The following remarks were given at a recent memorial held at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, Feb. 17, for the three Muslim students slain in Chapel Hill, N.C. last week.
Muslim lives matter, but so does everyone else’s who is a victim of hate crime. My name is Mateo Farzaneh and I am an assistant professor of history of Islamic civilization and modern Middle East here at Northeastern Illinois University. As a student of history, my comments today are grounded in historical fact.
Perhaps the mother of all evils, or shall we say, the most potent of all evils in history has been ignorance and greed. Ignorance and greed together have always created the most horrendous situations that have involved everyone living at a given moment in time. History has shown us that Ignorance leads to such nonsensical actions that strip the most basic of rights away from humans: the right to live.
If not addressed, ignorance can lead to disastrous consequences that are beyond repair. History is not short of tragic stories that have been caused by ignorant people. In many cases ignorance has been at the root cause for loss of precious life.
Deah Barakat, his wife Youser Abu-Salha, and her sister Razan were victims of ignorance left untreated. The killer of these three bright human beings is the exact opposite of them; he suffers from ignorance that has led him down a dark path.
But Deah, Youser and Razan, are the people most of us have gotten to know since their hateful murder last week, but we must remember that Matthew Shepard, the 22 year old human being who was lynched savagely for being gay, or James Byrd, Jr. who was brutally lynched and dragged for being black, or Dr. Prabjoht Singh, the Sikh Columbia university professor who was severely beaten mistaken by his ignorant assailants for being Muslim. All of these victims and countless others, have something in common and that is each of them paid a price for being different (therefore viewed as dispensable) in the eyes of their attackers.
Let us not forget that since the murder of Deah, Youser, and Razan in their apartment in Chapel Hill, 21 Egyptians were slaughtered like sheep in Libya, two humans were killed for gathering at a debate in Denmark, and Ozgecan Aslan, a twenty-one year old psychology student was burned after being raped in Turkey; all due to ignorance and hate.
Let us be reminded that if individual ignorance and hatred for others is not treated, it can lead to collective ignorance and hate and the consequences of that would be a million times more disastrous since it will take precious life out of millions of fragile bodies of humans and it will change the course of history.
Let us not forget Africans who were forced to board on ships to come to the colonies as slaves;
Let us not forget the American natives who were forced off of their lands and pushed to the corner if they did not obey the orders of the settlers;
Let us not forget Jews, Roma, and Poles who were forced into concentration camps and starved to death;
Let us not forget those who jumped out of tall buildings to escape the scorching heat of fire on September 11;
Let us not forget those prisoners who were defecated on in Abu Ghuraib;
Let us not forget the 69 youth workers who were murdered in Norway;
Let us not forget the Rohinga Muslims that were murdered by Buddhist monks in Burma;
Let us not forget the Kurdish women who hid under cow dong to escape rape and murder by savage criminals in Iraq and Syria;
Let us not forget the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo;
And, let us not forget Deah, Youser, and Razan.
Although hate-crime against various groups has always existed, unfortunately though, insulting, belittling, and fearing Muslims has become a trend that makes Muslim lives just as dispensable as any other hated group in the eyes of ignorant haters. Some hateful acts and opinions are hidden beneath and in case of Muslims it is audaciously flaunted. It only comes out under the darkness of night when the ignorant coward feels the night belongs to him.
But we have to be hopeful, despite the realities we’re facing today. Why? Because there is no better option. Hope comes when we are all educated more about the people we don’t know. I must learn about the peoples I might fear and treat my ignorance. I invite you, I challenge you to do the same. This is the time and place for it. Learn and let ignorance be a part of the past for a brighter future.
As I said, I’m a life-long student of history and let me leave you with the words of Howard Zinn, one historian that keeps teaching me: Howard writes:
“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, and kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places-and there are so many-where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.
And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”
Thank you. And now, please rise and let us observe a moment of silence and remember victims of hate: Deah, Youser, Razan and countless others.
Photo: Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Frank Ross, center, speaks with other speakers and members of the NEIU community before the program starts as one of the photos from Deah Shaddy Barakat and Yusor Mohammed Abu Salha’s wedding is shown on the screen. | Teresa Albano/PW