#MuslimLivesMatter: Shock and outrage as 3 Muslim students gunned down in N. Carolina

Image from Facebook/Deah Barakat
The hashtag “Muslim Lives Matter” began trending on social media after the shooting deaths of three young Muslims in North Carolina. Many are accusing the media of ignoring the tragedy ‒ or covering it from an Islamophobic angle when they do take notice.

Three members of a Muslim family in North Carolina’s university town of Chapel Hill were gunned down in their home Tuesday evening. The victims in the triple homicide have been identified as Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23; his wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21; and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19. All three victims were shot in the head, sources said.

The incident has provoked massive speculation on social media that it was a hate crime, with the hashtags #MuslimLivesMatter and #ChapelHillShooting trending on Twitter and other networks.

A 46-year-old man identified by police as Craig Stephen Hicks turned himself in late Tuesday night. He was subsequently arrested on suspicion of three counts of first degree murder.

While police noted Wednesday that the killings may have been part of an ongoing parking dispute, they have not ruled out the possibility that it was a religiously motivated attack.

“Our investigators are exploring what could have motivated Mr. Hicks to commit such a senseless and tragic act,” Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue said in a statement. “We understand the concerns about the possibility that this was hate-motivated and we will exhaust every lead to determine if that is the case.”

Hicks is a self-described atheist who regularly posted content critical of religion on his Facebook account.

A Twitter account that likely belonged to Deah Barakat shows a post published a week ago that expressed his concern over increasing cases of religious and national hatred in recent months.

Other Muslims on social media used #MuslimLivesMatter to highlight their experiences as Islamic extremists garnered international condemnation for events such as the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, Boko Haram kidnappings in Nigeria and Islamic State mass slaughters of “non-believers.”

"I wonder," Dr. Yasir Qadhi, an Islamic theologian, tweeted, "when all world leaders will come and hold hands and march on the streets of Chapel Hill to condemn Islamophobia."

Twitter users blasted a perceived lack of interest in the story by the mainstream media.

“[T]he core criticism remains correct: the media and popular response to the shootings would have gone very differently had the religion of the shooter and victims been reversed,” Vox noted.

“Had the religion of the shooter been Islam, many pointed out, it would have been enormous national news. Had his apparent motivation been extremist Islam, it would have been enormous national news,” Vox continued. “But because the shooter was perhaps instead motivated by extremist Islamophobia (again, at this point an unconfirmed but widespread perception), and because it was the victims rather than the killer who was Muslim, it hardly caused a blip.”

But the hashtag isn’t just about the lack of news coverage. It’s about the difference in labels used by the media when describing a crime. On social media, some have argued that if a Muslim had gunned down three atheists, the headlines would be “screaming TERROR ATTACK.”

The #MuslimLivesMatter hashtag is an offshoot of the #BlackLivesMatter, which trended on social media after a series of deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police in the US, including Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri last August.