NPR's Mary Louise Kelly talks with professor Khaled Beydoun of the University of Arkansas about his Twitter project chronicling the lives of people killed in the Christchurch, New Zealand, shootings.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
In Christchurch, New Zealand, authorities are working to identify victims and return their remains to grieving families. Then the bodies will be prepared for burial. For families that pray at the two mosques where a gunman killed 50 people, their houses of worship are still crime scenes. We are now learning more about the individual victims of last week's attack in part because of the work of Khaled Beydoun. He has been compiling their stories on Twitter - little portraits with help from their families and friends.
Beydoun is a professor at the University of Arkansas. I asked him, share with us one story, one person. He told me about Hosne Ara Parvin. She was 44 and married.
KHALED BEYDOUN: And her husband was bound to a wheelchair. They, too, were praying in Christchurch on that very day. And then she had noticed during the chaos that the terrorist was aiming at her husband. And she leapt in front of her husband and absorbed the gunshots, you know, sacrificing her life in order to save his.
KELLY: And he lived, the husband.
BEYDOUN: And he lived.
KELLY: Is there another story that you were particularly moved by?
BEYDOUN: Yeah, there were several. There was a young Somali child by the name of Mucaad Ibrahim who was praying at the Al Noor Mosque with his older brother Abdi. Their parents came as immigrants from Somalia. This really beautiful, wide-eyed, bright child - his siblings would talk about how playful he was, how energetic he was. People at the mosque referred to him as (laughter), you know, an old soul. He was only 3 years old. And to think about somebody that young being taken by this terrorist is just, you know, really chilling.
One thing I want to mention is, thinking about whether to watch the video that terrorist posted - you know, part of me was thinking, should I go ahead and watch it to get a better understanding of what these victims had endured? And then when I was piecing together these profiles, it was just way too much for me. I didn't want to see them getting killed.
KELLY: So you started working on this on the same day as the attacks, March 15.
KELLY: You wrote on Twitter - and I'll quote - "I don't know the terrorist's name, nor do I care to know it. I'm keen on knowing the names, remembering the stories and celebrating the lives of the victims." And I was so struck by that because it's something we all, I think, think about whenever there is some atrocity committed - is that we should be talking more about the victims than the perpetrator. You actually went and did something about it. Why?
BEYDOUN: You know, I'm a scholar on issues pertaining to Muslim-Americans, the war on terror. I came to understand that, you know, part of Islamophobia - I think a critical dimension of Islamophobia is this tendency or phenomenon to view Muslim victims or Muslim victimhood at large in, you know, kind of monolithic terms. We're not putting faces, not putting names, not putting stories to who they are. So what I wanted to do in that very moment was to fight against that.
KELLY: I'm curious what you have learned from this project, from this work.
BEYDOUN: I think one thing I've learned is that there's a real curiosity on the part of real people, whether it be in social media spaces, whether it be on the ground, to know who the victims of these attacks are. And I think that the presumption by mainstream media outlets who tend to fixate on the terrorists is that they don't care. And they specifically don't care when the victims are Muslims. But the fact that these profiles are being read globally and have been translated into several languages tells me otherwise and tells me that this presumption that nobody cares and nobody wants to know about Muslim victims is not true.
KELLY: Yeah. I love - you've given little nicknames to a lot of the people who you're remembering. You called one The Hero and another a Patriot and another The Gentle Soul. It sounds as though this is personal for you, and you're also allowing the rest of us to react to these people as real people.
BEYDOUN: I want readers to get to know these victims in the same way that I got to know them in the process of piecing together their stories. And you know, nicknames are just a way to show that these people had real hobbies, jobs, families, friends. The Patriot, Atta Elayyan, who was a Palestinian-New Zealander, played for the World Cup-qualifying team. He was a goaltender. These people were individuals who, you know, had passions and dreams, loved ones. And whatever fact I could dig up was in the spirit of, you know, putting flesh and putting face on who they were.
KELLY: Professor Khaled Beydoun - he is author of the book "American Islamophobia: Understanding The Roots And Rise Of Fear." Thank you so much.
BEYDOUN: Thank you so much.