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Katie Couric visits Raleigh for 'America Inside Out' episode on Muslims

Katie Couric at the Islamic Association of Raleigh for the episode of "America Inside Out" that will air Wednesday night on the National Geographic Channel.
Katie Couric at the Islamic Association of Raleigh for the episode of "America Inside Out" that will air Wednesday night on the National Geographic Channel. National Geographic

Katie Couric came to Raleigh for this week’s episode of her new six-part series “America Inside Out,” and found that Muslims living here have the same problems and — and possibilities — as those living in other parts of the United States.

The episode, set to air at 10 p.m. Wednesday on the National Geographic Channel, considers the life of “The Muslim Next Door” in America. It features interviews with the families of Deah Barakat, his wife, Yusor Abu-Salha, and her sister, Razan Abu-Salha.

The three, who were Muslim, who were shot to death in Chapel Hill in February 2015 ostensibly over the use of a parking spot at the town home complex where the couple lived. The segment also includes interviews with Zainab Baloch, a Muslim woman who ran for an at-large post on the Raleigh City Council last fall, and a visit to the Islamic Center of Raleigh, the largest mosque in the area.

Thousands gather at UNC-Chapel Hill's Pit Feb. 11, 2015 to mourn for Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, and his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, 21, and Abu-Salha’s sister, Razan Abu-Salha, 19, of Raleigh. Barakat was a doctoral student in UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of

Couric, reached by phone Tuesday, said she visited Raleigh twice for the segment: once last fall and again about six weeks ago, to talk with Baloch about the election, in which she was defeated.

Couric said her impression of the shootings of Barakat and the Abu-Salha sisters was that while the killings were brutal, with some of the shots fired at point-blank range, “I think they could have happened anywhere. It has nothing to do with Raleigh, which actually seems to me to be a very progressive, welcoming community in many ways.

“But one thing i discovered in the course of this series is that changing demographics are very threatening to people, and as we become increasingly diverse in this country, it can be very unsettling to the status quo.

“I think that’s a national problem.”

In the show, family members express frustration that Craig Hicks, who was arrested for the shootings, has not been charged with an anti-Muslim hate crime. Based on comments Hicks had made to others, the victims’ families felt the three students were targeted because of their faith.

Couric said members of both families attended a premiere of the show in New York, and while she worried that it might be painful for them, “I think they felt that we honored the lives of these three extraordinary young people. In and of itself, I felt that I was able to do something positive not only for their families but for the entire Muslim and non-Muslim community in Raleigh.”

Zainab Baloch, a Muslim who’s running for an at-large seat on Raleigh’s City Council, says the sign that was vandalized with a racial slur and a swastika was posted at the site of a future mosque.

Couric said it was important to show Baloch’s run for office because the fact that she was bold enough to run while expressing her faith — even though she lost — offers hope that people of all backgrounds can blend into American culture.

"The Muslim Next Door" is the second show in the series; the first was about Confederate monuments.

Couric said the show presents “the two different sides of what it means to be Muslim in America: what it’s like to be targeted and discriminated against, and all the promise of a pluralistic society.”

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