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#ChapelHillShooting: Lives lost, senselessly

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This was first published as a Thought Leader by the M&G.

OPINION by Shireen Mukadam

Ever heard of Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha?

Probably not.

Two days ago, they were killed, execution style, in their apartment in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, on the east coast of the US. Deah (23) was a second-year dentistry student at the University of North Carolina. He was married to 21-year-old Yusor in December. Razan, only 19, was Yusor’s sister.

Speaking on behalf of the families at a small press conference yesterday Suzanne Barakat said:

“Six weeks ago, I cried tears of joy at my baby brother’s wedding. Today we are crying tears of unimaginable pain over the execution style murders of my brother Deah, his bride Yusor and her younger sister and best friend, Razan.”

“We ask that the authorities investigate these senseless and heinous murders as a hate crime”

I am a Muslim South African. I believe in freedom, in human rights and in dignity — of all, as equals.

In January, I watched in horror the scenes unfolding at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris where 12 people were killed. It felt as though I was watching a really bad film. First the shooting, then the images of the police officer being shot, then the grocery store where the customers were held up, and finally the warehouse where the story ended.

It felt orchestrated. Something didn’t quite feel right.

Yet I stood in solidarity. Je suis Charlie, I said.

Whatever the motive, the killing of 12 people could not be justified, in my eyes.

Today, I stumbled upon the headlines “Three students killed in Chapel Hill shooting”.

They were Muslim, too.

But they were also humans.

Why do I care about an event that’s taken place so far away from where I live, on another continent? Because it is another senseless killing. Three more too many.

Because it is terrorism.

And this time, I refuse to remain silent.

Terrorism is any act that instils terror in the audience — this is what I learnt during an undergraduate course on conflict at the University of Cape Town.

I am terrified through this. And the killer, the murderer, is therefore a terrorist.

It doesn’t matter who he is, what colour skin he has, or even what religious (or non-religious) values to which he ascribes. He has left me terrorised.

You don’t have to be Muslim to be labelled a terrorist. Something the world’s media has seemingly forgotten, conveniently.

Three young people’s lives were stolen away from them, and their families. That is a tragedy. But even worse, would be if we allow this event not to be a wake-up call. If they have died in vain, that will be an even greater tragedy.

There is a deep malaise in our contemporary world.

I don’t know what Craig Stephen Hicks’ true motive was — Deah and Yusor’s neighbour, who handed himself over to police following the killings.

I probably will never know. Only he knows. But that isn’t relevant — it can’t ever justify the act of a triple cold-blooded murder. (His wife tried to defend him, saying it wasn’t a hate crime but a spat over parking space).

The malaise I refer to is one of deep “other-ing”. It says I am me. And you are you. We are different. The differences between us are big enough to cause divides between us.

There are so many differences between us, and it is therefore so easy to find ways to distinguish between you and me. Because I am different from you, I am better than, and you are less than. I am right, and you are wrong. I am me, and you are the “other”. Anything different from me, is the “other”.

Wars have been fought over differences — in ideologies, religion, ethnicity, nationality — for power, money, and often, in the “name of God”.

Yusor and Razan wore hijab, a head-covering worn in public by Muslim women. One week before her murder, Yusor told her father of Hicks: “Honest to God, He hates us for what we are and how we look.”

Who is this God, who would want us to cause bloodshed and entrench hatred? Who is this God in whose name lives are stolen? It is not my God.

I am Muslim.

My God, is the God of mercy. He is the God of forgiveness and of love. He is the God of peace, tolerance, respect and humility.

The three young people whose lives were stolen — they were three people, with names, with mothers and fathers, with homework to do and exams to write, with friends to meet and family to greet, with their lives ahead of them, endless possibilities, with voyages to make, and friends in other lands to meet, with jobs to go to, people to serve, and children to have. They had more birthdays to celebrate, and walks to take.

Deah had an “all-embracing kindness,” said his elder sister, Suzanne. His young wife, Yusor, “matched his gentle demeanour. She had a calming presence”. They found in one another a kindred spirit.

Razan, only 19 was described as “generous”. A talented, creative individual, she was studying architecture.

She was “almost 20″ and still got confused if someone used the word “existentialism”. But she knew what 3D abstractions were, and pulled an all-nighter on January 14 putting together a 3D abstract model. She wrote an exam last week, and thought she would fail, but Missy Elliot cheered her up. She loved cats. She spent New Year’s Eve indoors, eating junk food and watching Disney princess movies. Her friend was Yasmine Inaya. She adored Tom Brady, the football quarterback. She and her sister have an older brother, Yousef, who is 23. In October she wished him a “Happy Birthday to the best brother even though he once convinced me I was adopted and I cried”. If she could go back in time, to any place in the world, Razan would have chosen to visit Yafa, a port city in Palestine, in 1930. “Oh how I wish I could have paid you a visit,” she tweeted last year.

Shireen Mukadam holds a masters in international affairs from the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland. She is passionate about promoting human rights and social justice. She lives in Cape Town.  Tweet her @ShireenMukadam or visit her blog at

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