Chapel Hill Tragedy

On Tuesday the 10th of February three Muslims were victims of a nefarious murder carried out by a man in North Carolina. Some are adamant the attack was motivated by Anti-Muslim prejudice, while others insist their faith had nothing to do with the murder.

The three victims of this repellent crime were students brimming with exuberance and optimism. Two of the victims got married mere weeks prior to their death. Deah Barakat was an altruistic man who was a purveyor of peace and was dedicated to philanthropic work; he participated in an effort to supply free dental supplies and food to homeless victims at the end of January and arranged to travel to Turkey to provide dental care to Syrian refugees in the summer. His wife, Yusor was benevolent and travelled abroad to Turkey to distribute dental supplies, she also had aspirations to become a dentist and intended to enrol at the same university attended by her husband later this year. The third victim, her sister Razan was only 19 years old and she was attending college too.
The odious perpetrator, a Caucasian middle-aged man had ties to anti-theism which has led to the suspicion that an aversion to their faith contributed to the killing. He also published pictures of his weapons and was a fervent guns right advocate.

There has been an abundance of speculation surrounding the motive of the assailant, with the local police claiming preliminary investigations indicate that it was regarding a parking dispute, but also refusing to rule out the possibility that prejudice contributed. The family of the victims repudiated this though by vehemently asserting that parking had nothing to do with it and that it was a hate crime. They also revealed that they had encountered problems with the man before, he intimidated his daughters by holding a firearm, when he accosted them in November over frivolous noise. A friend of Yusor corroborated the claim and wrote about the tragedy, detailing the incident. A report from the Washington Post casts doubt on the claim the killing was motivated by a parking issue, it references local citizens of the area expressing incredulity that it would be regarding parking because spaces are profuse in the area. The style of killing also undermines the theory that a parking dispute prompted the killing – perhaps if he reflexively discharged his gun and killed one person there’d be some credence to it but this was more reminiscent of a calculated execution – he entered their home forcefully and the three victims all died due to a gunshot wound to the head. I’m more inclined to believe the relatives of the victims opposed to the killer who has a vested interest in convincing the prosecutors it wasn’t a hate crime. You’d think avowed rationalists would treat a very suspect claim with a degree of scepticism but apparently not. Accepting that theory at face value is either 1. Indicative of credulity or 2. An internal bias desiring to trivialise the scourge of anti-Muslim prejudice within society. The reluctance of many to even consider the possibility that prejudice towards the Muslim community may have been a factor in the tragedy is very telling.

A vigil where members of the community show their condolences to the family of the victims:


Early on Wednesday morning criticism percolated on social media that none of the US media outlets were covering this crime and several were indignant. Eventually the media establishment began reporting on the calamity but the perception that the media were reporting differently than if it was committed by a Muslim lingered; it’s a view grounded in reason. If you were to switch the identifies around, the killer being a Muslim and the victims being white it would be reported on a much larger scale with considerably more analysis and scrutiny. There would be immediate claims of terrorism, the tenuous claim that a parking dispute would cause such a killing would be taken with a pinch of salt and there would be extensive speculation that the faith of the attacker contributed to the attack, whereas the premise that a society replete with anti-Muslim prejudice may have aided in this attack received little airtime. You also wouldn’t see the spouse of the assailant so soon after the attack summoned onto national TV to give her account of the tragedy which diverges from that of the relatives of the families. In December a 15 year old Muslim boy was murdered in a hit and run and the police concluded that it was indisputably deliberate. It received relatively little coverage nor did it lead to any indictments of a culture where prejudice towards Muslims is commonplace. The media’s response to both calamities illustrated better than anyone could the preconceptions which determine how a tragedy is reported on, depending on the ethnicity of the victims and perpetrators.

Moustafa Bayoumi of the Intercept lucidly conveys the bias embedded within the media

What’s infuriating about the murder of the three young people in North Carolina is not only their tragic deaths, but also the speed by which the motive of the shooter has been labeled a “parking dispute” by the authorities and the press, as if that explains anything and as if a hate crime or a political crime could not also have a catalyzing event. The question is not whether this was either a hate crime or parking rage. It can be both. By all accounts, the shooter was always the belligerent one here, and yet the word “dispute” also suggests that the two parties were locked in conflict, as if responsibility is shared. That’s completely ridiculous and duplicitous, and other marginalized groups — LGBT communities, women, African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, the poor, and so many more — will recognize the reflex immediately for what it is: a way to displace and justify the violence of the dominant group onto the weaker.

Attributing this violent atrocity to his atheism would be a fallacy, since atheism has no doctrine of any kind and laying blame on the atheistic community would be abhorrent in a similar manner to the repetitive claim that Muslims are in someway responsible for violent extremism committed in the name of their religion, but exploring the idea that a climate of anti-Muslim prejudice may have facilitated the attack is one worth investigating. To me, the most plausible theory is that this was a man susceptible to extreme forms of anger with a virulent strain of Anti-Muslim prejudice to boot, resulting in him dehumanising the victims and precipitating the attack, with the parking dispute offering a convenient pretext to escape the charge of a hate crime. Chris Stedman of director of Yale humanists said atheists need to address the anti-Muslim prejudice in their community regardless of the motive of the attack and Richard Dawkins condemned the killing adding that “3 lovely people, senselessly deprived of their good life”. Muslims are a stigmatised group in society and the discrimination they face is well documented, several people are acutely aware there are many who harbour prejudice towards them and that’s why there’s a responsibility of those with leverage to discuss complex issues with tact, to reinforce this point, Cathy Newman a British journalist posted a falsehood about a Mosque in England recently, which she later recanted and apologised for, but the consequence of that was invective abuse being spewed at members of the Mosque and other Muslims.

Graph demonstrating the proliferation in Anti-Muslim hate crime following 9-11


Prejudice takes many forms and needless to say no one is immune to it, regardless of political ideology, that’s why it’s paramount we remain self-aware at all times, because prejudice is often subliminal and pernicious. Bigotry towards Muslims doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it is fomented by western media, and western intellectuals and persists because there isn’t an adequate disavowal of it. When someone raises the concern that your views may be detrimental to minorities and may embolden bigots, it’s a concern worth heeding, not one that should just be arrogantly dismissed. 9-11 ushered in an era where vitriolic abuse and demonisation of Muslims became more palatable than abuse of other minorities; it goes without saying that it’s a grotesque type of collective punishment where average Muslims who have no ties whatsoever to violent extremists are being negatively impacted. It’s well overdue that the systemic discrimination of Muslim people throughout America and Europe is confronted by society.