The recent murders of an unarmed Mexican national and three Muslims, while tragic in and of themselves, have served as microcosms of the real terrorism pervading the U.S. — white supremacy.
A few weeks ago, three Muslims — Razan Abu-Salha, her husband Deah Barakat and her younger sister Yusor Abu-Salha — were shot and killed outside their home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The gunman, who has since been indicted for three counts of murder, was a white, self-proclaimed “gun-toting, anti-religion, atheist,” as “the Guardian” reports.
Just a few days later, a video capturing the slaying of 35-year-old Antonio Zambrano-Montes surfaced. Zambrano-Montes, an unarmed Mexican national, was shot by Pasco, Washington police after he allegedly threw rocks at on-going traffic and officers. The video shows Zambrano-Montes initially fleeing from police, but after turning and beginning to raise his hands, he is met with a hail of gunfire from multiple officers.
Zambrano-Montes’ murder comes amid an on-going national discussion on racism in policing and at a time when non-white people have been forced to affirm that their lives do indeed matter. Specifically, the Black Lives Matter [BLM] movement took foot after the murders of Michael Brown, John Crawford III, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner and various other unarmed black people, and has aimed to highlight and end racialized police brutality. The video of Zambrano-Montes, in fact, evokes images of the BLM protestors who have used “Hands up, Don’t Shoot” as a chant of both protest and empowerment — though Zambrano-Montes never had a chance to completely raise his arms in surrender.
And even though the three Muslims in Chapel Hill were not killed by the state, it is impossible to disentangle their deaths from white supremacy. Specifically, these murders manifest in a post 9-11 era characterized by racism against Arab Americans and religious intolerance towards people of the Muslim faith, which can more concisely be described as the essentialiazation of Muslims and Arabs as dangerous — as potential terrorists. For example, according to a Public Research Institute study, 45 percent of Americans believe that the Islamic faith is in conflict with American values. And a study conducted by the Arab American Institute further shows that 42 percent of Americans think that law enforcement officers should be able to profile Arabs and Muslims based on their ethnicity and religion. The logical conclusion of this racist, dehumanizing ideology is illustrated not only in the slayings of Barakat and the Abu-Salha sisters, but also in the rise of hate crimes against Arabs and Muslims in the U.S. at large. According to FBI data, hate crimes against Muslims have grown from 20 and 30 yearly before 9-11, to between 100 to 150 per year since.
We should not conflate the stereotypes and oppressions faced by Muslims, Mexicans or Black people — but they do share a common denominator: they are all perpetrated by white people. Indeed, while Montes’ murder serves to further illustrate the white supremacy exercised by our trigger-happy police force, the murder of the three Muslims highlights that the state isn’t the only facet of life that is infected with racism. The state and its monopoly on legitimate violence is just a tool of the dominant social group — part and parcel of the white supremacy that is shot through our entire society.
Ultimately, in spite of the stereotypes that lead to these killings, these murders and their backdrop demonstrate that we, white America, are the terrorists. And, as the late author James Baldwin put it, “People who treat other people as less than human must not be surprised when the bread they have cast on the waters comes floating back to them, poisoned.”