This morning I woke up to a text that read, “What is campus like today after the shooting of three Arab students?”
My response: “What?”
Somewhere between the stacks of Arabic textbooks and the depths of Netflix, I had neglected to stay on top of the news that broke to the Chapel Hill community last night and this morning:
“3 people dead in Chapel Hill shooting,” “Three Muslim students killed at North Carolina campus,” “Chapel Hill Shooting: Neighbor Charged With Murder of Three Honors Students,” the headlines get more and more specific as the day goes on.
Messages from family members and friends at other schools are so abundant that they are distracting me during class. I feel blessed to have a community of people who love and care about me.
Speculations about the motivations of the shooter are heartbreaking. A hate crime, a parking dispute? I honestly can’t decide which one is worse.
Actually I can.
In my very humble opinion, a hate crime is far more unsettling. I would almost rather believe that the shooter was so mentally unstable that he resorted to homicide over a menial issue of parking. If this is the truth, it would speak to the issues of mental health of one person in Chapel Hill.
A hate crime, rather, would speak to much more than that.
A hate crime evidences the rampant racism that has hindered a genuine establishment of civil rights since the first day pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock.
A hate crime means our nation has hypocritically exported liberal democracy to the Third World without even upholding the idea of civil rights within its own borders.
A hate crime means we have failed as a community, as a nation, as a human race, to uphold the virtue we take from our very own name: humanity.
The shooting incident is shocking, and horrifying, and all of the negative adjectives I can list, but it is mostly disruptive to my idea of what it means to be a human being.
Within the past year, media coverage of racist incidents have led to the creation of trends like “Black Lives Matter,” and “Muslim Lives Matter.”
While both of these statements are true and well-intended, my problem is that they the same exclusionary logic that leads to racism in the first place. How does singling a group of people out, regardless of the supportive motivation, aid in the effort to create a community of tolerance, understanding, or acceptance?
A human is a human is a human, and that is what is important about this entire situation.
The motivations behind the shooter’s actions, whatever they may be, are obviously going to be unacceptable, as any homicidal motivation is because this highlights the failure of the American community to address the issue of racism.
I cannot speak for the Arab community, the Chapel Hill community, or any other. I can only speak for myself when I say that I am outraged by the misleading coverage of violence and sectarianism in the Middle East, while same types of racist violence are happening right here in my zip code.
I read a book recently about the Arab Uprisings, and the author asserted the following idea:
Injustice fosters violence, and violence creates sectarianism.
More simply explained, this means that people become violent when they feel they have been wronged, and that violence divides and separates people through race, ideology, class, etc.
Every single news report about the victims attempted to identify the victims in a manner that divided and realigned their identities. Arabs. Students. Muslims. Only one article referred to them simply as people, and that was because there was limited information about the victims.
Tonight, the school is holding a vigil for the victims, and the students, faculty, and community members are encouraged to come show their respect and offer prayers of peace.
The point however, should not be to attend as a Christian supporting Muslims, a Caucasian supporting Arabs, or even as a student supporting students.
The point is to attend as a human being showing respect, love and support for other human beings.
The next steps for us as a community are going to be pivotal.
We cannot ignore that these students might have been targeted out of racism or hatred, but we can move beyond this limiting factor to understand that hate crimes are unacceptable, no matter the skin color of the victims.
The more we divide ourselves from each other, even in ways that seem harmless, the harder it will be to battle the plague of racism.
I resent the idea that I should feel more concerned about the shooting because I am an Arab-American, and I’d rather feel concerned because I am a citizen of a country that intervenes in a different hemisphere for a problem we have yet to address in ourselves.
We all know Anne Frank’s famous quote, “Despite everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart,” but we should also read the rest of the context surrounding it:
“It’s difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”
Her words are a wonderful example of overcoming racism and hatred. Her positivity in the face of misery has inspired the world for decades, and she provides a lesson from which we can all learn, especially in the wake of yesterday’s tragedy.
How we deal with tragedy is part of what makes us who we are.
Who are we going to be?