At the age of 23, most people are still trying to find their footing in life. Yet here was Deah Shaddy Barakat, a 23-year-old Syrian American studying dentistry at the University of North Carolina, who was not only excelling at school, but was a positive force outside of it as well.
In his spare time, Deah volunteered for the homeless. His Facebook page reveals images of events in Raleigh, North Carolina, which provided relief to those facing economic challenges with items such as food and dental supplies.
What’s more, alongside his friend Ali Heydary, Deah started a charity fund called Syrian Dental Relief that to date has raised nearly $300,000 for Syrian refugees in Turkey.
The budding dentist’s caring nature also extended to his friends. CNN reports that while reminiscing about celebrating Eid-ul-Fitr, his friend Omar Abdel Baky jokingly mentioned how the two, unlike others, never received toy helicopters as gifts. Weeks later Omar was surprised to have a helicopter delivered to his home, courtesy of Deah.
This loving nature of Deah was evident in his body language. Every other picture of him online features a toothy grin, and in an interview with CNN, an emotional friend notes that the young man was a fierce hugger.
Evidently a fan of basketball, Deah was not only a fine young American, but a bright example of the majority of peaceful Muslims in the world. His posts on social media display his distaste for not only extremists groups — whom he felt were sullying the name of his faith — but for those preach violence in general as a solution.
I can only speculate, but perhaps Deah’s charitable behaviour where he was helping those in need was an extension of this zeal shown on social media. He was doing the honorable thing by showing action for his words.
Similarly, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, Deah’s 21-year-old wife was also passionate about helping. A graduate of NC State University, Yusor too was planning to study dentistry. Her 19-year-old sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, was a student of architecture and environmental design, and supported many charities as well.
By all accounts, Yusor and Deah were a perfectly matched and loving couple. When the three were horrifically shot in what was an execution style murder, Yusor and Deah had been married for barely two months.
While we will never have the honour of meeting these three young people, their tremendous upbringing can be seen through the honour, dignity, and braveness with which their family has conducted themselves through what I can only imagine are overwhelming feelings of anguish.
Such feelings would have surely dragged lesser mortals to the ground, yet the grieving families have exhibited exceptional grace.
|Namee Barakat and his wife Layla Barakat, parents of shooting victim Deah Shaddy Barakat, react as a video is played during a vigil on the campus of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.—Reuters|
Crime scene footage outside of the apartment where the shooting took place shows a man who is apparently Deah’s father, desperately pleading with police officers for information on the well-being of his son. The fact that the officers weren’t allowed to share anything at the time must have been heartbreaking for him, yet he made every effort to keep himself composed.
Similarly, Deah’s sister, Suzanne, who has acted as a spokesperson for the family, has displayed remarkable grace, both in press conferences and appearances on TV. Here, she has repeatedly avoided controversy, and has made it clear that although her family is adamant that the murder was a hate crime, her family’s primary concern is with preserving the trio’s legacy.
Certainly, the triple murder has sent shock waves across the Muslim world, especially on social media. After the many high profile terrorist-related incidents across the world, many Muslims, especially those living in Western nations, have been wary of retaliation in one form or another.
Perhaps this is why the triple murder has hit so close to home.
Meanwhile, others still have screamed media bias, and have demanded why the alleged killer, Craig Stephen Hicks, hasn’t been declared a terrorist and why this hasn’t been declared a hate crime.
Questions coming from similar quarters ask why this case isn’t earning the same volume of coverage as the unfortunate actions of Al Qaeda or ISIS.
The sense of victimisation has been such that the hashtag #MuslimLivesMatter has been trending furiously on Twitter.
I have to ask, what difference will it make to the three innocent lives lost if their killer is declared a terrorist, considering he is already behind bars and will not spend another day as a free man?
Is this really about justice for Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, or is this about us?
For one, it is difficult to describe Craig Stephen Hicks as a terrorist considering they are defined as people who use violent behaviour to target large groups of people to further political agendas.
On the other hand, whether it was a hate crime is certainly open for debate. While Hicks’ wife insists that his fury was over a disputed parking spot, Deah’s family has mentioned how Hicks’ behaviour changed after Yusor moved in with Deah. Apparently Yusor felt that her headscarf was a source of contempt for Hicks.
|A makeshift memorial for Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife Yusor Mohammad and Yusor's sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, who were killed by a gunman, is pictured inside of the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry in Chapel Hill.—Reuters|
The question here is: did Hicks commit the murder because his victims were Muslim, or did he commit a crime whose victims just happened to be Muslim?
Stephen Hicks’s reported Facebook posts make for interesting reading. As a vocal atheist, Hicks was against both organised religions, Christianity and Islam. At the same time, as a self-described patriot, he struggled to uphold his sense of his nation’s liberty. For one, he spoke favourably for the rights of minorities such as homosexuals and indeed even Muslims.
|Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, appears in a police booking photograph.—Reuters|
As reported by Buzzfeed, in 2010, from an account that belonged to Hicks, pro Muslims posts were published on XDtalk.com in regards to the ‘Ground Zero mosque’. This mosque had been a point of contention for many Americans who believed that a Muslim place of worship should not be allowed anywhere near the fallen World Trade Center.
From this post, it seems that Hicks was in favor of the mosque, arguing that the first amendment protected the rights of Muslims regardless of how any American felt. He also spoke well of some Muslims:
“…after being in D.C. for a decade and knowing several dozen Muslims for most of that time I can say that they aren’t what most think of them. In fact, I’d prefer them to most Christians as I was never coerced in any way by the Muslims to follow their religion, which I cannot say about many Christians.”
Of course, none of this is damning evidence either way on whether the murder was a hate crime; whether he shot his victims because of a bias against Muslims or because of frustration over a disputed parking spot is still being investigated by the authorities who should be given time. It is a difficult decision for anyone to make without being clouded by their own bias.
Ultimately, it matters little because three wonderful human beings have been taken away tragically, and regardless of the findings, their murderer will serve a harsh sentence.
For those interested in furthering his legacy, Deah’s fundraising page for Syrian refugees can be used to donate to the cause he was passionate about: