Rebekah Devorak | Asst. Opinions Editor
If you take a look at the United States Constitution, you’ll see that freedom of religion is promised right at the top. Our founding fathers, who experienced unimaginable prejudice for practicing religion against the Church of England, thought it was so imperative for future generations to have the right to choose what they believe that they listed it before everything else. Nowhere in the United States can you legally be stopped from practicing any religion.
Note that the First Amendment doesn’t say you’ll be accepted by your peers for it. This country, supposedly a melting pot for people of all religions, continues to prove how true that is.
Three Muslim students were killed on Feb. 10 near the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23; his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21 and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, were shot by Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, over what police said appeared to be an ongoing parking dispute.
Barakat and Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, who were married in December 2014, lived in an apartment near Hicks. According to an Associated Press report, Hicks would bother the couple roughly once a month to complain about the lack of parking, often with his gun in a holster at his hip.
However, the way that these three were killed (which Dr. Mohammad Abu-Salha, father of Yusor and Razan, described as “execution style”) has police, FBI officials and, according to a Reuters report, the Palestinian government investigating further to determine if the murders were hate crimes.
The FBI’s definition of a hate crime is a “traditional offense like murder, arson or vandalism with an added element of bias…motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.”
Hate crimes against religion are fairly common in the United States. In the FBI’s annual Hate Crime Statistics report from 2013, 17.4 percent of 5,922 single-bias crimes reported were religion-based. While this number is down 2.2 percent from 2012, events like this show the issue is still problematic.
Hicks, whom police charged with three counts of murder, claims to be an avid atheist on his Facebook page. He regularly posted many anti-religion pictures that demeaned Christianity and Islam. Hicks’ ex-wife stated that he had “no compassion at all” for anyone else.
Mohammad Abu-Salha said that Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha often felt like Hicks hated her. According to an MSNBC article, she often complained that Hicks disliked her and her friends because of their traditional Muslim clothing.
What makes this event even more tragic is that the three students were selfless people who volunteered their time and efforts to making the world a better place.
Barakat, a second year dentistry student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, regularly offered free dental services to the homeless and raised over $300,000 for victims of the Syrian Civil War.
Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, a graduate from North Carolina State University who planned to start dentistry school with Barakat, spent this past summer in Kilis, Turkey, to assist in dental relief.
Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, a student at North Carolina State University, supported Global Deaf Muslim, which provided equal access to Islam for the deaf and hard of hearing.
Barakat also advocated for religious tolerance. He posted videos from other sources on his Facebook page that urged viewers to stop believing that the radical stereotypes of Islam as projected by groups such as ISIS are true for all followers.
In one of the videos, a Fox News interview which Barakat described as the “perfect explanation of why ISIS isn’t Islam” the guest Hassan Shibly argued just that.
“ISIS is no more Islamic than the Westboro Baptist Church is, or the Crusaders are, or Anders Breivik is or anybody who commits violence in the name of faith,” Shibly said. “Unfortunately every single faith has had crazy extremists that distort and twist that faith to justify their crazy political ends.”
One of Barakat’s own tweets from Jan. 28 said, “It’s so freaking sad to hear people saying we should ‘Kill Jews’ or ‘Kill Palestinians.’ As if that’s going to solve anything. SMH.”
It is indescribable seeing intelligent, selfless people cut down in the face of hate and ignorance. It is often said that ignorance breeds fear, fear breeds hatred and hatred breeds violence.
Relentlessly, we see the brutal, global results of some people acting in the name of Islam. We see journalists beheaded by ISIS, women and children mutilated by radicals and millions of people displaced by war. We see these events plastered everywhere, so they become usual to us. America raised us to despise terrorism, and it’s ingrained in our minds that the most well-known terrorists are Muslim. So, we think that if a handful of them are executing and destroying, then they all must be.
Refusal to judge each follower individually thus bred fear, fear bred hatred, hatred bred violence and three Muslim students were shot. Our choice to resort to violence rather than look past the differences that make us unique, like religious beliefs, is a blow to the core of humanity.
While I hope that we will be able to one day move past these vicious outbursts and instead be willing to preach and practice acceptance, the victim’s families will forever be left with the scar of religious intolerance.
“Six weeks ago, I cried tears of joy at my baby brother’s wedding,” Barakat’s sister Suzanne said at a news conference. “Today, we are crying tears of unimagined pain. We will never be able to make sense of this horrendous tragedy.”