I am Chapel Hill | SikhNet

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This
time the shots were fired in North Carolina, and I joined many
others in feeling the recoil in Northern California.

That
night, sitting in the car with my turbaned Sikh husband at a gas
station, I oscillated between two feelings that capture the range
of my response: outrage at my fearless self for intuitively
turning around twice to stare across the empty filling station and
sadness staring down at my phone at an article I had shared on
social media that identified this gunman as an “atheist”
repeatedly, to strengthen its point that terrorists of different
touted beliefs are treated differently.

As
a Sikh, woman and human rights lawyer, I am seeking three things
that should not be mutually exclusive: respect for the deceased
and their families; immediate acknowledgment of the larger context
of this act of terror; and fair legal process for the arrested
gunman.

Three
bright young lives were lost in Chapel Hill in this execution that
has sent waves of terror across the country. The outrage in many
circles is not simply because many Americans can relate to the
social media photographs of these young people at ball games, in a
white wedding dress during a father-daughter dance, or wearing a
graduation cap and gown. It is also because too many have known
the fear of living while brown — or Muslim, Sikh, Middle Eastern
or South Asian since 9/11. The first Sikh American death in the
country happened at an Arizona gas station by a self-proclaimed
“patriot.”

For
the world to recognize the legacy of the three young people lost,
as their relative Dr. Suzanne Barakat hoped aloud on live
television on Wednesday night, it’s important for the world to
be firstly outraged at the targeting and killing of anyone based
on their identity.

Secondly,
we need a robust discussion about how such identity-based
targeting exists in many forms much before it ever becomes a
legally recognized hate crime.

These
executions force the conversation that we have largely refused to
have since the executions at Charlie Hebdo media offices in
France. A conversation about proportional responses to all
civilian deaths and all acts of terror. A conversation about how
few non-Muslim world leaders other than Pope Francis chastised
(ab)use of the hard-won freedom of expression to bully or abuse
other traditions; how a spokesman had to then explain the pope’s
own exercise of free speech by reiterating obvious condemnation of
the murders. How the European literati has ironically swallowed
the “if you are not with us [loudly, every time], you are
against us” they once ridiculed. As Americans, more of us should
have shunned this approach on September 11, and many of us need to
actively shun it today. Some of us will not because we believe
that people are inherently unequal and “civilizing” the world
requires unleashing terror: many of us are needed to shut down
these few (be they ISIS who President Obama has declared war
against or the white supremacy groups that the Southern Poverty
Law Center has long warred against).

Thirdly,
the man arrested for these murders has the right to a fair legal
trial. Being non-Muslim cannot win the assailant a free pass. But
neither does it beget him the guillotine or foregone conclusions
or the power to represent all atheists or all whites everywhere.
Falling for those tropes disrespects the memory of Yusor Mohammad
Abu-Salha, Deah Shaddy Barakat, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha and
solidifies the divides that other recent reactions against terror
have regretfully poked. The killings must be investigated for
hate, while each of us investigates our personal ability to
question racism, xenophobia, and extremism before it gets
deadlier.

Mallika Kaur is a lawyer who
focuses on gender and minority issues in the United States and
South Asia. She has a juris doctor from the University of
California at Berkeley School of Law and a master’s in public
policy from Harvard Kennedy School of Government. 





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