Is Craig Hicks, the Suspect in the Chapel Hill Shooting, a Terrorist?

by Karishma Desai

Testimonies from victims’ family members make it clear that Craig Hicks regularly threatened the victims by flashing his handgun at them, made them fearful for their safety, and berated them for their religious identity.

Terrorism is a word with no legal definition, and yet is a word familiar enough to be innately understood by everyone in these conflicted times.

A definition on Wikipedia states that the act of terrorism may be defined as,

“violent acts (or threat of violent acts) intended to create fear, perpetrated for a religious, political, or ideological goal, and which deliberately target or disregard the safety of non-combatants (neutral military personnel or civilians).”

Using this definition then, Hicks sounds like a terrorist, but some news reports have taken great care to exonerate him out of the moral responsibility for his actions. By focusing the lens on the man who chose to murder three innocent students, execution-style, the coverage is dishonoring Deah Barakat, Yosur Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha.

Deah, Yusor and Razan
Deah Barakat, Yosur Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha [Photo Source:]
The Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill metropolitan area is steadily growing, but continues to remain a tight-knit community. When news of the tragedy hit, many people either knew them or knew someone who had known them. The Abu-Salha sisters attended Athens Drive High School, a long-standing Raleigh-area high school.

Edina Seferovic, a senior at Athens Drive High School, was devastated by the news. Recollecting her memories of Razan Abu-Salha, she said,

“My heart jumps hearing about Razan…she was a nice and sweet person who cared about everyone and never had a bad thing to say about others.”

Seferovic’s eldest sister, Amra Seferovic, had class with Yosur Abu-Salha, which is how the younger sisters met. Amra went on to say that the siblings were, “smart, active in school and could cheer anyone up.”

[Read Related: The Media’s Double Standard in Reporting the Murders of the Chapel Hill Muslim Students]

The three victims attended North Carolina State University for their undergraduate education. Barakat was a second year Dental Surgery student at University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill and was married to Yosur, who was planning to study there in the upcoming fall semester.

Deah and Yusor on their wedding day, 6 weeks before their murder. They had not gotten a chance to see this picture yet. Source:
Deah and Yusor on their wedding day, six weeks before their murder. They had not gotten a chance to see this picture yet.
[Photo Source:]
Stacy Freeman, who attended North Carolina State University, met Barakat through basketball. While Freeman did not have close interactions with Barakat outside of the Carmichael courts, he recalled many positive attributes to Barakat’s sociable personality. Freeman said,

“Barakat was a competitor and he wanted to be the best at what he did…it was not only displayed on the basketball court; this was his way of life.”

It was a trait that carried outside the court as well. Reflecting on their mission work, Freeman especially admired the passion Barakat and his wife, Yosur, demonstrated in promoting dental care in Syria.

Edina is angered by the media coverage of the tragedy.

“The media to me, is focusing more on the suspect then the three young adults killed that day, and if they were killed due to a parking dispute, then that really is a shame. Their lives were too priceless for a parking spot,” she said.

However, in examining the way the victims were killed, it would appear that this was not a crime of passion. All the victims bore gunshot wounds to the head; signs usually indicating execution style assault. It would appear Hicks was a man with a plan, with a view to kill.

Both Freeman and Seferovic can’t believe that the incident occurred in the way it has been reported. Freeman, continues to dwell on the positive memories and believes that “we all have to answer to God one day and will be held accountable for our actions.”

Whether or not this was a hate crime, or a dispute-gone-sour over parking, the murders of these three young people has left the local community shaken, especially those who are Muslim. For many of them, this is simply an act of terror, being justified by authorities terming it a dispute over parking.

The complaints are not just against indifferent authorities. The popular media outlets appear just as much a party to this flagrant indifference, with its refusal to question the crime reports and investigating below the surface. There has been a visible lack of any kind of investigative journalism.

Most media reports remain focused on the suspect’s life, instead of honoring the victims’ lives. The media has also resorted to crass reporting that has broken several ethical standards. One example is a flagrant report on how to find a parking space, prefacing the story with the Chapel Hill tragedies.

In fact, after referencing the Society of Professional Journalists’ handbook of ethics, the media has broken several ethical standards, by not seeking the truth in news gathering, and by not reducing harm in the coverage of victims.

It would appear that the media has a color-coded definition for murderers. Black suspects are often made into hardcore street-criminals; Middle-Eastern/South Asian suspects are often made into brainwashed terrorists, but white suspects are usually painted as lone wolves, and often “mentally-ill.”

The Sentencing Project, a non-profit group that advocates for social justice, cited a study that found:

“whites represented 43 percent of homicide victims in local news, but only 13 percent of homicide victims in crime reports. And while only 10 percent of victims in crime reports were whites who had been victimized by blacks, these crimes made up 42 percent of televised cases.”

The group cites stereotypes perpetuated by the mass media as contributing factors to cultural ignorance.

Now, let’s not forget Timothy McVeigh, responsible for the 1995 Oklahoma Bombing, and Wade Page, who was responsible for the Wisconsin Sikh temple shooting in 2012. Terrorists emerge from extremist mentalities, and extremists exist in every ideological belief.

President Barack Obama addressed this fact, but was met with widespread criticism for his candid commentary. At the Prayer Breakfast, Obama eloquently stated, “In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often were justified in the name of Christ.”

[Read Related: The Conflict of a Twenty-Something Muslim in America, Post Chapel Hill Shootings

People fight over whether God exists; people fight over the existence of one or many Gods; people fight over prophets. Instead of fearing and hating what we do not understand, we must learn to love and respect differences in humanity. After all, the beauty of this world is that it is not just black and white, but instead beautiful shades of every color.

If nothing more, this Southern community has started spreading the message of unity and benevolence that Barakat and the Abu-Salha sisters lived by. Hopefully, the inspiration from our three North Carolina winners can grow into a larger paradigm shift of secularism and tolerance.

More importantly, let’s accept that terrorism and terrorists are not defined by the color of their skin, but by their blatant disregard for human life, and an intolerance for difference of opinion, faith and belief.


Karishma Desai Karishma B. Desai freelances for the award-winning IndyWeek, is starting as an overseas contributor to the Bangalore Mirror and was a former intern for UNC-TV (North Carolina’s PBS Affiliate). When she’s not writing articles at Starbucks, you can find her videotaping a new adventure for YouTube or interviewing inspirational people for a documentary. She is a city girl who is working towards her dreams of becoming a TV health/science reporter.

By Brown Girl Magazine

Brown Girl Magazine was created by and for South Asian womxn who believe in the power of storytelling as a … Read more ›

Brinda Charry’s Debut Book ‘The East Indian’ Tells a Tale of Race and Resilience

brinda charry

“I was the only one of my kind, so it was fitting I spent time alone.”

This line from “The East Indian”, the debut novel of historian and author Brinda Charry, stung as I read it. 

Growing up in suburban Connecticut, being the only brown face in a room has never fazed me. I was always the little brown girl in the corner with waist-length hair and a name that made every teacher pause, but the feeling of “otherness” captured in this line was something I knew all too well. 

[Read Related: The Culture Series Part 1: Descendants of Indentured Diaspora a Look at Fijian Representation ]

This feeling isn’t unique. It’s the same experience of many immigrants and first-generation South Asian Americans, and that of the main character of “The East Indian” as well. 

While a work of fiction set in the 1630s, the novel paints a very real picture of immigration and race in the United States today and the human need to belong. 

It is the story of Tony East Indian, inspired by a real person documented in the country’s archives as the first known East Indian in the American colonies, but who is otherwise a work of the author’s imagination and research. 

The son of a courtesan from the Coromandel coast of India, Tony unwittingly finds himself as an indentured servant in the plantations of Jamestown, Virginia at just 11 years old. 

He accepts “Tony” as his first name — though he doesn’t care for it — because a fellow Tamil once suggested others in the world would find his real name “too hard to utter.” Then he adopts the surname “East Indian” simply because it is thrust upon him when he arrived in Jamestown. The protagonist can no longer even recall his birth name, but soon, he accepts it as a thing of his past. 

Over the course of the novel, Tony lands at the center of scandal as he works to establish a new identity as a physician. All the while, he also struggles with isolation, prejudice and the challenges of trying to maintain pieces of the culture he carried with him from abroad. 

He is confused as to why Native Americans are also called “Indians” and many colonists simply label him a “moor,” a term used for North Africans or anyone with darker skin, with no context for India or its people in this new world. 

He, feeling disloyal to his “many Gods,” converts from Hinduism to Christianity, believing it will give him more credibility and a sense of connection to his peers. He begins to eat meat and spend time at taverns, all in hopes of belonging, and assimilating with colonist ways.

As he comes of age and furthers his physician’s apprenticeship, Tony also begins to ponder questions of race and social class to no avail. He reflects: 

“I would talk to Doctor Herman and try to understand the reason behind white skin and black and brown and, more important, what greater distinctions of wit, sensibility, and soul the differences in hue signified. I read and was taught by my master the new ideas put forth by men of learning in England and Europe on the workings of the bowels, the brain, the blood; the causes of migraines, melancholy, and madness, but I never got closer to understanding the real meaning behind what they called different races of men, and if such difference exists in any profound sense that really matters.”

Overall, in “The East Indian,” Tony becomes a man. He learns of the world’s cruelty and its kindness. He learns to work, play, love, hate, scheme, grieve and care for himself and others. But, like most immigrants, he still longs for home. 

“For home is singular and unique. Everywhere else is but a stopping place, a bed in a stranger’s house, eating off plates not one’s own, an unfamiliar view from a casement,” Tony said. 

When attempts to head West and find an ocean back to India fail, Tony accepts that returning to his motherland is unlikely and resolves that he must learn to adapt.

He worries his love interest, born in the colonies, will not relate to him, for “her heart did not ache for another place beyond the sea” and also wonders what the future of his children will be. Nevertheless, he is never defeated. 

“I would thrive wherever the wind laid me,” says Tony. “[I] will be my own shelter, my landing place. Like a snail, I will carry home on my back, find it where I happen to be, make it from what I bear inside me.”

This resolution to resilience is one many in the South Asian diaspora may be familiar with, especially those descended from British-East Indian indentureship like Tony. 

Leaving or even kidnapped from their homes with little to no hope of return, thousands of Indians faced journeys fraught with violence, condemnation and injustice trying to create new lives and identities away from their homeland in places like Mauritius, Fiji, Guyana, and Jamaica. However, like Tony, they also found the strength and courage to survive and establish their own cultures and communities. 

While no details are known about the real Tony East Indian, Charry weaves a compelling coming-of-age tale that takes him as well as readers across three continents. 

The novel, like life itself, has fast and slow moments, but it is filled with vivid, historically accurate depictions of the colonial world and moving moments that keep you rooting for the main character’s triumph. 

It is this authenticity and compassion that makes “The East Indian” an invaluable modern work. There are no known first-hand accounts of the indentured or South Asian colonists in America. The only proof of the mere existence of many are the generations that have come after them. 

With several years of research put into it, Charry’s “The East Indian” serves as a rare realistic portrayal of what life may have been for these individuals; the hardships they endured, and the strength they embodied. South Asian or not, it is a rich history not only worth reading but sharing and celebrating. 

To learn more about Brinda Charry and her professional work visit her website. The East Indian is now available in print and audiobooks from all major book retailers.

Featured Image: Author Brinda Charry was born and raised in India before moving to the United States for graduate school two decades ago. She considers herself “a novelist-turned-academic-returned-novelist | Photo Credit: Lisa Arnold Photography

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By Ramona Sukhraj

With a B.S. in Marketing from the UCONN School of Business, Ramona has made a name for herself publishing over … Read more ›

Reflection Comes From Within, not From Others

“Confessions to a Moonless Sky” is a meditation on the new moon and guilt. I wrote it when I was living in Dallas and was driving back from a dusk prayer. The new moon terrified me on that drive. I was diseased by the knowledge that my partner, at the time, had seen the worst parts of me. There’s immense shame in this piece—it seized my self-image. If the moon could become brand new, then I could start over.

I often ponder on the moon’s reflective nature and pairs of eyes. I’m hyper-fixated on how I am seen by others. Unfortunately, the brilliance of seeing your reflection in another person leads to negativity. After all, those who are too keen on their own reflection are the same people who suffer from it. It is possible to use shame to fuel one’s retribution and personal growth, without becoming consumed by it.

We can look to Shah Rukh Khan succumbing to alcoholism in his own sorrow and then later imbibing his sadness in Chandramukhi. “Confessions to a Moonless Sky” is a lesson for us: Don’t be Shah Rukh Khan in Devdas, instead embody pre-incarnation Shah Rukh Khan in Om Shanti Om!

[Read Related: Uncovering the Brown Boy in Hiding Through Poetry]

Confessions to a Moonless Sky

Sometimes when the moon abandons the sky, I wonder if I drove her away.

If she comes back, will she be the same? How I wish she would come back new, truly new! That way she’d have no memory of the sin I’ve confessed to her. You noxious insect. Sin-loving, ego-imbibing pest. You are no monster, for at least a monster has ideology, it sins with purpose. You sin just to chase ignominy.

But the moon won’t say that, she never does. She’ll just leave the sky and return days later, slowly. And I’ll wonder if she’s new, perhaps she won’t remember my past confessions. What does it matter? Were the moon replaced with one from a different god, I’d drive her away, too.

[Read Related: ‘headspun’ — Bengali Muslim Boy’s Poetic Journey Through Himself]

By Umrao Shaan

Umrao Shaan is a short storyist, poet, and ghazals singer. You can find his songs on his Instagram. His other … Read more ›

Moving on After Breaking up With Your Cat

“Take what you want//Take everything” reflects on a time with my partner and our cat, Layla. It’s a retelling of the chaotic night I adopted her. I didn’t know why Layla hid from me. When I chased her around, it scared her more. “Take what you want//Take everything” juxtaposes our first night, filled with misunderstanding, with the rest of the time we spent together. My fond memories call back to the loving moments Layla and I shared.

Such memories defined us; they reverberated in my partnership. I wonder if my partner, like Layla, only remembers her fear of me, over our shared moments of love. The title, a Kanye West lyric, is an acknowledgment that their happiness together–without me–destroyed my sense of self. When I see their photos, I wonder if I can see myself reflected in their eyes. I wonder if they still keep kind moments of our time together.

[Read Related: Artivist Poem Essay-Studmavati]

Take what you want//Take everything

I remember when she would look at me from behind a laundry basket.

A small simple cat with green owl eyes. She was afraid of her new home and its owner. Shit, I remember the night I got her, she hid under my bed, in the middle just out of my reach for maybe 6 hours, watching me. She didn’t eat anything the entire day. When the night fell I was afraid she’d starve or come out and attack me. I was just scared. I didn’t have a childhood pet, I’m not white, I didn’t know what to do. I picked up the whole bed and yelled that she needed to move. I chased her into the closet with a vacuum cleaner. When she ran in, I called my lover and yelled to her that she wasn’t helping enough, she needed to be there to help me. That was our first day together, me and that cat. No one will ever have that memory but me and maybe her.

It was during Ramadan, my first year fasting.

Our problems had already begun by then. Enough so that I decided to fast and show retribution. I’d try to change into a more patient and understanding self. Like the Prophet (SAW) I guess. To become someone that my lover could feel safe around. Somehow, getting a cat felt like it fit into that picture. I’d be a cat dad, you know, gentle. We’d raise her. I’d fast and become New Again. Maybe I’d wrap an inked tasbih around myself and show I’m a man of God.

I don’t know how a cat remembers fear any more than I know how a lover does.

I know her body stored it. My cat’s must have stored it too. That first night, I wish I could tell her that I was afraid too. It doesn’t make sense that I was afraid really — I’m bigger, more threatening. We don’t speak the same language anyway, so how could I ever tell her? She learned to trust me though, in her own way. Her small bean paws would press on my chest in the mornings. She’d meow to berate me for locking her out some nights, or when I was away from home too long.

She lives with my lover now. They share photos with me, they’re happy together.

I saw my lover once, it was on 55th and 7th, Broadway shined blue performance lights over us. She wore a red sacral dress. She said her mental health has never been better. I think she was trying to tell me that she’s doing well, because she knows I care for her. I don’t think she was trying to say she’s happier without me. We don’t speak the same language. I actually think they are happier with just each other. And I loved them both, so it hurts. Sometimes, not all the time. And it doesn’t always hurt that bad. Other times it does get pretty bad, though. I probably owe it to myself to say that.

I look back at the photos, the ones of our life together, and the ones of their new life.

Two green owl eyes, and two brown moonlit eyes. I look for myself in them.

[Read Related: How Love Matures as you Grow]

By Umrao Shaan

Umrao Shaan is a short storyist, poet, and ghazals singer. You can find his songs on his Instagram. His other … Read more ›