The sister of a slain UNC dental student issued an online appeal to Americans to fight Islamophobia, as a bitter campaign season came to an end.
In a 15-minute TED talk, Suzanne Barakat described the pain of the 2015 shooting deaths of her brother, Deah Barakat, 23, his wife, Yusor Abu-Salha, 21, and sister-in-law, Razan Abu-Salha, 19, at their Chapel Hill apartment. A neighbor, Craig Hicks, was charged with three counts of murder and could face the death penalty.
Barakat’s speech was recorded in San Francisco last month and posted online last week. It had been viewed almost 210,000 times as of Monday.
In it, she called out Donald Trump for “casually calling to register American Muslims” and proposing a ban on Muslim immigrants and refugees.
Nine months ago at a rally during the South Carolina primary, Trump touted an unproven story about a general who killed Islamic terrorists with bullets soaked in pigs’ blood. Barakat made national news when she tweeted this to him in response: “.@realDonaldTrump Meet me in person and tell me my brother, Yusor & Razan were deserving of the bullets.” She told the New York Times that Trump’s rhetoric only amped up the intolerance of Muslims that already existed.
On Monday, the FBI released a report showing a 67 percent increase in hate crimes against U.S. Muslims last year – the most since 2001. The incidents ranged from beatings to victims having headscarves torn from their heads. Responding to the report, Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said he expected another jump in hate crime numbers in 2016.
Barakat echoed that fear in her talk: “It is no coincidence that hate crimes rise in parallel with election cycles.”
“These days it feels like Islamophobia is a socially acceptable form of bigotry,” she added. “We just have to put up with it and smile. The nasty stares, the palpable fear when boarding a plane, the random patdowns at airports that happen 99 percent of the time.”
Wearing a beige hijab, Barakat halted her speech several times to gather her composure, looking down when she recalled her brother’s happiness on his wedding day or the way he and his wife, Yusor, were involved in community service locally and globally. She described Deah as “an American kid in dental school ready to take on the world.”
On that day in February 2015, she got a flurry of alarming text messages and called her father, who said there had been a shooting in Deah’s neighborhood, which was on lockdown. She went to Google and saw that three people had been shot dead. She instantly knew, and collapsed to the floor at the San Francisco hospital where she is a doctor.
She also described the kindness of her parents’ neighbor who helped the family reclaim the narrative of what had happened. He set up a news conference, where Barakat, still in her hospital scrubs after a red-eye flight, told reporters that the family believed the killings were not the result of parking dispute, as police said, but of one man’s hate. Hicks, she said, had harassed them and previously told Yusor and her mother that he didn’t like the way they looked.
“I guess we’ve all become so numb to the hatred that we couldn’t have imagined it turning into fatal violence,” she said.
Barakat also described her own encounters with bigotry. One of her patients gestured about a hijab, and referenced the San Bernardino terror attacks, later pointing at Barakat and saying, “Your people are killing people in Los Angeles.”
None of Barakat’s medical colleagues spoke up, she said. “I was disheartened, humiliated.”
She appealed to the audience to do what they could to become allies to Muslim American neighbors, colleagues and schoolchildren.
“Reach out to them,” she said. “Let them know you stand with them in solidarity. It may feel really small, but I promise you, it makes a difference.”