Tuesday night three young people were murdered in Chapel Hill. Their names were Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, Yusor Mohammad, 21, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19. Violence wherever in the world hurts, but it causes a different kind of pain when it occurs in a familiar place. In the past two years I have grown to love Chapel Hill as a home. A safe haven of learning, community, and support – a place where something like this would never happen. I never knew these people, who have been described as bright and passionate individuals, and now I never will.
After events like this it is easy to make speculation. When a white man, with ties to an anti-religious group murders three muslims the word “hate crime” springs to mind. Quick conclusions, however are dangerous. After the 2011 Norway Attacks and the Boston Bombing, my father warned to never make any quick assumptions after public displays of violence. Instead wait for the facts to percolate, because as we sit here uninformed in the aftermath there is very little we can do. Our guesses can prove harmful. Many thought the attacker in Norway was Arab, before his identity was released, which was incorrect. It is very very easy to decide, preemptively that this is a religiously motivated hate crime, but I am going to do my best to wait.
The other thing that happens after violence close to home is that we separate ourselves from the perpetrator and attach ourselves to the victim. We say I cannot relate to this man who committed this senseless act, he is not part of my America, he is different. Instead I think it is important to realize that we do in fact share our America with Craig Hicks. We allowed laws and politicians to exist that are soft on guns. We participate, as active members, in a free society where this happened. If we are to take ownership of the pain we must also take ownership of the act.
Furthermore, this tragedy is not “senseless.” Yes it was cruel, awful, and wretchedly painful, but senseless is an overused word that implies an act beyond our mental comprehension. This title is also dangerous, because it creates a world where only monsters are violent against the innocent and this law holds true until someone “normal” that we know joins this list. In many ways violence does not discriminate – regardless of race, color or creed no social group is immune to committing or being victim of violence. When we “other” ourselves from the perpetrators we put on our blinders to noticing potentials signs that people in our own communities displaying hazardous behavior.
In many ways good and evil are subjective. As I have discussed in an earlier post the title terrorist or hero all depends on who is writing history. I am not promoting moral flexibility. Here is what I know: murder is wrong. What happened Tuesday night is horrible. There is no debating that. This man should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. But he is not a killer because he is an atheist, ISIS does not murder because they are Muslim, and Anders Behring Breivik did not kill children in Øslo because he is Christian. Truth be told I am not sure what drives people to do these things, but I try to understand them so I can prevent. This is very different from sympathizing with them. I am confident however that religion does not determine morality. There are good and bad people with and without god. In times like these we must consider and attempt to comprehend the perpetrator, but we must also turn to our community, and look for the helpers, look for solace in who and what we love.
After I transferred to UNC my sophomore year, I heard the phrase “Carolina Way” tossed around a bit. It is meant to encompass the unique and close community that our university fosters. At Carolina there is an community of passionate, empathetic, and driven individuals unlike anywhere else I have been. Tonight I mourn with them and hold them in my thoughts, confident that our love for our town will have the strength to outshine this crime and I see that happening already. People are raising money for a charity that Deah was passionate about and trying to create something beautiful in this mess. You can donate here. Last night the Carolina community gathered in the pit for a candlelit vigil. When I imagine my home, my people in Chapel Hill, this is what I see.
(Photo Credit to UNC GAA)