Chapel Hill murders spark #MuslimLivesMatter campaign

Chapel Hill murders spark #MuslimLivesMatter campaign
The murder of three young Arab Muslims, and the media's coverage of the killings, have galvanised many to join a global social media campaign against Islamophobia, demanding justice for the victims.
4 min read
12 February, 2015
The media underplayed the religious significance of the fatal shootings [AFP]

The cold blooded murder of three young Muslims near the University of North Carolina in the USA has sparked a vociferous social media campaign, reflecting the deep well of fear and anger over bias and discrimination toward Muslims in America and the wider west.

Many Muslims were angered that the corporate media ignored the killings Tuesday night and western news outlets were slow to report the murders. The hashtag #MuslimLivesMatter was used widely on Twitter as word spread Wednesday morning that the three victims were Muslim. 

When police said a preliminary investigation indicated a parking dispute had triggered the shootings, several Muslim leaders said the brutal nature of the murders warranted a hate crime investigation from both federal and local law enforcement. The family of the victims joined the call for a hate-crime inquiry. 

The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) has called on law enforcement authorities to address speculation about a possible bias motive for the killing. 

"Based on the brutal nature of this crime, the past anti-religion statements of the alleged perpetrator, the religious attire of two of the victims, and the rising anti-Muslim rhetoric in American society, we urge state and federal law enforcement authorities to quickly address speculation of a possible bias motive in this case," said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad. 

"Our heartfelt condolences go to the families and loved ones of the victims and to the local community." 

Dalia Mogahed, director of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, a think-tank that specializes in Muslim issues, said she was disturbed that the media lagged in picking up on the religious significance of the fatal shootings. 

  Several cartoonists have taken to social media in the aftermath of the shootings

"How would we be dealing with this issue if the faith and ethnicity of the victims and perpetrator were switched, if a brown-skinned person went into the room of three white people and shot them?" Mogahed said. "We're all just floored by the blatant double standard that we're seeing in both law enforcement and media coverage of the issue." 

The victims were a newlywed couple, Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, and Yusor Mohammad, 21, and Mohammad's sister, 19-year-old Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha.

On Thursday, Jordan said that two the were Jordanian nationals. A Foreign Ministery spokesperson told Al-Araby al-Jadeed that Amman has taken up the murders with the US authorities to learn the reasons and motives behind the shooting, saying the matter rested ultimately with the US justice system.  

Jordan confirmed that Yusor Abu-Salha  and her sister Razan  were Jordanian nationals according to the records of the Civil Status Register, their identities having been confirmed with the US embassy in Amman. Yusor’s husband Deah Shaddy Barakat was a Syrian national.

Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, was charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the shootings. 

The father of the women, Mohammad Abu-Salha told reporters earlier that Hicks had harassed his daughter and husband a couple of times before, and had a gun in his belt when he spoke with them.

Abu-Salha said his daughter Yusor, who lived next door to Hicks, wore a Muslim head scarf and told her family a week ago that she had "a hateful neighbor."  

"Honest to God, she said, 'He hates us for what we are and how we look,'" the grieve stricken father added.  

Muslim Advocates, a civil rights organization based in California, urged US Attorney General Eric Holder to open a federal inquiry into the homicides.  

"We cannot ignore the environment in which this incident took place," said Madihha Ahussain of Muslim Advocates.

Chapel Hill police Chief Chris Blue said, "We understand the concerns about the possibility that this was hate-motivated, and we will exhaust every lead to determine if that is the case." 

Muslim groups held vigils for the victims in North Carolina, New York, Virginia and elsewhere, while others organized a worldwide Quran reading as a memorial.

Protests are also planned later on Thursday outside the Bristish Broadcasting Corportation's offices in London and other UK cities.  The BBC has been accused of downplaying downolaying the murders.

The reaction reflects the alarm many Muslims feel in the face of anti-Muslim prejudice in Europe and the USA.