Hours after three college students were murdered near the University of North Carolina's Chapel Hill campus, a number of people began to notice something.
Though the three students had been Muslim, which to many suggested the killings were religiously motivated (possibly supported by as-yet-unconfirmed Facebook posts by the man who turned himself in for the murders), there seemed to be remarkably little media attention.
Hoping to spur the press, and Americans more broadly, into seeing the alarming severity of the attack, a number of Twitter users started a hashtag to both generate attention and to point out why the lack of concern so bothered them. The hashtag, #MuslimLivesMatter, is a reference to the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag that emerged from the Ferguson shooting and protests.
The message of the hashtag, which is often (but far from exclusively) shared by Muslim-Americans, is that Muslims in America often feel they live in an environment that is hostile to them because of their religion, and that treats Muslims with a double-standard.
To be very clear, the motivation of the shootings remains unconfirmed at this point, but the hashtag speaks to perception, and to larger issues. In any case, the 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.
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. 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.
My cousin, his wife and sister in law were murdered for being muslim. Someone tell me racism/hate crimes don't exist. #MuslimLivesMatter— Haya Barakat (@HayaBarakat) February 11, 2015
I wonder when all world leaders will come and hold hands and march on the streets of Chapel Hill to condemn Islamphobia. #MuslimLivesMatter— Dr. Yasir Qadhi (@YasirQadhi) February 11, 2015
Many also mentioned terrorism. Had the killer been a Muslim who killed three non-Muslim with an apparent religious motivation, it would have been instantly labeled as terrorism — and there would surely be a beltway political controversy if President Obama failed to denounce it as such within hours. But because the religious identities were reversed in this case, it did not "count" as terrorism, and the press has shown very little interest in compelling a response from the White House.
If this were a Muslim man, killing 3 white Americans, there would be mass hysteria and the terror alert raised to HIGH. #MuslimLivesMatter— Chris Millington (@ChrisJohnMilly) February 11, 2015