Suzanne BARAKAT

Kindness means screaming out the truth when everyone is silent. 

“Islamophobia killed my brother.

Let’s end the hate!”

 

Fighting Hate Crimes and Islamophobia Through Kindness

In the face of an overwhelming Islamophobia Suzanne Barakat rings the alarm bells that whoever is marginalized as “other” in the society runs the risk of being subjected to violence. Nonetheless she constructs her fight on kindness.

She was deeply hurt when her brother Deah, his wife Yusor and her sister Razan were murdered execution style by their neighbour Craig Hicks in Chapel Hill in North Carolina.

In his statement the murderer said that he killed them because of a parking dispute and the police did not bother to investigate further while the media channels ran with “parking dispute” story. Despite security forces’ slow and pestering response to this tragic event, it was Suzanne, who organized a press conference and revealed the real cause of these murders that is “hate crime.” She told the world how the murderer broke into the house of these innocent college students and killed them execution style. Their family and loved ones were grief stricken.

Suzanne Barakat, who is a doctor in San Francisco General Hospital, has been fighting to end the hate and marginalization since 2015. She attends seminars and delivers speeches to end hate and hate crimes in America, a region of rampant discrimination and racism.

Suzanne Barakat is aware that in a time where hate and enmity is flared up speaking up for truth is a virtue. Hence she puts up with the hardship while every new day brings in new faces to join this struggle to make sure kindness prevails.

 

Last Hug with Deah

“It was 27 December 2014… The morning after his wedding my brother Deah’ asked me to style his hair for the wedding shoot. He was just 23 years old. An American kid in dental school ready to take on the world…

On his wedding day he cups my face and says “Suzanne I am who I am because of you. Thank you for everything. I love you…”

One month later when I go to visit my family in North Carolina. On the last evening I go upstairs to Daeh’s room eager to find out how he felt being a newly married man. With a big boyish smile he says, “I am so happy. I love her. She is an amazing girl.” And she is.

At just 21 she had recently been accepted to join Deah at UNC dental school. I will never forget that moment sitting there with my brother for the last time – how free he was in his happiness… My little brother, a basketball-obsessed kid had become and transformed into a young accomplished man. He was at the top of his dental school class, and alongside Yusor and Razan, was involved in local and international community service projects dedicated to the homeless and refugees, including a dental relief trip they were planning for Syrian refugees in Turkey.

Razan, at just 19, used her creativity as an architectural engineering student to serve those around her, making care packages for the local homeless, among other projects.

Standing there that night I take a deep breath and look at Deah and tell him, “I have never been more proud of you than I am in this moment.” I hug him goodnight, and leave the next morning without waking him to go back to San Francisco. That is the last time I ever hug him….”

Suzanne describes how ten days later when she was on call at San Francisco General Hospital she started receiving vague text messages expressing condolences. Upset and confused she called her dad who told her that there had been a shooting in Deah’s neighbourhood in Chapel Hill and they do not know anything further yet.

After hanging up the phone Susanne Barakat searches “shooting in Chapel Hill” online and read that three people were killed with a shot at the back of the head and confirmed dead on the scene. In that moment she just knows and flings off her chair and faints onto the hospital floor, wailing. She takes the first flight home that night numb and disoriented. She enters her childhood home and faints onto her parents’ arms sobbing.

“I run up to my brother’s room just looking for him only to find a void that will never be filled…” Suzanne says. Not receiving any response from the police when Suzanne looked into the investigation and autopsy reports she found out that Deah had just gotten off the bus from class, Razan was visiting for dinner, already at home with Yusor. As they began to eat they heard a knock on the door. When Deah opened it their neighbour proceeded to fire multiple shots at him. According to 911 calls, the girls were heard screaming. The ruthless murderer turned towards the kitchen and fired a single shot into Yusor`s hip, immobilizing her. He then approached her from behind, presed the barrel of his gun against her head and with a single bullet lacerated her midbrain. He then turned towards Razan who was screaming for her life and execution style with a single bullet to the back of the head killed her. On his way out he shot Deah one last time a bullet in the mouth for a total of eight bullets: two lodged in the head two in his chest and the rest in his extremities.

 

Three Youth Murdered in Their Own Home!

Deah, Yusor and Razan…

For months the murderer has harassed them just because they were Muslims. Yusor felt particularly threatened by him. As she was moving in he told Yusor and her mum that he did not like the way they looked. Yusor who had been trying to be kind to her neighbour never knew his hatred would end in murder.

The man who murdered Suzanne Barakat’s three family members turned himself in to the police shortly after the murders saying he killed three kids execution style over a parking dispute. The police issued a premature public statement that morning echoing his claims without bothering to question it or further investigate.

It turns out there was no parking dispute. There was no argument. But in a 24-hour media cycle the words “parking dispute” had already become the go-to sound bite.

Suzanne says as she sat on her brother’s bed she had remembered his words which he gave her sof reely and with so much love, “I am who I am because of you.” That is what it takes her to climb through her crippling grief and speak out. She does not let her the death of her family members be diminished to a segment that is barely discussed on local news.

Three innocent kids were murdered by their neighbour because of their faith, because of a piece of cloth they chose to don on their heads, because they were visibly Muslim. Suzanne believes that this cannot be settled so easily brushed off too carelessly. “Some of the rage I felt at the time was that if roles were reversed, and an Arab, Muslim or Muslim appearing person had killed three white American college students execution style in their home what would we have called it” she asks.

“A terrorist attack…

When white men commit acts of violence in the US they are lone wolves, mentally il lor driven by a parking dispute. I know that I have to give my family voice, and I do the only thing I know how: I send a Facebook message to everyone I know in media” Suzanne tells. Barakat, also adds that the pain she feels never diminishes.

A couple of hours later, in the midst of a chaotic house overflowing with friends and family, our neighbour Neal comes over, sits down next to my parents and asks, “What can I do?” Neal had over two decades of experience in journalism, but he makes it clear that he is not there in his capacity as journalist but as a neighbour who wants to help. Suzanne asks him what he thinks they as a family should do, given the bombardment of local media interview requests. He offers to set up a press conference at a local community center and promises to have all the news channels present once Suzanne and her family decides about the time. Even now Suzanne feels profoundly grateful to him. She delivers the press statement thus gives voice to her family as they find a little bit of consolation in it.

In a moment of devastation she is still wearing scrubs from the previous night as she reads the press statement. Within 24 hours after the murders she is on CNN being interviewed by Anderson Cooper. The following day major newspapers including the New York TImes, Chicago Tribune published stories about Deah, Yusor and Razan allowing Suzanne’s family to reclaim the narrative and call attention to the mainstreaming of anti-Muslim hatred.

Suzanne Barakat draws attention to the suppression of Muslims in the society. “These days it feels like Islamophobia is a socially acceptable form of bigotry. We just have to put up with it and smile. The nasty stares, the palpable fear when boarding a plane, the random pat downs at airports that happen 99 per cent of the time. It does not stop there. We have politicians reaping political and financial gains off our backs. Here in the US we have presidential candidates like Donald Trump casually calling to register American Muslims and ban Muslim immigrants and refugees from entering this country. It is no coincidence that hare crimes rise in parallel with election cycles.”

Suzanne quotes the example of Khalid Jabara, a Lebanese American Christian who a couple months ago was murdered in Oklahoma by his neighbour – a man who called him a “filthy Arab.” This man was previously jailed for a mere 8 months after attempting to run run over Khalid’s mother with his car. Barakat says neither that Khalid’s story nor his neighbour’s murder made it to national news.

Suzanne speaks up that hate crimes do not happen in a vacuum and many victims who lost their lives because of their faith are either swept aside or mentioned briefly. She points out that one should step up and speak up when witnessing something wrong even if they have never suffered a hate crime.

 

Tragedy Turns to Kindness

There is over three million Muslims in America and many are discriminated based on their race, faith, gender, lifestyle and political choices Suzanne. While hate crimes are brushed off and we are silent because speaking up for the truth makes us uncomfortable. Yet Suzanne asserts that she will never shy away from stepping right into that discomfort while practicing her profession.

She quotes Martin Luther King:

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.” So what made her neighbour Neal’s allyship to profound for Suzanne Barakat?  He was there as a neighbour who cared, regardless of faith, the discrimination that hate crimes brought about. Or why did that other friend, Larycia Hawkins lost her job at Wheaton College? Because she drew on her platform as the first tenured African-American professor to wear a hijab in solidarity with Muslim women who face discrimination every day.

Within a month she joined the faculty at the University of Virginia where she now works on pluralism, race, faith and culture.

Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian stepped up to support a 15-year-old Muslim girl’s mission to introduce a hijab emoji. It is simple gesture but it has a significant subconscious impact on normalizing and humanizing Muslims, including the community as a part of an “us” instead of an “other.” The editor in chief of Women’s Running magazine just put the first hijabi to ever be on the cover of a US fitness magazine.

These are all very different examples of people who drew upon their platforms and resources in academia, tech and media to actively express their allyship. Many inspired by Suzanne Barakat campaign gives support for elimination of Islamophobia.

Meanwhile in 2013 Suzanne Barakat was involved in humanitarian relief campaigns for delivering healthcare to Syrian refugees in Kilis for which she visited Turkey and came together with the officials. She hopes to spread her message and find supporters for her efforts.

Many neighbours appear in Suzanne’s story. She says everyone in their respective communities have a Muslim neighbour, colleague or friend their children plays with at school. “Reach out to them” she calls out “Let them know you stand with them in solidarity. When you witness bigotry step up and speak up by getting out of your comfort zone. It may feel really small but I promise you it makes a difference.” She works hard to put an end to the hate discourse with a firm belief that kindness shall prevail evil.

“Nothing will ever bring back Deah, Yusor and Razan.

But when we raise our collective voices that is when we stop the hate…”

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