On Being One Community

I screamed with joy the day I found out I was accepted to the University of North Carolina. My family immigrated from the Middle East to the United States when I was four years old, and my parents always stressed that a college education could take me everywhere in life. Growing up, they would meticulously examine my report cards and hover over my assignments, making sure I never forgot the extra credit problem on the back. I couldn’t wait to spend my college years in Chapel Hill.

By the end of my first semester, I knew this school would become my home — I felt I could not imagine a more welcoming, supportive environment. So when I heard on Tuesday that Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha had been shot and killed in their apartment, I simply was in disbelief. How could this happen in Chapel Hill, how could this happen here?
But I came to realize that here is everywhere.

The Chapel Hill Police Department has said its preliminary investigation indicates that the crime was motivated by an ongoing dispute over parking, while the victims’ families and surrounding Muslim community strongly believe the attack was a hate crime.

What we do know is that these murders aren’t “isolated incidents,” but part of a string of violent attacks against Muslims in the United States. Early Friday morning, just before members began to arrive for prayers, a building at the Quba Islamic Institute in Texas burst into flames. Fire officials later determined that an accelerant was used, indicating that it may have been a hate crime. At a Kroger Supermarket in Dearborn, Michigan, last week, two men attacked a Muslim man and taunted his daughter, who wears the hijab. Just hours ago, on Sunday, the Islamic School of Rhode Island was vandalized, with the doors of the school covered with the words “pigs,” “ragheads” and, “Now this is a hate crime.” In Chapel Hill, as in America, the Muslim community does not feel safe.

These attacks beg the question, what has produced this hate?

What is happening in America?

According to the Center for American Progress, hate crimes against Muslims are five times greater today than before 9/11. Meanwhile, well-known bloggers and news commentators like Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer tout rhetoric denying that Islamophobia even exists. More than 100 anti-Sharia bills have been introduced in the United States, including in North Carolina. If the Islamophobia network’s fear-mongering through the media and legislature continues, it will show its ugly face again and again in the form of hate crimes, discriminatory attitudes and unjust policies against Muslims in America.

But to lose hope right now is not an option; instead,we must look at the lives of Deah, Yusor and Razan for inspiration. They were selfless individuals who radiated light wherever they went, whether it was helping feed the hungry in downtown Durham or providing dental relief to Palestinian and Syrian refugees abroad. We must look to their lives as examples of how to lead ours, as lessons on how to move forward as a country.

A few months ago, Yusor recorded a story for Storycorps. In it she commented on life in America: “There’s so many different people from so many different places, of different backgrounds and religions. But here we’re all one, one culture. And it’s beautiful to see people of different areas interacting, and being family. Being, you know, one community.”

Now is a time to stand together against hate. Now is a time to educate others about the most vulnerable, marginalized groups in our society. Now is a time to learn from our Muslim brothers and sisters, to read and extend a hand of solidarity and support. Our fate is tied together as Americans, as one community.

Students gather Feb. 11 at a vigil for Deah, Yusor and Razan. Photo by Chris Conway

Students gather Feb. 11 at a vigil for Deah, Yusor and Razan. Photo by Chris Conway