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TEDWomen 2016

Suzanne Barakat: Islamophobia killed my brother. Let's end the hate

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On February 10, 2015, Suzanne Barakat's brother Deah, her sister-in-law Yusor and Yusor's sister Razan were murdered by their neighbor in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The perpetrator's story, that he killed them over a traffic dispute, went unquestioned by the media and police until Barakat spoke out at a press conference, calling the murders what they really were: hate crimes. As she reflects on how she and her family reclaimed control of their narrative, Barakat calls on us to speak up when we witness hateful bigotry and express our allyship with those who face discrimination.

- Physician
With a voice amplified by unthinkable personal tragedy, Suzanne Barakat speaks out against bigotry and violence against those society deems "different." Full bio

Last year,
00:13
three of my family members
were gruesomely murdered
00:14
in a hate crime.
00:17
It goes without saying
that it's really difficult
00:20
for me to be here today,
00:22
but my brother Deah,
00:24
his wife Yusor,
00:25
and her sister Razan
00:27
don't give me much of a choice.
00:28
I'm hopeful that by the end
of this talk you will make a choice,
00:31
and join me in standing up against hate.
00:34
It's December 27, 2014:
00:38
the morning of my brother's wedding day.
00:41
He asks me to come over and comb his hair
00:44
in preparation
for his wedding photo shoot.
00:46
A 23-year-old, six-foot-three basketball,
particularly Steph Curry, fanatic --
00:48
(Laughter)
00:53
An American kid in dental school
ready to take on the world.
00:57
When Deah and Yusor
have their first dance,
01:01
I see the love in his eyes,
01:04
her reciprocated joy,
01:06
and my emotions begin to overwhelm me.
01:07
I move to the back of the hall
and burst into tears.
01:11
And the second the song finishes playing,
01:14
he beelines towards me,
01:16
buries me into his arms
01:17
and rocks me back and forth.
01:19
Even in that moment,
01:20
when everything was so distracting,
01:22
he was attuned to me.
01:24
He cups my face and says,
01:25
"Suzanne,
01:27
I am who I am because of you.
01:28
Thank you for everything.
01:35
I love you."
01:36
About a month later, I'm back home
in North Carolina for a short visit,
01:39
and on the last evening,
I run upstairs to Deah's room,
01:42
eager to find out how he's feeling
being a newly married man.
01:45
With a big boyish smile he says,
01:48
"I'm so happy. I love her.
She's an amazing girl."
01:51
And she is.
01:55
At just 21, she'd recently
been accepted to join Deah
01:56
at UNC dental school.
01:59
She shared his love for basketball,
and at her urging,
02:01
they started their honeymoon off
attending their favorite team of the NBA,
02:05
the LA Lakers.
02:09
I mean, check out that form.
02:10
(Laughter)
02:12
I'll never forget that moment
sitting there with him --
02:19
how free he was in his happiness.
02:22
My littler brother,
a basketball-obsessed kid,
02:24
had become and transformed
into an accomplished young man.
02:27
He was at the top
of his dental school class,
02:31
and alongside Yusor and Razan,
02:33
was involved in local and international
community service projects
02:35
dedicated to the homeless and refugees,
02:39
including a dental relief trip
they were planning
02:41
for Syrian refugees in Turkey.
02:44
Razan, at just 19,
02:46
used her creativity
as an architectural engineering student
02:48
to serve those around her,
02:51
making care packages
for the local homeless,
02:53
among other projects.
02:55
That is who they were.
02:58
Standing there that night,
03:01
I take a deep breath
and look at Deah and tell him,
03:02
"I have never been more proud of you
than I am in this moment."
03:05
He pulls me into his tall frame,
03:09
hugs me goodnight,
03:11
and I leave the next morning
without waking him
03:12
to go back to San Francisco.
03:14
That is the last time I ever hug him.
03:16
Ten days later, I'm on call
at San Francisco General Hospital
03:22
when I receive a barrage of vague
text messages expressing condolences.
03:25
Confused, I call my father,
who calmly intones,
03:29
"There's been a shooting
in Deah's neighborhood in Chapel Hill.
03:32
It's on lock-down. That's all we know."
03:35
I hang up and quickly Google,
"shooting in Chapel Hill."
03:37
One hit comes up.
03:41
Quote:
03:42
"Three people were shot
in the back of the head
03:44
and confirmed dead on the scene."
03:46
Something in me just knows.
03:48
I fling out of my chair and faint
onto the gritty hospital floor,
03:50
wailing.
03:53
I take the first red-eye
out of San Francisco,
03:55
numb and disoriented.
03:57
I walk into my childhood home
and faint into my parents' arms,
03:59
sobbing.
04:02
I then run up to Deah's room
as I did so many times before,
04:04
just looking for him,
04:07
only to find a void
that will never be filled.
04:09
Investigation and autopsy reports
eventually revealed
04:15
the sequence of events.
04:19
Deah had just gotten
off the bus from class,
04:22
Razan was visiting for dinner,
04:24
already at home with Yusor.
04:26
As they began to eat,
they heard a knock on the door.
04:28
When Deah opened it,
04:31
their neighbor proceeded
to fire multiple shots at him.
04:33
According to 911 calls,
04:38
the girls were heard screaming.
04:40
The man turned towards the kitchen
and fired a single shot into Yusor's hip,
04:43
immobilizing her.
04:47
He then approached her from behind,
04:48
pressed the barrel of his gun
against her head,
04:50
and with a single bullet,
lacerated her midbrain.
04:52
He then turned towards Razan,
who was screaming for her life,
04:56
and, execution-style, with a single bullet
04:59
to the back of the head,
05:03
killed her.
05:05
On his way out,
05:07
he shot Deah one last time --
a bullet in the mouth --
05:08
for a total of eight bullets:
05:12
two lodged in the head,
05:14
two in his chest
05:15
and the rest in his extremities.
05:17
Deah, Yusor and Razan were executed
05:21
in a place that was meant
to be safe: their home.
05:23
For months, this man
had been harassing them:
05:27
knocking on their door,
05:30
brandishing his gun
on a couple of occasions.
05:31
His Facebook was cluttered
anti-religion posts.
05:34
Yusor felt particularly threatened by him.
05:38
As she was moving in,
05:41
he told Yusor and her mom
that he didn't like the way they looked.
05:44
In response, Yusor's mom told her
to be kind to her neighbor,
05:48
that as he got to know them,
05:52
he'd see them for who they were.
05:53
I guess we've all become
so numb to the hatred
05:57
that we couldn't have ever imagined
it turning into fatal violence.
05:59
The man who murdered my brother
turned himself in to the police
06:05
shortly after the murders,
06:08
saying he killed three kids,
06:10
execution-style,
06:12
over a parking dispute.
06:14
The police issued a premature
public statement that morning,
06:17
echoing his claims
without bothering to question it
06:20
or further investigate.
06:22
It turns out there was no parking dispute.
06:24
There was no argument.
06:27
No violation.
06:29
But the damage was already done.
06:31
In a 24-hour media cycle,
06:33
the words "parking dispute" had already
become the go-to sound bite.
06:35
I sit on my brother's bed
and remember his words,
06:41
the words he gave me
so freely and with so much love,
06:44
"I am who I am because of you."
06:48
That's what it takes for me
to climb through my crippling grief
06:50
and speak out.
06:53
I cannot let my family's deaths
be diminished to a segment
06:55
that is barely discussed on local news.
06:57
They were murdered by their neighbor
because of their faith,
07:00
because of a piece of cloth
they chose to don on their heads,
07:04
because they were visibly Muslim.
07:07
Some of the rage I felt at the time
07:13
was that if roles were reversed,
07:15
and an Arab, Muslim
or Muslim-appearing person
07:17
had killed three white American
college students execution-style,
07:21
in their home,
07:26
what would we have called it?
07:27
A terrorist attack.
07:30
When white men commit
acts of violence in the US,
07:32
they're lone wolves,
07:35
mentally ill
07:36
or driven by a parking dispute.
07:37
I know that I have to give
my family voice,
07:43
and I do the only thing I know how:
07:45
I send a Facebook message
to everyone I know in media.
07:48
A couple of hours later,
07:53
in the midst of a chaotic house
overflowing with friends and family,
07:54
our neighbor Neal comes over,
sits down next to my parents
07:58
and asks, "What can I do?"
08:01
Neal had over two decades
of experience in journalism,
08:04
but he makes it clear that he's not
there in his capacity as journalist,
08:08
but as a neighbor who wants to help.
08:11
I ask him what he thinks we should do,
08:14
given the bombardment
of local media interview requests.
08:16
He offers to set up a press conference
at a local community center.
08:19
Even now I don't have
the words to thank him.
08:25
"Just tell me when, and I'll have
all the news channels present," he said.
08:28
He did for us what we
could not do for ourselves
08:32
in a moment of devastation.
08:35
I delivered the press statement,
08:37
still wearing scrubs
from the previous night.
08:39
And in under 24 hours from the murders,
08:41
I'm on CNN being interviewed
by Anderson Cooper.
08:43
The following day, major newspapers --
08:47
including the New York Times,
Chicago Tribune --
08:48
published stories about Deah,
Yusor and Razan,
08:51
allowing us to reclaim the narrative
08:54
and call attention the mainstreaming
of anti-Muslim hatred.
08:56
These days,
09:03
it feels like Islamophobia
is a socially acceptable form of bigotry.
09:04
We just have to put up with it and smile.
09:09
The nasty stares,
09:12
the palpable fear when boarding a plane,
09:14
the random pat downs at airports
that happen 99 percent of the time.
09:16
It doesn't stop there.
09:22
We have politicians reaping political
and financial gains off our backs.
09:24
Here in the US,
09:28
we have presidential candidates
like Donald Trump,
09:29
casually calling to register
American Muslims,
09:31
and ban Muslim immigrants and refugees
from entering this country.
09:34
It is no coincidence that hate crimes rise
09:38
in parallel with election cycles.
09:41
Just a couple months ago, Khalid Jabara,
09:46
a Lebanese-American Christian,
09:49
was murdered in Oklahoma
by his neighbor --
09:50
a man who called him a "filthy Arab."
09:53
This man was previously jailed
for a mere 8 months,
09:56
after attempting run over
Khalid's mother with his car.
09:59
Chances are you haven't heard
Khalid's story,
10:03
because it didn't make it
to national news.
10:06
The least we can do is call it what it is:
10:09
a hate crime.
10:12
The least we can do is talk about it,
10:13
because violence and hatred
doesn't just happen in a vacuum.
10:16
Not long after coming back to work,
10:23
I'm the senior on rounds in the hospital,
10:25
when one of my patients
looks over at my colleague,
10:27
gestures around her face
and says, "San Bernardino,"
10:30
referencing a recent terrorist attack.
10:33
Here I am having just lost three
family members to Islamophobia,
10:36
having been a vocal advocate
within my program
10:40
on how to deal with such microaggressions,
10:42
and yet --
10:44
silence.
10:45
I was disheartened.
10:47
Humiliated.
10:49
Days later rounding on the same patient,
10:51
she looks at me and says,
10:53
"Your people are killing
people in Los Angeles."
10:54
I look around expectantly.
10:59
Again:
11:01
silence.
11:02
I realize that yet again,
11:04
I have to speak up for myself.
11:06
I sit on her bed and gently ask her,
11:09
"Have I ever done anything
but treat you with respect and kindness?
11:12
Have I done anything but give
you compassionate care?"
11:17
She looks down and realizes
what she said was wrong,
11:21
and in front of the entire team,
11:23
she apologizes and says,
11:25
"I should know better.
I'm Mexican-American.
11:26
I receive this kind
of treatment all the time."
11:29
Many of us experience
microaggressions on a daily basis.
11:35
Odds are you may have experienced it,
11:39
whether for your race,
11:41
gender,
11:42
sexuality
11:44
or religious beliefs.
11:45
We've all been in situations
where we've witnessed something wrong
11:46
and didn't speak up.
11:49
Maybe we weren't equipped
with the tools to respond in the moment.
11:51
Maybe we weren't even aware
of our own implicit biases.
11:54
We can all agree that bigotry
is unacceptable,
11:59
but when we see it,
12:02
we're silent,
12:03
because it makes us uncomfortable.
12:05
But stepping right into that discomfort
12:07
means you are also stepping
into the ally zone.
12:10
There may be over three million
Muslims in America.
12:13
That's still just one percent
of the total population.
12:16
Martin Luther King once said,
12:20
"In the end,
12:22
we will remember not
the words of our enemies,
12:23
but the silence of our friends."
12:27
So what made my neighbor
Neal's allyship so profound?
12:33
A couple of things.
12:37
He was there as a neighbor who cared,
12:39
but he was also bringing in
his professional expertise and resources
12:41
when the moment called for it.
12:44
Others have done the same.
12:46
Larycia Hawkins drew on her platform
12:49
as the first tenured African-American
professor at Wheaton College
12:51
to wear a hijab in solidarity
12:55
with Muslim women who face
discrimination every day.
12:56
As a result, she lost her job.
13:00
Within a month,
13:03
she joined the faculty
at the University of Virginia,
13:04
where she now works on pluralism,
race, faith and culture.
13:07
Reddit cofounder, Alexis Ohanian,
13:12
demonstrated that not all active
allyship needs to be so serious.
13:14
He stepped up to support
a 15-year-old Muslim girl's mission
13:19
to introduce a hijab emoji.
13:21
(Laughter)
13:24
It's a simple gesture,
13:26
but it has a significant
subconscious impact
13:27
on normalizing and humanizing Muslims,
13:30
including the community
as a part of an "us"
13:33
instead of an "other."
13:36
The editor in chief
of Women's Running magazine
13:39
just put the first hijabi to ever be
on the cover of a US fitness magazine.
13:41
These are all very different examples
13:47
of people who drew upon
their platforms and resources
13:48
in academia, tech and media,
13:51
to actively express their allyship.
13:54
What resources and expertise
do you bring to the table?
13:57
Are you willing to step
into your discomfort
14:01
and speak up when you witness
hateful bigotry?
14:03
Will you be Neal?
14:06
Many neighbors appeared in this story.
14:09
And you, in your respective communities,
all have a Muslim neighbor,
14:11
colleague
14:15
or friend your child plays with at school.
14:16
Reach out to them.
14:18
Let them know you stand
with them in solidarity.
14:20
It may feel really small,
14:23
but I promise you it makes a difference.
14:24
Nothing will ever bring back
Deah, Yusor and Razan.
14:29
But when we raise our collective voices,
14:33
that is when we stop the hate.
14:36
Thank you.
14:38
(Applause)
14:39

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About the speaker:

Suzanne Barakat - Physician
With a voice amplified by unthinkable personal tragedy, Suzanne Barakat speaks out against bigotry and violence against those society deems "different."

Why you should listen

On February 10, 2015, San Francisco doctor Suzanne Barakat received shattering news -- that her brother, Deah Barakat, his wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and her sister Razan, had been shot and killed in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. In spite of the noncommittal reaction of the police, Barakat recognized the shooting for what it really was -- a hate crime.

Since then, Barakat's mission has been to counter Islamophobia with her message of inclusivity, while sounding the alarm that unless we can stem the tide of hate, anyone who society marginalizes as “other” faces an increased risk of violence.

More profile about the speaker
Suzanne Barakat | Speaker | TED.com