Sacramento: Out of the many vigils held all over the United States to remember three young Arab-Americans killed in Chapel Hill, North Carolina on February 10th, one was held at the west steps of the California State Capitol building in Sacramento, California on February 13th. This remembrance was organized by CAIR-Sacramento Valley and co-hosted by the American Muslim Voice Foundation and COSVIO, an umbrella organization of Islamic organizations from the region.
Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23; his wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21; and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19 are no longer with us. They were murdered (possibly) by an “extremist-atheist” named Craig Stephen Hicks, 46 and we are being told that a lingering “parking space issue” caused this lone gunman to snap and basically execute the three, two of whom were just beginning their lives as newlyweds and as aspiring dentists. The fact that the three were Muslims and the two women wore the Hijab identifying them as such has not been overlooked. In a world where ISIS is beheading the Islamic faith on a weekly basis, one cannot ignore this added concern because Islamophobia is a part of our reality today.
After evening Magrib prayers a number of speakers took the opportunity to address the approximately 300 people in attendance. They included host Basim Elkarra, Executive Director of CAIR-SV; co-hosts Irfan Haq of COSVIO and Khalid Saeed, National President of the American Muslim Voice Foundation; Reverend Kevin Ross, Minister of Unity of Sacramento; Victoria Harris from Assemblymember Kevin McCarty’s office; David Mendel, President of Jewish Voice for Peace; Al Rojas, Vice President of Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LACLAA) and Cesar Chavez March Committee; Kerri Asbury, Chair of Democratic Party of Sacramento County; Amar Shergill, Sikh Community, ; Maheen Ahmed of CAIR-SV(who presented a prayer for the deceased); Terry Schanz, Vice Chair of Democratic Party of Sacramento County and Brother Kevin Carter, a social justice activist.
All the speakers were articulate and stood together in concern and condemnation of the killing of these three young Americans. Yes, they were as American as one can be but with additional sub-identities of Arab and Muslim. South-Asians who are often mistaken for what some in this country think what “the enemy” must look like, even if they are Sikhs, have experienced targeting before, like in Wisconsin just a couple of years ago (2012) when a temple was attacked and people killed. At that time I had written “Nobody can really always protect us from a person with mental problems and a gun. But the targeting and victimization of the Sikh community in particular should be a matter of concern for all Americans. We all need to help to stop violence or the distant thunder like this one from Wisconsin will put more lives in jeopardy.” Many people from the Middle East look “white” to us as did these three young victims in Chapel Hill. The only point of separation here was the Hijab worn by the two young women. And that makes it a matter of additional concern.
President Obama was somewhat late in sharing his thoughts on this issue but what he finally said in a statement made a great deal of sense. His full released statement is reproduced here in full as he stated: “Yesterday, the FBI opened an inquiry into the brutal and outrageous murders of Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, Deah Shaddy Barakat, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. In addition to the ongoing investigation by local authorities, the FBI is taking steps to determine whether federal laws were violated. No one in the United States of America should ever be targeted because of who they are, what they look like, or how they worship. Michelle and I offer our condolences to the victims’ loved ones. As we saw with the overwhelming presence at the funeral of these young Americans, we are all one American family. Whenever anyone is taken from us before their time, we remember how they lived their lives – and the words of one of the victims should inspire the way we live ours. “Growing up in America has been such a blessing,” Yusor said recently. “It doesn’t matter where you come from. There’s so many different people from so many different places, of different backgrounds and religions – but here, we’re all one.”
Thank you Mr President. But it appears that all of us here in America have our work cut out for us no matter what our race, religion, national origin, gender or orientation. We need to keep America free from prejudice. On behalf of Muslims, organizations like CAIR, American Muslim Voice or COSVIO (as in this case here) are helping to raise this awareness, which is not possible without the help of the atheists, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Sikhs, Asians, and the Black and Latino communities. There are many problem areas to explore before we can find solutions but we have to find them.
Mental illness may have been the prime cause of this murderous episode but the question is whether the negative imagery which some media outlets, individuals and beneficiaries of continuously engage in is making such violence against Muslims too easy? And on the other hand, groups like the Islamic State and Boko Haram are doing maximum damage to our religion for which we have no answer except condemnation. To succeed against this menace, both sides of this problem need our immediate and undivided attention.
This was the third vigil held at this venue in the past two months. It started with our stand against terrorism after children were killed in Peshawar, Pakistan. That was followed by the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris. And now Chapel Hill, which makes one wonder if violence is not getting closer to home.