Suzanne Barakat lost three of her family members last year when a man named Craig Stephen Hicks fatally gunned them down.
Hicks lived in the same Chapel Hill apartment complex as Barakrat’s brother Deah Barakat, 23, and Deah’s new wife, Yusor Abu-Salha, 21. On Feb. 10, 2015, Hicks walked into the couple’s apartment, shooting Deah multiple times, including one shot through his mouth. He killed Yusor ― and Yusor’s 19-year-old sister Razan Abu-Salha, who was over for dinner ― execution-style.
“They were murdered by their neighbor because of their faith, because of a piece of cloth they chose to don on their heads, because they were visibly Muslim,” Barakrat said in a powerful TED speech last month, a video of which was posted online Monday.
Barakat recalled the anger she felt after hearing Hicks claim that the murders were over a parking dispute, and the anger she felt hearing that claim being parroted by police and the media.
When white men commit acts of violence in the U.S., they’re lone wolves, mentally ill or driven by a parking dispute.”
“Some of the rage I felt at the time was that if roles were reversed, and an Arab, Muslim or Muslim-appearing person had killed three white American college students execution-style, in their home, what would we have called it? A terrorist attack,” Barakat said.
“When white men commit acts of violence in the U.S., they’re lone wolves, mentally ill or driven by a parking dispute.”
Hicks, after all, had once allegedly told Yusor he didn’t like the way she dressed. He posted anti-religion remarks on Facebook. Plus, there was no parking dispute that day, Barakat said. Nothing to set Hicks off.
Bakarat said she wanted the world to know: this was a hate crime.
That’s when she said a neighbor of her parents, a man named Neal, stopped by the house. Neal was a journalist and offered to set up a press conference for the family. Not as a journalist, but as a neighbor who just wanted to help.
Within a day after the press conference Neal set up, Barakat was interviewed on CNN. All the major newspapers picked up on the story too, Barakat said, “allowing us to reclaim the narrative and call attention to the mainstreaming of anti-Muslim hatred.”
A few months after Hicks’ triple murder, Donald Trump announced his candidacy for president, helping to usher in a new era of vile, anti-Muslim political speech in America. He’s since called for a ban on Muslims and a database of Muslims. He said “Islam hates us.”
“These days, it feels like Islamophobia is a socially acceptable form of bigotry,” Barakat said. “We just have to put up with it and smile. The nasty stares, the palpable fear when boarding a plane, the random pat downs at airports that happen 99 percent of the time.”
She added that it’s “no coincidence that hate crimes rise in parallel with election cycles.” In fact, 2015 saw some 260 anti-Muslim hate crimes, an 80 percent rise from 2014, and the highest number since 2001.
The Huffington Post has also documented nearly 300 incidents of anti-Muslim violence, discrimination, policy and political speech so far in 2016. Last month, three men in Kansas ― two of whom expressed support for Trump ― were arrested in a plot to kill Muslims because of their faith. Also last month, another Trump supporter was arrested in Los Angeles for threatening to kill Muslims.
What America desperately needs now, Barakat said in her speech, is more Neals: non-Muslim allies who will step up and help their Muslim neighbors and speak out against Islamophobia when they see it.
“Many neighbors appeared in this story,” Barakat told the TED audience. “And you, in your respective communities, all have a Muslim neighbor, colleague or friend your child plays with at school. Reach out to them. Let them know you stand with them in solidarity. It may feel really small, but I promise you it makes a difference.”
In a Facebook post Monday, Barakat explained the urgency of her message.
“In a time when someone like Trump could become our president, it is important to share with people the deadly cost of hate,” she wrote.
Before their deaths, Deah and Yusor were raising funds to provide dental relief to Syrian refugees in Turkey. Deah, Yusor and Razan’s families have since come together to start the Our Three Winners Endowment Fund, which will “create a sustainable model to fund similar projects, honoring their legacy of dedication to service and education for years to come.” At the time of publishing, the families have raised nearly $650,000 towards a $1,000,000 goal. You can donate here.
The Huffington Post is documenting the rising wave of anti-Muslim bigotry and violence in America. Take a stand against hate.