Faculty discuss cultural class behind UNC shootings

By Matthew McGregor – [email protected] – Contributor | March 3, 2015 |
Faculty from the history and sociology departments at UNCA discussed the motive and cultural context of the shooting of three UNC students in Chapel Hill.
“Personally, I really believe this is a hate crime,” said Heon Lee, associate professor of sociology. “I believe who the victims are has something to do with this senseless crime.”
A gunman shot and killed 21-year-old Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, her husband, 23-year-old Deah Barakat, and her sister, 19-year-old Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha.
“They were Arab-Americans who were living the American dream. It’s ironic in a way that they were the target of one of the results of this American dream. I know it’s an issue which would open a can of worms by discussing the right of the individual to carry guns, but that is very much in the essence of this case,” said Samer Traboulsi, associate professor of history. “When a person has negative feelings, whether you want to say it is over hatred or over a parking dispute, he can execute people.”
Traboulsi said gun laws provide the opportunity to act out one’s hatred against another. Discrimination plays a role in this shooting as well, according to Traboulsi. He said Americans have witnessed discrimination toward ethnic groups throughout American history, and the current discrimination against Muslims continues this history.
“There is more presence of Muslims in the United States and this is a recent phenomena. You have more Arabs who are mainly immigrants, or first generations, who are struggling to find their place in American society,” Traboulsi said. “They want to be American, but at the same time they are seeing policies against the countries from where they come that are violent.”
Traboulsi said there are similarities in the Chapel Hill shooting and in other terrorist actions.
“This is the opportunity that is given to the terrorists, be it al-Qaeda or ISIS. They have access to weapons and they are executing their vision of how societies and governments should be run,” Traboulsi said. “They commit atrocities against whoever challenges their worldview, and here you have a person with a particular worldview seeing these victims as a challenge to his worldview.”
According to Volker Frank, professor of sociology, the media fails to consider sensibility and historical knowledge in reporting the UNC shooting.
“The day to day conversation may include whether it’s a hate crime or not. The bigger question is what does this mean that this can happen in the year 2015,” Frank said. “We are indeed a really raw society. Whether or not the shooting was over a parking space, or a parking space claimed by non-Western looking people, there are people who think they can solve a problem with a gun.”
Lee said he finds the shooting unbearable when he thinks of the parents.
“When these things happen, we really have to focus on the individual humans,” according to Lee. “They are somebody’s sons and daughters before they are Muslim or Christian.”
Lee said he teaches the dangers of categorizing human beings in his classes.
“Throughout my courses, I always try to emphasize the dangers of categorical thinking,” Lee said. “Muslim as a category is in many ways false and even dangerous. Within Muslims, there is much diversity.”
Lee said the shooting makes him consider the fragility of the human existence.
“Our life is so precarious. We work very hard to make our life stable in many different ways,” Lee said. “I’m sure these students planned many wonderful things, and in a split second the whole thing is completely shattered. This should remind us of our life, my life, your life, everybody’s life, and how we work hard to make it solid but at any moment it can be over.”