The Muslim American community observed Wednesday (February 10) the first death anniversary of three North Carolina University Muslim students amid rising anti-Muslim bigotry and hate crimes.
On February 10, 2015, Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha, and Razan Abu-Salha were brutally murdered simply because they were Muslim. A neighbor, who had expressed anti-Muslim animus in the past, fatally shot each of them in the home that newly weds Deah and Yusor shared.
Sadly, in the year since their senseless deaths, too many other people have lost their lives in communities across our country, says Farhana Khera, adding: "And too many people in America have been living in fear after acts of vandalism and violence in their communities. In less than three months since the tragic attacks in Paris, we've seen more than 70 documented incidents of anti-Muslim hate violence."
Amid mounting anti-Muslim rhetoric, President Barrack Obama visited a Baltimore mosque on February 3 where the President called on Americans to embrace their common humanity and reject the inexcusable political rhetoric emanating from the presidential campaign trail.
The President said: "In this era of heightened rhetoric during the presidential election season, along with the rise of anti-Islamic propaganda, it is important for our elected officials to stand with the Muslim community to show solidarity with the more than 6 million Muslim Americans. Our nation was founded on religious tolerance and common ethos, which requires us to stand together as Americans."
Is is easy to look at the dangerous pattern of anti-Muslim hate in our nation. The year 2015 was perhaps the deadliest year on record for the American Muslim community, with 63 recorded attacks on mosques till the first week of December.
Tellingly, 17 of those attacks took place in November after the Paris terrorist attacks. At least six attacks and vandalism against the mosques were reported after the San Bernardino, CA, terrorist attack on December 2nd when Syed Rizwan Farook killed 14 people and wounded 21 at a meeting of public-health officials that doubled as a holiday party.
Anti-Muslim fever goes viral after the Paris and San Bernardino attacks. To borrow from Andrew O'hehir of Salon, Muslim fever has spread through our national bloodstream and replaced all thought. Many U.S. leaders have unleashed discriminatory rhetoric in the name of counterterrorism.
Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum argued that the U.S. Constitution does not protect Islam the way it does Christianity. Donald Trump said that he would "strongly consider" shutting down American mosques and that he wants "surveillance of certain mosques if that's okay." Thirty-one governors said that Syrian refugees were not welcome in their states. Jeb Bush suggested that refugees should be allowed into the United States if "you can prove you're a Christian."
Carl Ernst, a Kenan professor in the UNC Department of Religious Studies and a scholar of Islam, told The News & Observer of NC, that because Muslims are such a small minority in the country, "most people are only encountering Muslims in the media, which almost inevitably means in stories about conflict. The only Muslims who make it in to the news are people who do something that is violent or questionable in some way. Hollywood movies are the other sources of information, and they just reinforce those stereotypes."
With no independent knowledge of Islam, Ernst said, people readily accept stereotypes and what he calls anti-Islamic propaganda that is espoused on the Internet. There are about 100 anti-Muslim groups on the Internet, Ernst said, many of them using identical literature saying Muslims want to take over the United States.
Ernst said most people don't know that Muslims have been in America at least since the 1700s, when they were brought from Africa as slaves. Even among those who are more recent immigrants -- some of them now doctors, engineers and attorneys -- many are so well integrated into American culture that most people don't realize they are Muslim.
Anti-Muslim propaganda plays to Americans' tendency to want to unite against common enemies, Ernst said; throughout its history, the U.S. has scapegoated Native Americans, different immigrant groups, Jews, Communists, African-Americans, and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
In the Chapel Hill, NC, case, police charged Craig Stephen Hicks with shooting Barakat and Yusor and Razan Abu-Salha and quickly announced that investigators believed the killings stemmed from Hicks' rage over the use of parking spaces at the condo complex where they all lived. Barakat and his wife, Yusor, both graduates of N.C. State, were enrolled at the UNC dental school. Razan was a design student at NCSU. Both sisters regularly wore the hijab, or Muslim women's head covering.
The FBI launched its own investigation into the crime but has not announced its findings, according to the News & Observer.
Hicks, who could face the death penalty if convicted, has not been assigned a trial date.