Last week, a hashtag on Twitter was able to embarrass the entire US media. Users of the social media website from around the world used #MuslimLivesMatter to express their anger at the US media for not picking up on the story of three young Muslims in North Carolina—23-year-old Syrian trainee doctor Deah Barakat, his 21-year-old Palestinian wife Yusor Abu-Salha, and her sister Razan, two years her junior—who were all murdered, “execution-style.” The neighbor who stands accused of killing them has turned himself in to the police.
It had taken over 15 hours—a century in journalistic terms—for the US press to pick up on the story, and, truth be told, it would probably have been completely overlooked had it not been for the vociferous activity on Twitter.
It is now hard to believe that the killing of these three young people was due to a parking dispute, as the authorities in North Carolina would have us believe. Looking at the background of the alleged killer and his unambiguous and virulent Islamophobia, it is clear that this at the very least played a part in the motive for the murder. Yusor and Razan’s father said following his daughters’ deaths that Yusor had spoken to him previously about the man and the way he had acted towards them.
Why then was the US press, when it finally took notice of the story, so reluctant to label the murders as a hate crime? And how was it possible for this story to slip under their radars in this way—where it no doubt was destined to remain had it not been for the Twitter backlash?
Suffice it to say, the usual, and sadly true, contention that the response from the US press would have been entirely different had the situation been reversed, if the alleged killer was a Muslim and the victims were, say, Christian or Jewish Americans, does not really reveal anything we didn’t already know. It has become abundantly clear that Muslims are only newsworthy if they are the perpetrators of crimes and not victims of them.
A cursory glance at the tweets using the #MuslimLivesMatter hashtag showed that those using it were not just incensed by one crime, but by two. The magnitude of anger expressed toward not only the murder of these three innocent victims but also the subsequent way their murder was ignored in the media and how this reflected the negative views being directed towards Muslims today globally, particularly to those living in Western countries, was palpable to say the least.
Among those using the hashtag were American and Western Muslims, their faces just like those that belonged to Deah, Yusor and Razan, who, as three well-regarded regular young people seeking a high-quality education, career, and a successful family life, represent the majority of Muslims in the West, who are of course seeking exactly the same things.
It is clear from looking at these three that they were effortlessly able to balance their American identity with that of their religion and countries of origin with any conflict whatsoever. The hordes of people who thronged their funeral procession in North Carolina last week, as well as the recollections and memories of their friends and colleagues, are a testament to how well they managed this.
Many Muslims on Twitter and elsewhere were easily able to relate to the three victims: the silent Muslims who don’t make the headlines and who feel their faith is under attack from extremists who insist on killing in their name—while at the same time being seen as a threat by those with whom they live in the West.
The overwhelming response to #MuslimLivesMatter also showed how determined Muslims are to overturn the negative, prevalent image many have of their faith as a result of the actions of those committing atrocities in its name. It may be obvious to point this out, but there are many Muslims for whom this has become a very pressing need.
It is of course well known now that most of the victims of these extremist groups are in fact Muslims, and that these groups target Muslims before anyone else—the news coming out of our region on a daily basis proves this without a doubt. But the murder of Deah, Yusor and Razan was not one of these: it was not the usual murder of Muslims by other Muslims; it was the murder of Muslims by a white American.
Putting it like this forces the West to now take an honest look at a phenomenon or set of values that is beginning to leave the realm of the merely theoretical or nominal, to take tangible form in the most horrible of ways.