Last week, an angry man killed three of his neighbors over what he claims was a long-running parking dispute.
The three victims were all Muslim. Yusor Abu-Salha was a 21 year old planning to attend UNC Chapel Hill dental school that fall. She had recently been interviewed for NPR’s StoryCorps, by her 3rd grade teacher. Her little sister, Razan Abu-Salha, 19, was also killed, as was her husband, Deah Barakata, 23, who was enrolled as a dental student at UNC.
The motives of the killer have been a subject of wide speculation. He is an anti-theist, with a Facebook full of vitriolic comments about Islam and Christianity. His branch of atheism seems particularly fixated on Islam and adherents of Islam; he described himself as a fan of Richard Dawkins, who believes that Islam is a singularly violent faith.
No, all religions are NOT equally violent. Some have never been violent, some gave it up centuries ago. One religion conspicuously didn’t.
— Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) January 7, 2015
Nearly half of all American Muslims polled reported experiencing prejudice against their faith or perceived racial identity and only 22% of Americans polled reported no prejudice towards Islam and Muslim. (Gallup Poll 2010) This sentiment is part of a larger phenomenon termed “Islamophobia”, representing a widespread fear and prejudice against Muslims and Islam in general.
Rabbi Rachel Barenblat spoke about societal attitudes towards Islam and Muslims as being a contributing factor in the Chapel Hill killings in her d’var Torah yesterday. (A d’var Torah is a Jewish lesson on the Torah, similar to a sermon.)
She reflects on a teaching in the Torah on who is responsible when an independent actor–in this case, an ox–kills someone.
From the blog:
When an ox gores someone to death, kill the ox, but don’t punish its owner. But, if the ox has been in the habit of goring, and its owner knows that but fails to guard it, and it gores someone to death — then punish its owner, because the person who had responsibility failed to act.
Barenblat reflects that although we live in a pluralistic society, we’re all part of a broader American culture, in which Muslim lives and the lives of people of color are stereotyped and devalued. She acknowledges the pervasiveness and Herculean scope of changing that broader culture, and outlines ways we can individually work toward a better world.
Again, from the blog:
American culture, media, and stereotypes devalue the lives of Muslims and the lives of people of color. This happens in a million tiny ways and it is constant and omnipresent. I fear that this persistent devaluing of these lives teaches us, subconsciously, that these lives have lesser value.
I don’t know whether this massacre could have been prevented. But I believe that an American culture of fear and suspicion of Muslims contributed to this killer’s willingness to shoot these three young Americans in the head in their own home. And I believe that if we don’t act to change our nation’s culture, there will be more killings like this one — and all of us who sat idly by will be the ox owner who could have stopped the ox.
How can we change the culture of our entire nation? It’s too big a task. But we can begin by teaching our children that we value diversity. We can teach them that the great thing about a world filled with people who look, dress, or worship differently than we do is that we can learn from and about each other — we don’t need to be afraid of each other.
We can begin by educating ourselves about the experiences of other people and other communities in this country. We can begin by expanding the circle of people about whom we care.
The Rt Rev Nicholas Knisely, Bishop of Rhode Island, has reached a similar conclusion. He notes the graffiti and vandalism against an Islamic school in his diocese in an essay title “To not be provoked to evil“, where he persuasively argues that these acts of retribution and violence against Muslims in America is the exact outcome desired by terrorists.
Are we all responsible? Is there more we can do, in our secular and faith lives, to see a kingdom of peace on Earth? What steps are you taking to push back against spreading Islamophobia?