When the mainstream media in America failed to mention the murder of three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina on Feb. 10, the domestic homicide was soon compensated by international attention and solidarity. After the murder, those who knew of the three young Muslim students — Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, her husband Mr. Deah Barakat and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha — began to blast the injustice of omission on social media as an underplay of equal rights for Muslim-Americans. The homicide and hashtag #MuslimLivesMatter soon went viral globally. International leaders such as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto added their voices to point out the overt implications of Islamophobia from the American government’s silence. This prejudice against Muslims is often felt politically, and in this case the lack of government support highlighted that.
Although President Obama, and other news outlets later covered the incident, it was an embarrassing domestic spectacle that the world witnessed. Craig Hicks, the 46-year-old white male responsible for the deaths of three Muslims, was recently indicted for first degree murder. Despite his overtly anti-theistic Facebook posts, officials, and soon to be ex-wife, insist that the act was over what everyone referred to as a “parking dispute.” Hicks would adamantly defy the complex’s policy of a single reserved parking spot by claiming a visitor reserved slot for his wife. But on the day of the shooting, neither the young couple nor the sister had parked in either of these parking spaces, giving no singular prompting for the attack. The victims’ family says it was a hate-crime from the couple’s repeated fearful encounters and a comment from Abu-Salha’s a week before: “Daddy, I think he hates us for who we are and how we look.”
Family, friends and people around the world, have found the parking lot dispute and Hicks’ alleged mental health, a weak and insubstantial motive for this murder.
It is impossible to ignore the similarities of the incident in North Carolina with the shooting of Michael Brown in Fergusson, Missouri last year. Both sparked national and international controversy, especially in the subsequent viral social media advocacy for both. Even the inconclusiveness of the incidents the two are alike; there were several contradictory statements of whether Brown had turned to the officer to surrender or to attack. Regardless, in both cases the victims have become martyrs for justice and equality. What have emerged beyond the case-specific disputes are racial and religious tensions and insecurities, buried beneath the surface.
However, there are some who do not agree with this pairing. One Twitter post by an African-American female read “I am critical of #MuslimLivesMatter bc it details the conversation about anti-Blackness. We are not all in the same boat.”
This is one example of dissent with the play on #BlackLivesMatter for other equality issues. Last year, Smith College president Kathleen McCartney sent out an email to the student body in an effort to establish solidarity. In the email she replaced #BlackLivesMatter with “We are united in our insistence that all lives matter.”
Students responded angrily at the more inclusive substitution by saying it undermined the specific African-American experience.
Judith Butler, author and professor in the department of comparative literature and the program of critical theory at UC Berkeley, would agree. In an interview with the New York Times’ blog The Opinionator, she said, “If we jump too quickly to the universal formulation, ‘all lives matter,’ then we miss the fact that black people have not yet been included in the idea of ‘all lives.’”
There is no doubt that the Muslim-American experience and African-American experience are both distinct from each other in terms of history, duration and systemic manifestation. However, to deny the fact that Muslim-Americans do not experience a similar public prejudice and apprehension is impossible. Whether or not Craig Hicks’ murder of Muslim students, Deah, Yusor and Razan, was a deliberate hate crime is not the most important issue. The bigger issue is that the homicide and the lack of national support and attention showed a discrepancy in the importance of Muslim lives. As such, the hash tag #MuslimLivesMatter is appropriate because, like black racism in America, Islamophobia still undermines the value of Muslims in America.