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Chapel Hill Shooting: #OnlyWhiteLivesMatter

Every time I read the news, I wonder if humanity is moving forward or backward.

Hash tags like #BlackLivesMatter only reiterate this. We seriously need a hash tag to remind us that African American lives matter?! We need protests and demonstrations just to hold people accountable for acts they’ve irresponsibly committed? I thought we were past that…I guess democracy is just an illusion that is only clear to a particular skin pigment (or lack thereof).

It seems like the more pigmented your skin, the more trouble you’re in.

Lately, it seems like #OnlyWhiteLivesMatter. Subconsciously, we’ve come to think that if you’re white, you’re automatically “excused.” If you’re a caucasian and you commit a crime, you have the luxury of due diligence— you’re innocent until proven guilty, not guilty until proven innocent. You have the luxury of being accused of mental instability, instead of being accused of being a terrorist. In a nutshell, you have the luxury of not worrying that your entire ethnicity, race or religion will take the fall with you.

After the recent shooting at Chapel Hill, the world was once again reminded by the continued injustice to minorities around the globe.

Interestingly (or not really), the terrorist label wasn’t mentioned once. It wasn’t a “terrorist attack,” because, duh, the killer wasn’t Muslim. Muslims die and they are covered for about a day or two, but when so-called Muslims kill, they are the heart of media for weeks. They are portrayed as a homogeneous mixture of backward, violent extremists. Muslims are rarely portrayed under positive light— and if they are, they are the exception to the rule.

Okay, but let’s be fair: media outlets did report the horrific incident, but let’s take a look at the headlines.

“Three young Muslims shot,” we read everywhere.

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Aljazeera similarly says:

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No where do we see the religion of the shooter (due to its “irrelevance,” it’s argued). There needs to be consistency when reporting about religion. Otherwise, its constant usage will lead to misrepresentation. Religion shouldn’t be the identifying factor for victims or for criminals— simply the same way someone’s weight doesn’t matter. It really should be irrelevant, unless it’s vital to understand the context of the story.

Let’s contrast this to events that have recently occurred, all involving shooting as the method of violence. Their portrayal and the association with the word “terror” is one to note. One can only wonder…if the criminals weren’t Muslim, would have the word “terrorist” been used?

Here’s the NY Times during the attack on Charlie Hebdo:

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Likewise, when the Ottawa shootings happened last year, not just the media, but the government called it a “terrorist” attack. Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 2.04.05 PM

Throughout the NY Times article, words like “Islamic radicalism” and “Islamic terror” are common.

The constant association of words like Islamic and Muslim with terror and radical has brainwashed nations into generalizing more than 1.6 billion Muslims as extremists— for horrid acts a fraction of that number commit.

Muslims constantly feel the need to apologize for acts they did not commit, due to all the pressure from the media. Without the need to explain, this is extremely unnecessary. You don’t see Muslims asking all whites and atheists to apologize for the shooter’s actions…because it is completely unfair to judge a group of people by one person’s actions. You can’t say all Germans were Nazis, can you? So why is it so easy to say all Muslims are terrorists?

One can argue that in the Chapel Hill case, it’s relevant to mention religion because it was about religion, and essentially I agree for the following reason:

CNN found a Facebook post by Craig Stephen Hick, the accused shooter who turned himself in, saying :

“When it comes to insults, your religion started this, not me. If your religion kept its big mouth shut, so would I.”

But here is where I differ. When Muslims kill, they are automatically labeled by their religion. They are called “Islamic terrorists,” directly linking Islam, not just Muslims, to the criminal act. But when Muslims are killed by non-Muslims, suddenly, the criminal’s religion is completely ignored. If this isn’t terrorism, I’m not really sure what is.

In this case, it’s the Muslims being labelled again. This time as the victims as opposed to the criminals, but this does two things: 1). It creates sympathy for the shooter (labelled as a U.S. gunman) because he was “saving” America from the “radicals”; and 2). It creates an inconsistency in reporting. Why aren’t the headlines: “THREE YOUNG ADULTS SHOT BY ANGRY ATHEIST”? (Or by “angry Christian” if he was). Journalists need to be held accountable for their reporting, because it’s causing a lot of either unnoticed, or noticed (and intended) harm. Hopefully it’s the former.

But here’s some food for thought:

Have you ever stopped and wondered if we are responsible for this, as an ummah?

We are mad and heartbroken, I get it. But let’s direct that energy to a more positive outlook and start looking in the mirror. Should it not be our responsibility to clear these sorts of misconceptions to prevent acts like this from happening? If we are doing more da’wa, people wouldn’t have this twisted idea of Islam. People don’t hate Muslims or Islam…they hate what they hear about Muslims and Islam. We can make a difference.

It has shattered the hearts of people around the world to know that the victims were newlyweds, and that the three died at such young age. Vigils were flooded by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. They weren’t very known before their death, but subhanAllah…think of all the prayers they’ve received worldwide. Think of the many people that are seeing Islam in a good light because of what they’ve left behind. God is all knowing, and we must understand that everything happens for a reason. May Allah have mercy on their souls and may He shower their families with strength and patience.

‘.قدر الله، وما شاء فعل’

‘Allah so determined and did as He willed.’

I am truly hopeful. I genuinely believe that our world can get better. I don’t think we should just get upset, blame everything on everyone else and do nothing. I know we’re facing a powerful media, but there’s one thing that’s certain: actions speak louder than words. If your actions contradict what the media is saying, people will start to question the media; because at the end of the day, seeing is believing.

Note: When I say #OnlyWhiteLivesMatter, I do not mean to generalize because that is the root of most problems. Simply, I’m acknowledging that there is indeed something called white privilege, and that it’s rooted deeply within our societal norms. 

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