On Feb. 10, three American college students were murdered by a neighbor in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The FBI and police are continuing to investigate the motives behind the killings. So far, the media has posited two explanations: The neighbor either killed the students over their Islamic faith or a parking dispute.
It is difficult to explain how a parking dispute would lead a person to conduct a brutal execution-style killing of three people. According to a local tow-truck driver, the perpetrator had parking disputes with numerous people. “This guy towed an obscene amount of cars. It got to the point where we stopped answering his calls,” the driver said to the Wall Street Journal. The claim that the suspect held a parking dispute with many of his neighbors further raises the question of why he specifically gunned down the three students. However, the conversation we as a society need to have is about much more than a parking dispute.
In recent months the national media has covered people being profiled, bullied and killed because of who they are. From Ferguson and New York to even the student held at gunpoint at Yale, these events speak volumes to the challenges our society faces in weaving a fabric of peaceful coexistence.
After his son’s assassination, Rev. Martin Luther King Sr. remarked, “You know there were more fingers on that trigger than one.”
The wisdom in King’s statement still carries tremendous relevance by prompting us to ask: Are there other fingers on the trigger when such heinous crimes are committed against people because of who they are? They include the fingers of our politicians who support unencumbered access to guns without the necessary background checks to ensure public safety. They include the fingers of those who distort religion to justify killing fellow human beings, thereby perpetuating further hatred against innocent people who view religion as a source of compassion. And finally, they include the fingerprints of those who remain silent while their fellow Americans are persecuted on the basis of the color of their skin, the heritage of their ancestors, the person they love or their belief in God.
The shooting in Chapel Hill is inextricably linked to a much broader conversation in our society about tolerance for others. However, the specific type of intolerance that many in the media point to as the driving force behind the crime is Islamophobia, the prejudice or fear of Muslims. From the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks to the present rise of ISIS, many commit the logical fallacy of perceiving the actions of those who wrongfully commit violence in the name of Islam as representative of Islam and every Muslim.
How can humanity cleanse itself of hatred and violence? One answer can be found in the writings of the 13th century Persian philosopher and current best-selling poet in the United States, Jalal ad-Din Rumi. A devout Muslim and scholar of Islam, Rumi wrote “The Masthnavi,” which drew inspiration from the text of the Quran. Rumi says, “Listen with the ears of tolerance. See through the eyes of compassion. Speak with the language of love.”
Rumi’s writings support peaceful coexistence rather than hate and division. One of Rumi’s most famous statements elucidates this point: “Out beyond the ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” In the aftermath of the recent shootings, let us put Rumi’s words into practice and recognize that love and peace are the best responses to hate and violence.
The pilgrims came to this beautiful land to escape religious persecution and violence. The Founding Fathers codified this spirit in our Constitution, ensuring that there would be no laws prohibiting the free exercise of religion. Our constitutional democracy survived through the Civil War, which tested our true commitment to freedom and liberty over the entrenched institution of slavery. More than 150 years have passed since the time of Lincoln, yet we still have a long way to go. All Americans are part of our democracy. If we are truly upholding our Constitution as our forefathers intended, this nation should belong to all of us. And out of many, we are one.
Daniel Khalessi is a master’s student at the Jackson Institute. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.