Students hold vigil for Chapel Hill victims

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By Phil Brown, Reporter

Last Monday marked the end of a week since Feb. 10, the fateful day for Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salhaand Razan Abu-Salha, whose home was invaded and lives were taken in an act of terrible violence.

At the time, the act felt like an extension of a seemingly endless series of tragic violence involving minority communities; coming as it did in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo and its refreshing of anti-Islam sentiment, it was particularly frightening and poignant for the Muslim community.

In the immediate aftermath, the way the story was handled by the media was a matter of concern for many. The slowness to report on the crime and how quickly the possibility of a hate-crime was excluded rankled with many, feeling that the lives of Deah, Yusor and Razan were being seen as less important. The hashtag “#Muslim-LivesMatter” was used to express this frustration.

Regardless of the motives of the killer, the murders have become a symbol of hate, and their aftermath with its controversy has become a source of division. At a time when the killings seemed to already befading from the memory of the public, a student-organized candlelight vigil was put together to remember the tragedy, and to unify the student body in an expression of solidarity.

The event was organized by Basma Basma, the president of UNO International Student Services, and her friend, Lyla El-Rafaie. Membersof the ISS and the Afghan Student Association helped to facilitate the event.

Though the night was bitterly cold, the event attracted a sizable group of students and supporters who huddled around their candles on the main plaza. Bassel El-Kasaby, a senior partner for Omaha’s Kasaby Nichols law firm and Rana Al Tajirspoke to the gathered crowd.

They both emphasized the need for positive action and urged against complacency. Both lauded the initiative of the students who organized the event. Al Tajir reflected on the victims’ lives, saying they were “the epitome of the all-American teenager, the all-American member of society” and remembered their devotion to community service and charity.

She relayed her dissatisfaction with the media coverage and treatment by the police, and explained that given the context of the killings, which included quoted anti-Muslim tirades by elected representatives, and other violent incidents, treating the killings as a hate crime were justified.

El-Kasaby warned those in attendance that while they are guaranteed rights by the Constitution, there is “nothing magical” in something written down.

“Pieces of paper can’t protect us,”he said. “People protect people.”

El-Kasaby exhorted the attendees to be proactive about defending their own rights and the rights of others.

An expert in law, El-Kasaby offered his take on the classification of the crime. He was “disheartened” by the dismissal of a hatred motive, citing the method and location of killing, and the trivial nature of the catalyst as indications that the murders were hate-crimes. He contrasted the treatment of this case with the standard that often seems to be employed by the media and general public: a person who even “looks Muslim” is assumed to be a terrorist.

The message of the night seemed to be that action was required, and a warning that rights are not guaranteed. As the attendees somberly reflected on the lives and deaths of the young North Carolinians, they were reminded of the reality of that warning.

Photo by Evan Ludes/ The Gateway Students signed a board with messages for the the victims of the shooting.
Photo by Evan Ludes/ The Gateway
Students signed a board with messages for the the victims of the shooting.
Photo by Evan Ludes/ The Gateway Members of the public, young and old, came out to remember the victims.
Photo by Evan Ludes/ The Gateway
Members of the public, young and old, came out to remember the victims.

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