The shooting attack occurred last Tuesday near the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where a man killed 23-year-old dental student Deah Barakat, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister Razan Abu-Salha, 19, who attended UNC Raleigh. Their neighbor, 46-year-old Craig Stephen Hicks was charged with the shooting, according to the Washington Post story “Three Muslims killed in shooting near UNC; police, family argue over motive.”
News sources speculate on whether this was a hate crime, as though that would somehow rationalize the shooting. Headlines emphasizing conflict are to be expected. It is problematic, however, to assert that there was religious motivation for the shooting, when there is no evidence other than “the victims were Muslim.”
Parties arguing over the motive include Hick’s wife and neighbors, the local Muslim community, and now even the Palestinian foreign ministry. Even the president has weighed in on the shootings, saying that no one in the U.S. should be targeted for how they look or what religion they practice, according to BBC News.
The Chapel Hill police report cited “an ongoing neighbor dispute over parking” as the shooter’s motive, according to the police department’s preliminary investigation. It is understandable that newspaper editors do not find this as compelling a motive as anti-Muslim hatred, but it is important to consider the more likely reason for the killings is as mundane and unjustifiable as an everyday parking dispute.
This shooting should not be about religion. There were three young adults with promising futures in front of them, whose lives were cut short. It’s understandable to want to find some explanation for their deaths, but it is important to avoid jumping to the anti-Muslim conclusion. America should get out of the anti-Muslim mindset it has developed since 9/11. Yes, that attack and the attacks happening around the world are terrible. And yes, we as Jews have been targeted by radicals and so have some reason to be paranoid. But not all Muslims are terrorists. And not all terrorists are Muslim.
Parshat Mishpatim, last week’s Torah reading, teaches us how to live in harmony with our neighbors. We are even commanded to be kind to our enemies, in an archaic-sounding quote that in reality has applications to our day-to-day lives. “If you see your enemy’s donkey lying under its burden would you refrain from helping him? You shall surely help along with him.” At the University of Maryland, where people from all different backgrounds live, work, and eat together, it is especially important to reserve amiability for everybody, regardless of their ethnicity, religious, or cultural values. People have been killed for dumber things. Case in point.