,” said the evangelist Franklin Graham. Most of the services conducted inside the chapel of the Methodist-founded university are Christian.

At the time, Omid Safi, a professor and director of the Duke Islamic Studies Center, expressed his disappointment, saying, “We are essentially caving into the very real security concerns.”

“This is, in all of the heartbreak and violence and sadness, where we are,” he said one month later.

I can’t say for certain that our tolerance for anti-Muslim bigotry caused these senseless deaths—but neither can I say that it didn’t. And that’s what troubles me the most.

Idrees M. Kahloon ’16, a Crimson editorial executive, is an applied mathematics concentrator in Dunster House.

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