People from all walks of life have come together to show ‘Muslim lives matter’ at a Manchester Piccadilly Gardens solidarity vigil for three North Carolina students, who were shot in the head at point blank range, last week.
The Chapel Hill shooting in which Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, were killed at their home was met with a distinct lack of mainstream media coverage, sparking outrage on social media.
Manchester resident, Sairah Yassir, used Facebook to organise the vigil with the declaration, ‘Muslim Lives – Black Lives – All Lives Matter’, and the event was joined by Greater Manchester Unite Against Fascism.
Sairah, who is in her mid-20s, said: “I felt compelled to call the vigil to illustrate that Muslim lives matter just like anybody else’s. The lack of media coverage prior to social media outrage was sickening, yet unsurprising.
“After a significant increase in Islamophobic rhetoric by both the establishment and media, it is not hard to root out the underlying reasons why such awful events may occur.
“It is embarrassing and shameful that despite the ongoing proof that hate crimes transcend religion or ethnicity, just this morning the British government thought it appropriate to announce ‘royal assent’ for the so-called Counter Terrorism and Security Bill.”
The attack was carried out by Craig Stephen-Hicks, a 46-year-old white male, who is a self-proclaimed atheist and ‘hates Islam just as much as Christianity’.
He has been known to express his hateful views publicly, also through social media, with rants that mocked all religions equally.
However, there is a suggestion that this attack had nothing to do with religious attitudes as Stephen-Hicks also has a history of violence, once getting into a fight over a parking space.
After such a tragedy, Sairah said it was a positive sign to see people of all faiths and no faith, different ethnicities, economic backgrounds and political affiliations uniting under one banner.
Before inviting people to come to the microphone and speak, she called for the public to become more proactive as opposed to reactive.
She said: “We continue our lives thinking nothing will affect us, then we come to know of things such as what happened with Deah, Yusor and Razan, and we are shocked.
“We have become, to some extent, successfully desensitised to the pain and destruction our brothers and sisters in the Global South are suffering. Now it is coming home.
“We are incredibly privileged and we need to start taking account of it by supporting the rights of others.”
On November 30 last year, there was another vigil in the same spot, when a group of young Mancunians marched under the banner ‘Black lives matter’, to protest the death of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black American who was shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.
And this latest rememberance service was well received by many.
Nathan, one of the Manchester campaigners, said: “I stopped to join in with the vigil when I saw it as I was coming home from work.
“I’ve started to notice anti-Muslim graffiti on my bus route, and I am seeing it on the street too.
“I always challenge it, because all forms of racism are wrong, and the attacks on Muslims are racist.”
As the participants of the vigil walked to Piccadilly Gardens, there was another gathering taking place outside Manchester Town Hall – organised by the North West Friends of Israel – where around 100 people stood with ‘Je Suis Charlie’ placards.
Brigning the multipath vigil for the young American Muslims to a close, Sairah called for people to ‘continue this momentum to ensure we build a strong and sustainable movement to overcome these dark times’.
She said that Deah, Yusor and Razan would want that.
There will also be a Stand Up to Racism Rally on February 25 at 6.30pm at Friends Meeting House, Mount Street, Manchester.
And the National Stand Up to Racism demonstration will take place in Central London on March 21.