A good friend of mine, Seth Brake, made the observation on social media that the tragic murder of three Muslims in the Chapel Hill area might have failed to initially make media waves because it “just doesn’t fit anyone’s narratives.” The horrific execution of innocent, peaceful Muslims defies the Right’s convictions that practitioners of the Middle Eastern faith are to be viewed with inherent and war-like suspicion. The militant atheism of the attacker, on the other hand, defies the oft-repeated argument of the Left that religion is primarily responsible for horrific violence and reveals that extremism of even that “rational” stripe can lead to hate and evil.
The events of February 10, 2015 in Meadowmont, North Carolina defy the narratives polarizing Americans, gleefully fed by hyper-sensationalized media and political ideologies. The lack of concern from mainstream media outlets, at least initially, should not surprise us. This is a tragedy that does not fit neatly into our political and ideological presuppositions (as most of life does not, when we truly and fairly examine it) and thus cannot be used by either side to advance an agenda. The deaths of these innocents, therefore, do little to profit these propagators of controversy. Their deaths do not matter, and the silence of news networks so faithfully committed to pumping 24/7 coverage of murders that fit narratives of racism, terrorism, gun control or lack thereof (depending on your political standing) speaks loudly to the tragic lack of empathy rampant in our country.
Silence often damns, and the silence on this incident damns authoritatively. But lest I devolve into the unhelpful mudslinging and finger-pointing that these newscasters too often make their livings on, I want to turn our thoughts inward, to examine ourselves. How should we respond? How ought we make use of Seth’s observation? How can we fight the force-fed narratives to rediscover our neighbors so often hidden behind artificial political divides?
I do not claim to have all the answers, but I do know we can act rightly first by mourning. Let us mourn for the deaths of these innocents. Let us remember that lives matter, regardless of race, religion, ideology, or any other chosen or unchosen identity. Human life has inherent worth and value, and all deaths ought to be mourned. If ever we begin to measure out our mourning depending on how conveniently the tragedy fits our preconceived notions of reality, we have lost what it means to be human.
As a Christian, I draw all this from the teachings of Jesus, who taught that “those who mourn are blessed, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4 HCSB). I also believe that Paul spoke wisely when he advised believers to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15 HCSB). These are not principles exclusive to my own religious creed, I hope we can agree, but human principles. I believe that when, as a society, we can recover the empathy that both Christ and Paul speak of we will have taken the first steps to rediscovering the human beings at the heart of tragedy.
For these reasons, I stand in solidarity with the Muslim community, the community of Chapel Hill, and all the other communities of which these three were a part, to say: “I am sorry. I cannot know your pain. But I want to. I want to weep with you, for that may be the only way to send my love and prayer in this dark time.” I do this regardless of the ideology of the killer, I do this regardless of his motive, I do this regardless of the faith or race of the victims, and I do this regardless of my own political beliefs or presupposed narratives.
I do this because their names were Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha, and Razan Abu-Salha. And their lives mattered.