Chapel Hill Shooting—let’s talk about what was lost.

February 10 2015 was an unfortunate day in the history of the US. On this day, at around 5:11 pm at Chapel Hill North Carolina three Muslim students Deah Barakat 23, his wife Yusor Abu Salha 21 and her sister Razan Abu Salha 19 were all shot dead execution-style by their neighbor Craig Hicks 46, an atheist—motivated by hate crime. I say ‘hate crime’ in the light of the interviews and comments provided by the immediate family and friends to the media, as opposed to a crime motivated by a ‘parking dispute’, an impression given by Hicks’ family (and some media outlets).

According to firsthand accounts of family and friends of the three students, Yusor had been worried about their neighbor for some time, who had appeared at their door several times carrying a gun in his belt and showing annoyance at them. Yusor had also raised her concerns regarding Hicks to her father for Hicks’ attitude towards them for being ‘different’ (implying their faith) from the rest, since both the sisters wore scarves to cover their heads.

But I don’t want to talk about what motivated Hicks to murder the three young, bright and amazing individuals. They were Muslims—which was the major problem—but more than that, they were human beings killed in cold blood depriving the community of the goodness, optimism and exuberance that reflected in their young personalities. I want to talk about Deah who was a basketball fan and student of dentistry at UNC, filled with a passion of helping the Syrian refugees, who was going to embark on a trip to Turkey this summer with donations to help Syrian refugee kids with oral hygiene. Deah, who was 6’3 tall and youngest in his family; Deah, who had recently married Yusor in December 2014 and it had hardly been over a month that both were murdered. Deah, a genuine human being who liked to tweet, post on facebook and instagram and create vines just like most of the kids that age. Deah had a secure and bright future ahead of him. He did not have to die. But he did.

I don’t want to talk about Hicks who thought wearing a scarf was an excuse convincing enough to pull the trigger on the head of a beautiful girl who was too naïve to call the police the first time Hicks appeared at her door with a gun. Her friend Amira Ata had warned her against him but Yusor had debated against the idea. I want to talk about Yusor, who is described by her friends as the sweetest and one of the most helpful people in the community. Yusor, who had also been involved in providing food to the homeless in the community; Yusor who was also helping Deah collect the donations for the Project Refugee Smiles. Yusor did not have to die. She had just been accepted at UNC dental school and was going to begin her new journey this fall. It doesn’t make sense.

I don’t want to talk about self-motivated holier than thou individuals who want to cleanse this world of people belonging to Muslim faith just because they exist. I don’t even want to give any thoughts to those bigots who applaud this condemnable act just because the three students represented a faith. I’d rather talk about the youngest victim Razan, 19, Yusor’s sister who was lively and creative, studying architecture at the University of North Carolina. Razan, who was an exemplary student at her university and was in the dean’s list for the fall semester 2014. Razan, who was working with Global Deaf Muslim to provide free access to Islam for the deaf. Razan had yet to graduate. She had only come to visit her sister when they were all shot dead.

These young people were just like the rest of the Americans, happy, chasing their dreams. And yet they were different—making difference in other peoples’ lives. And they have made a difference, for, the campaign Deah was working for has received donations over $120,000 after his death which was at a brief $16000 till some days ago (as reported by his sister Suzzane Barakat). While some people might have chosen to look at them differently because the sisters covered their heads symbolizing Islam, they were different because honestly, how many young Americans are involved in community social work and charity?

They have made a difference, letting the world know that not all Muslims show tendencies of ISIS or are terrorists. The anger and uproar caused on the social media which led to trends such as #ChapelHillShootings and #MuslimsLivesMatter even days after the tragic incident throughout the world, shows that even though Western Media tended to ignore the issue, the people around the world recognized that the young Muslims lives were not lost in vain and shall keep on lighting the beacon of hope and peace for their families and Muslim communities around the world.

The Almond Tree- Book Review

The book came out in 2012 and my sister won it from the author herself on Goodreads soon after its release. However, I did not know what the novel was about. Later, as soon as I came to know about the subject of the novel, I looked forward to reading it. And I must say, the sincerity and honesty with which the book is written, comes out effortlessly in every page of the writing.

Michelle Cohen Corasanti, (the author) is a Jewish American, who provides a blunt perspective of Israeli atrocities and Palestinian sufferings throughout the book, while at the same time, she presents the other side of the picture where Arabs and Jews can eat, work and celebrate together as human beings. Such a point of view coming from a Jewish author is almost rare these days. With her pen, she has beautifully told a tale of a suffering of a Palestinian family, narrated by Ichmad (Ahmad) Mehmood, a seven year old genius who soon becomes the head of the family and has to make decisions that not change the lives of his family members but his own too, despite the disapprovals of his mother and brother Abbas.

However, it is not just a story of a poor Arab boy trying to help his family. It is a tale of honest love, and compassion, of hard work and devotion for a cause, of fear and hatred and of objects that fuel hatred. It is a book that tells you about the Arab culture, their cuisine and their celebrations, where one cannot help but smile as they celebrate their little ceremonies. It a story of love, that needs no boundaries of race, religion, age or nationality.

History is also a major part of the making of the book. Starting from 1955, the author has genuinely covered all the major events in Arab-Israeli conflict, issue of Jewish settlements (and the indifference of the US and the UN) and the blockade of Gaza.

My favorite part of the book is the heated discussion between Ichmad and his brother Abbas (towards the end of the book) where each one of them is trying to reason as to why he is right and the other, wrong. Ichmad’s point of view is plain, “Think of yourself, Abbas, your family. I can provide you with a nice life, a safe life, one without suffering. A future of your family. Your sons and grandchildren can get the education they deserve.”

But Abbas is right in his own way (and most Palestinians agree), “You’re different from me. I want to do something for my people, but you know as well as I do that Israel wants a Jewish state for Jews only, across all of historic Palestine. And in your country, the Jews determine the Middle Eastern policy. Israel knows it can do whatever it wants because Jews in America will support it.”

Thus, it a battle between choosing better for yourself and choosing a life for the greater good of Palestinians. The odds are high in both circumstances, and one has to see who wins in the end or if, one wins at all.

It is an untold story of Palestine and its dwellers—deserving to be heard—told by a Jewish American, narrated by a Muslim Palestinian, advocating its case for peace between Arabs and Jews, so that the world gets a chance to see a clearer and bigger picture of the conflict and its implications it has had for decades.


(April 3, 2014)