Early on Wednesday evening, as the sun began to set and the air cooled to just below freezing, police arrived at a unremarkable white home in Fort Wayne, Indiana, a few blocks from the campus of Indiana Tech. We do not yet know who called them or what they expected. Inside, they found the bodies of three young men, shot multiple times in what police, on Friday, called "execution style" murders.
The young men were members of a predominantly Muslim diaspora community whose roots are in Africa's eastern Sahel region. They were Muhannad Tairab, age 17, Adam Mekki, age 20, and Mohamedtaha Omar, age 23. Though initial reports identified all three as Muslim, community members later clarified that Mekki was Christian. Police are yet to identify motive in the killing, which appears to be something of a mystery.
The modest white building had apparently become something of a "party house" used by local youths, but police said there was no known connection to gangs or any other violent organization. They have offered a $10,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest of whoever was responsible.
Were the men killed for their religion? A police spokesperson cautioned against jumping to conclusions, stating that, as of yet, they had "no reason to believe this was any type of hate crime, or focused because of their religion or their nationality whatsoever." Police have continued to downplay this possibility.
Indeed, it may turn out that there was some unseen force at play here: gang violence, a robbery gone awry, some personal dispute. Nonetheless, it seems impossible, at this point, to completely rule out the possibility that this could be exactly what Muslim American rights group already fear it may be: an expression of America's increasingly violent Islamophobia problem.
In recent months, there has been an alarming trend of violence and violent threats against America's community of roughly 2 million to 3 million Muslim citizens.
There were the murders, almost exactly one year ago, of three Chapel Hill students by a local man who'd expressed a paranoid hatred of religion. Later that spring, the FBI arrested the leader of a far-right militia that was planning to massacre a predominantly Muslim neighborhood in upstate New York. Another militia, in Texas, has sent its assault rifle–wielding members to stalk a local mosque and its adherents, later publishing the home addresses of "Muslims and Muslim sympathizers."
More isolated acts of violence — what we might call "lone wolf" attacks had the religions of the shooter and victim been reversed — have been so frequent they are difficult to track.
On Thanksgiving, a Pittsburgh man accosted his Moroccan cab driver with questions about ISIS, then shot him. Two weeks later, a Michigan man called an Indian store clerk a "terrorist" before shooting him in the face. On Christmas Eve in Texas, a local man charged into a Muslim-owned tire shop and shouted, "Muslim!" as he opened fire, killing one and critically wounding another.
Less than a week ago, a Missouri man charged at a Muslim American family with a handgun, telling them, "This state allows you to carry a gun and shoot you. ... You, your wife, and your kids have to die." The family was able to flee.
This has not come out of nowhere. Islamophobia has entered mainstream American discourse in the past year, receiving substantial airtime on cable news networks. CNN anchors have called Muslims "unusually violent" and "unusually barbaric"; Fox News has called Islam a "destructive force" and suggested that Muslim American communities are running secret terrorist "training camps." Presidential candidates from Donald Trump to Marco Rubio continue to dabble in overt Islamophobia.
It is important to caution against assuming that whatever happened this week in Fort Wayne, whatever chain of events led to the mysterious "execution-style" murders of three young men, must necessarily be part of the rising wave of Islamophobic violence in America. Police are presumably cautioning against that conclusion for a reason, and it may well turn out that their deaths are entirely unrelated.
Still, it is difficult to ignore that three apparently Muslim young men have been murdered, for no immediately obvious reason, just as indiscriminate violence against Muslim Americans is growing out of control.
It is thus concerning that these murders have received so little attention, if only for the possibility, however remote, that they could be part of this trend of religious violence against American citizens.
As a thought experiment, scroll back up to the top of this page and read back through, but this time imagine that the Muslim victims of violence, in every instance, were instead Christian. Imagine that the perpetrators had all been Muslim, and had targeted their victims explicitly because of their Christian faith.
Imagine that, rather than Donald Trump calling for banning Muslims from entering the US, it was Rep. Keith Ellison, who is Muslim, calling for banning Christians. Imagine that Rep. André Carson, who is also Muslim, complained bitterly when President Obama responded to anti-Christian violence by visiting a church, and that Carson further argued America should be willing to close down churches and anywhere else dangerous Christians might congregate.
Now imagine, amid all this anti-Christian violence and anti-Christian hatred, as Christians were gunned down in the street for their religion and crowds of thousands gathered to cheer anti-Christian rhetoric, that three Christians youths turned up mysteriously executed a few blocks from Indiana Tech. Ask yourself whether it would be treated as major news, if only for the possibility of its connection to that wave of violence, or whether it would be largely ignored, as the murders of Tairab, Mekki, and Omar have been.
Correction: This article's headline originally stated that all three victims had been Muslim, as local reports initially indicated. It has been updated to reflect that one of the victims was, in fact, Christian. It has also been updated to note the police reward and the remaining uncertainty around motive.