On Feb. 10, three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, were shot and killed. While the motive remains unclear, there is ample belief and justification to say that the attack was motivated at least in part by their religion, if not entirely so.
The story initially received little notice on the major news broadcasting networks, even as it spread on the Internet. Social media spread the news, and rightly so: The country must hear about these kinds of crimes in order to openly discuss and confront them.
The same Tuesday evening of the killings, our ASUC External Affairs Vice President Caitlin Quinn was tweeting about it. Our EAVP was one of the many individuals discussing it before it reached the major news networks, and she even retweeted, “If not for Twitter, we wouldn’t have heard of this…” The fact that our EAVP was quick to react and post about the issue is reassuring in a sense, but it makes me feel troubled as well: Sometimes quick reactions and assumptions may perpetuate mistakes or myths, and sometimes attention is not fairly apportioned where it matters. I’d like to point out the latter, which is my real concern.
Consider now that Quinn’s Twitter feed shows the following: Three tweets or retweets on Chapel Hill shootings Feb. 10, seven tweets or retweets on the Chapel Hill shootings Feb. 11 and one more tweet on the Chapel Hill shootings Feb. 12.
This was fantastic. Attention was brought, an open letter to the UC Berkeley community was published in The Daily Californian by Feb. 12, and the school saw and, was seen, acknowledging the attack. A vigil was even held, and many attended, hopefully giving the Muslim students at UC Berkeley a sense that they are not alone in their grief and fear.
The problem I see, though, is that Chapel Hill has received more attention from our EAVP than other crimes perpetuated by religious intolerance. It is the job of our EAVP to be well versed in events occurring outside of the campus and, as a representative to other campuses, should lead the way in publicizing news that is potentially very significant to the student body. While our EAVP tweeted 11 times about Chapel Hill, 10 times in the first two days after it happened, the most recent attack on Jews in Copenhagen, Denmark, went unmentioned on her Twitter. Even the ASUC EAVP Twitter account mentioned Chapel Hill.
On Feb. 14, a man fired on the Krudttonden cafe during a debate called “art, blasphemy and the freedom of expression.” A film director, 55, was killed. A few hours later, the same suspect reportedly opened fire on a synagogue, killing a Jewish volunteer guard and wounding two policemen outside a bat mitzvah. The guests inside said they were forced to hide in the basement for two hours before being escorted out under heavy guard. The gunman was killed.
In this particular instance, however, the silence has been deafening. Our EAVP has not put out a single tweet on the topic.
Unfortunately, this is just part of a wider trend in which attacks on Jews are ignored by campus communities. Quinn retweeted about the attack on Jan. 7, when 12 staff members of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo were killed. Between Jan. 7 and Jan. 9, however, Quinn tweeted or retweeted only three remarks on the attack at Charlie Hebdo. Most were of the sort that either criticized Hebdo’s version of (insulting) satire or pointed out the suffering of Muslims — a fair decision, but perhaps tactless in retrospect given that the Copenhagen attack went entirely unmentioned by Quinn.
Our EAVP did not tweet at all about the hostages taken Jan. 9 in a kosher grocery store. The gunman there killed four hostages before being killed by police. In a phone call with local French media, the gunman reportedly admitted that the attack was anti-Semitic, saying, “I have 16 hostages and I have killed four and I targeted them because they were Jewish.”
What should also be mentioned is that this is not merely because international incidents do not get reported on by the EAVP. Anti-Semitism has hit close to home on the UC campuses in recent years, and UC Davis saw the most recent incident Jan. 31, when swastikas were drawn on the house of the Jewish fraternity, Alpha Epsilon Pi. This received no attention from Quinn on Twitter. When in Wisconsin, 30 homes were defaced with swastikas and other hateful symbols and words Feb. 13, there was no mention from Quinn. These are national incidents, not international. Despite how close to home UC Davis is, there was little mention by our EAVP.
I do not believe, for the record, that there need be a comparison between anti-Semitic hate crimes and Islamophobic ones. I do not believe, for the record, that Jewish concerns are the only ones that deserve more attention, as I prefer that all get the attention they deserve to ensure that all narratives are heard. I ask only that students, like those who have seen a swastika drawn on a Jewish fraternity house only an hour away on another UC campus, have their narrative mentioned by student representatives as well.
I can only hope that with attention brought to this, our community attempts to pay closer attention to affairs both close to home and worldwide, especially when they affect the entire campus community. I can only hope that we lament the loss of all lives to hate and that every student gets to have their narrative heard without being disparaged. Some Jewish students feel extraordinarily marginalized and uncomfortable, and the fact that attacks on Jewish populations around the world are going unmentioned by our EAVP is a travesty to those of us whose suffering then gets ignored.
All our narratives should be heard, and I hope our representatives and wider community ensure that happens. The senate bill passed against anti-Semitism on our campus will hopefully inspire the discussion that needs to happen, and I hope that our elected officials continue to mirror that step in the right direction.
Or-el Vaknin is a transfer student in his second year at UC Berkeley.