A shooting on Tuesday killed three students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, leaving the small university town shaken. The victims were newlywed couple Deah Shaddy Barakat and Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha. They were all of Arab descent. According to a statement from Chapel Hill police, the attack may have stemmed from a dispute over parking, but is also being investigated as a possible hate crime. The shooter, Craig Stephen Hicks, referred to himself on his Facebook account as an “anti-theist” and posted statements critical of all religions. This incident is particularly tragic given that it occurred in a university town, which are typically diverse and inclusive communities.
The Abu Salha’s father strongly believes these murders are a hate crime. The shooter’s wife disagrees. But her husband, gun in belt, harassed the victims in the weeks before their murder. One of the victims told her father the week before her murder, “He hates us for for what we are and how we look,” words countless Muslims can identify with. It is unsurprising social media users have jumped to the conclusion that, given Hick’s anti-religious background, the crime was motivated by the victims’ faith.
Today, the number of anti-Muslim hate crimes in the United States is five times higher than before 9/11. Conservatives jumped for joy when Bill Maher and Sam Harris called Islam the “motherload of bad ideas.” Fox News anchor Jeanine Pirro called for the genocide of Islamists on television with little to no consequence. To ignore the hateful motivations behind the murder of these three Muslims is to dismiss the fears of Muslims in an increasingly Islamophobic United States.
If hate crimes are not met with robust punishments, a rise in domestic instances like those after 9/11 may be in our future. President Barack Obama has recently proposed a three-year war plan to fight threats posed by ISIS, but it is not clearly defined. This ambiguity may create an opportunity for Obama or his successor to wage another phase of unbridled anti-terrorist operations, which may have profiling implications for Muslims in the U.S. Republican leaders are also pushing for a war against ISIS with few restrictions. Religious profiling must be prevented in this likely war so that the Islamic population in the United States can feel safe.
Whether or not the Chapel Hill Shooting was ultimately motivated by religion, hate crimes are on the rise, especially since the emergence of ISIS. The United States is at the threshold of starting another expansive war in a politically volatile region. The charged news coverage, nationalism and partisan politics associated with these similar wars creates a sensitive social climate at home. Therefore any sort of hate crime must be strongly opposed on all fronts.
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Feb. 12 print edition. Email the WSN Editorial board at [email protected]