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Chapel Hill Shooting: An Atheists' Apology by Erin Smith

Posted on February 14, 2015

Some mornings, I wake up. Then I go back to sleep and wake up again. I'm one of those people who likes to press the snooze button. A lot.

Other mornings, I wake up excited for the day and jump straight out of bed. Being a stereotypically tech-addicted Millennial, one of the first things I do is check social media. This was one of those mornings. Only today, the news I saw upon checking my Facebook feed made me want to crawl straight back under the covers.

There was a shooting this week in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Three bright, compassionate and promising young Muslims, a newlywed couple and a beloved sister, shot in the head, in their own home. The suspect, an older man, an atheist, with a history of prejudice against people of faith. Obviously, the investigation is still ongoing. At this moment, preliminary reports point to a “parking dispute.” And already the media is tripping over itself to downplay the shooter’s atheism as a potential motive for the shooting.

But I know I wasn’t the first one to jump to the conclusion that, if it looks like a hate crime and smells like a hate crime, it just might be a hate crime. Because people with demonstrated prejudice don’t typically kill people from the groups they clearly hate over nothing but a parking space. Even a very heated argument that gets out of hand doesn’t typically end in what appears to be careful, execution-style killing.


If you’ve been a Haute Hijab customer for more than six months, chances are you had some kind of interaction with me as a customer service and order fulfillment specialist. Since 2012 I hand-packed thousands of your orders and sprayed them with Haute Hijab’s signature Hermes scent. I put the thank-you cards in each package, sealed, weighed and shipped them. I kept eyes on tracking numbers and named a lot of scarves and answered a lot of emails. Since we’ve grown, I now contribute in other ways -- for example, this blog. I love working with Mel, I love being part of the Haute Hijab team, and I love what the brand stands for: living by your convictions, sisterhood, self-care and giving back.

Some people are surprised when they find out where I work, and this is understandable. I don’t wear hijab. I’m not Muslim. I’m actually not even a person of any faith. And since we unfortunately live in a world where all members of a religion are called upon to condemn acts of violence by a few of its most dubious members, I would like to take a moment on behalf of the world’s ~850 million atheists to unequivocally condemn yesterday’s senseless slaughter of these promising young adults.

 

I hope that my fellow atheists in the world who have been quick to condemn all Muslims based on the crimes of an extreme minority of its adherents will consider offering their own apologies too. There’s nothing like saying sorry for the obviously barbaric acts of someone you don’t know, never will know and have no desire to know, simply because you share the same religion (or lack thereof), to make you realize how ridiculous the very notion is. I hope those atheists will apologize however they can, and then think about the ways in which this simplistic approach to each other creates divisions between us that cause real harm. That words of hate spread like disease, and drive some to kill. I hope they will understand that our hearts and our minds can be big, and soft, and open to embrace each other beyond any individual doubts or disagreements.

 

I may not share your religion; I may not have a religion at all. But on days as horrible, tragic and frightening as this, I want to reaffirm that there are friends everywhere, even in places you wouldn’t so easily expect.

It's not only Muslims mourning these lives, ended so senselessly and so soon. As you grieve, I grieve with you. The whole world is less without Deah, Yusor and Razan in it.

To donate to Deah’s project for Syrian Dental Relief, click here.

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