Over the weekend, I was saddened by the tragic death of Muhammad Anwar, a 66-year-old grandfather killed during a carjacking last week in Washington, D.C., and heartened to see how the crime united Americans of diverse political backgrounds to mourn the loss of a Pakistani Muslim immigrant who came to the US in 2014 seeking a better life for his family. A GoFundMe page setup to help Anwar’s widower and family has since raised nearly $1 million with people from all over America contributing money.
I hoped that his death had inspired a moment of genuine empathy that allowed us to reflect on our shared humanity, regardless of the victim’s ethnicity or religion. Could this moment invite us all to be decent?
Unfortunately, my optimism would not be rewarded.
I admit I was initially skeptical when I saw “Muhammad Anwar” trend largely due to right-wing personalities and outlets. They expressed shock and concern over his killing and also shared the gruesome video revealing how two girls, ages 13 and 15, who have since been charged with felony murder and armed carjacking, took control of his car as he was still hanging on to the vehicle, sped off and crashed, resulting in severe injuries that later killed him.
I kept quiet over the weekend because I wanted to believe people would not exploit the death of this man and his family’s immense grief to engage in hypocritical and ugly “whataboutism” to distract from systemic white supremacist violence, or exploit his death and identity as a “hardworking immigrant” as a cudgel against Black Americans. Surely, nobody would be so nakedly disgusting to use a dead man and his grieving family to advance their politics of cruelty and racism, right?
And then Monday arrived.
Ben Shapiro, “the voice of the conservative millennial,” tweeted the following on the first day of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s trial, where he faces three charges for killing Floyd: “Barely anyone has heard of Mohammad Anwar, but everyone in America has heard of George Floyd. There’s a reason for that.”
Well, the reason for that is because the case is one of the most well-known instances of the police brutality that has consistently and historically terrorized Black and brown communities. The death of George Floyd, one of many Black victims of police violence, inspired some of the largest protests in U.S. history in the summer of 2020, which were overwhelmingly peaceful, but nonetheless called “acts of domestic terror” by President Trump and described by Shapiro as “the essence of tyranny.”
It’s odd that Shapiro now suddenly cares so much about the death of Anwar, a Pakistani Muslim immigrant, considering he was once the editor-at-large of Breitbart, a “platform for the alt-right” and a bastion of xenophobia. Maybe he’s had a change of heart, and if so, that’s great, but has he come around on, let alone apologized for, his own pronounced history of Islamophobia and his support for the Muslim Ban that negatively impacted so many Muslim immigrants and their families?
What’s different about Muhammad Anwar?
Thankfully, Tucker Carlson used his primetime Fox News show and column space to provide a fuller picture for the bait and switch. He’s also deeply concerned, though not so much about Anwar as about why nobody else supposedly cares about him and his tragic death. In a lengthy screed, Carlson decried how “no one on CNN actually cares about George Floyd now. What they care about is you and your role in the systematic racism that supposedly kills George Floyd… That's why they're replaying that video of George Floyd dying in the sidewalk, to remind you of your culpability in his death. That's why, even as they rub the country's face in the death of George Floyd, there are many other tragic deaths — some on video — they ignore completely.”
Cue Muhammad Anwar. Carlson never answers why it's OK for a police officer to kneel on a Black man’s neck for over nine minutes, as he’s begging for life, and choke him to death.
Carlson, who’s apparently pro life, spends no time in his column asking such relevant questions or expressing concern for Floyd’s death, but instead uses Anwar’s death as a springboard for his usual conservative talking points about urban crime in liberal cities, citing Baltimore, Chicago, and Minneapolis, which conveniently all have large Black populations. He finishes off his white nationalist fearmongering Bingo card by mentioning the out-of-wedlock birth rates of African American women in these communities and asking, “Why is no one interested in pursuing that?” Tucker doesn’t pursue it, provide any context, or call for greater investment in health care, economic opportunities or security that would uplift and help these children and their families who are victims of poverty, systemic racism and neglect.
I’m reminded how all of these right-wing fear merchants doubled down and supported Trump when he referred to immigrants in caravans as “invaders.” Carlson, whose show is beloved by white nationalists for mainstreaming their talking points, once said immigrants of color make America “poorer and dirtier.” This entire right-wing ecosystem lined up to support the Muslim Ban and the useless border wall, which remains unbuilt. They were fine with Trump saying immigrants of color come from “shithole countries.” They nodded along when Trump said Muslims belong to a religion that “hates us.”
While I’m asked to believe that these same individuals now care about Anwar and his family, we are also witnessing the world’s worst cosplay as bloated, middle-aged Republican senators are dressing up as rejects from Duck Dynasty on armored patrol boats to go “investigate” the conditions at the border. Senator Ted Cruz, who apparently loves getting away from his constituents in Texas as often as he can, said he wants to expose kids being held in “Biden cages,” but he along with the rest of the Republican F Troop applauded Trump and Stephen Miller’s zero tolerance policy that forcibly separated immigrant children from their families at the border and kept them in cages. Fox News host Laura Ingraham said the child detention centers were “essentially summer camps” when Trump was president.
What changed? I wonder.
Allow me to extend an olive branch. I don’t know people’s intentions or what’s in their hearts. Let’s suppose that all of these individuals truly care about Muhammad Anwar and immigrants and people of color like him who are the tragic victims of violence and cruelty. If that is indeed the case, then let me invite them to expand their circle of concern and exercise their generosity and show that they mean it when they say “all lives matter.” If they’re truly for saving and protecting all lives, then here’s a chance to prove it.
They can join the majority of Americans who are appalled by police brutality against Black and brown communities and demand justice for George Floyd and victims of police violence. You can help end qualified immunity for police and allow for accountability and reform so communities around America feel safer. If they truly believe blue lives matter, they can aggressively pursue investigations and convictions around the Jan. 6 insurrection that killed officer Brian Sicknick. If they’re truly worried about violence in American cities, then they can join the majority of Americans who want gun reform now and help remove assault rifles from the streets and dangerous weapons from the hands of irresponsible and violent individuals.
If they care about immigrants, then they can start by uplifting Dreamers and give them a pathway towards legal status. They can stop using “China virus” and “Kung Flu” to refer to the coronavirus and proactively work with Asian American communities and leaders to push back against the disturbing rise in anti-AAPI hate. They can call out Republican elected officials for supporting white supremacists and promoting rampant Islamophobia, especially against their own colleagues, congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib.
If they truly care about Muhammad Anwar, immigrants, and the communities they represent, they can step up and show it instead of using his killing to attack Black communities and launder white supremacy.
If not, the least they can do is stop pretending that they actually care.