By now, many of you will have no doubt heard of the shootings that occurred near UNC Chapel Hill. The facts surrounding the murders are still sparse, but we do know that Craig Stephen Hicks has surrendered to authorities after confessing to the slayings of Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha, and Razan Abu-Salha. Authorities are still trying to determine if this despicable act meets the formal definition of a “hate crime, ” and the extent to which the murder of these individuals was motivated by Craig Hick’s views toward their Muslim Faith.
However, what is already apparent in the media coverage of this event is the inherent bias against individuals of the Muslim faith. In many cases racism, xenophobia, and islamophobia intertwine to tragic consequences.
First, take a moment and consider what the headlines would be if the situation were reversed. Craig Hick’s Facebook account contained several posts indicating that he was a radical atheist. What would the headlines be if someone espousing a radical form of Islam murdered three atheists? Many news outlets are calling for restraint before “jumping to conclusions” that these killings were motivated by religion or hate, but did you see any such restraint exercised in the recent shootings in Denmark, the coverage of the Boston marathon bombings, or any other event in which a Muslim is the perpetrator? Fox News was so eager to reinforce the narrative of violent Islam that they recently admitted to fabricating stories about “no-go zones” where Sharia law is so violently imposed that police can no longer even enter the area.
Take a second and examine the media coverage of the attack for yourself. Notice that Hicks is usually identified by his name or as a “man”, whereas his victims are usually identified as “Muslims” or “Muslim students.” He is described as an individual who is an atheist or holds atheist beliefs. Notice there are no descriptions of “atheist extremists.” There are no calls for leaders of the white atheist community to condemn the attacks. There are no calls for background checks to limit the access of white atheists to guns and ammunition.
There are two possibilities. The first is that Hicks deliberately murdered these students explicitly because they were Muslim, which would fit with the formal definition of a hate crime. The alternative is that this shooting occurred because of a “parking dispute,” and that Hick’s actions were “not related to race or religion” as his wife claims. However, in this case, it is still very likely that they were a direct result of the otherizing and islomophobia that is rampant in our society. We don’t shoot people, particularly people we identify with and feel empathy for, over a “parking dispute.”