I came across an article today on Tumblr that discusses the events of Chapel Hill, NC on February 13th, 2015. The article is titled “The toxic hate behind the Chapel Hill shooting“, and it’s written by The People’s Record. This article serves as a good platform for me to elaborate on my previous post concerning this topic. That post was written in less than 15 minutes, and as such lends little credence to the overall point that I was trying to make. This post seeks to correct that issue. Still, the post that I will be critiquing here follows along the same notion that I brought up in my previous post, and further brings up the importance of language, a common theme in my work.
That being said, I’ll quote the parts I have the most contention with so that I may give my rebuttal, however I encourage you to read the whole article (linked above) for the sake of simply understanding the whole of debate currently raging on.
The author states:
“After the tide of racism and Islamophobia that has washed over the U.S. during the “war on terror” years after September 11, it’s impossible to believe that this “anti-theist” rant was directed at all religions equally.”
But Hicks’ strident beliefs dovetail with the rise of the so-called “New Atheist movement” that has gained attention since 9/11. Figures like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, pundit/comedian Bill Maher and the late Christopher Hitchens have used the cover of criticizing all religious thought to target Islam and Muslims as uniquely intolerant, backward and violent.
It’s not impossible to believe that this could have been about parking. There are plenty of anti-thesists out there, and ones that would not murder someone. There are plenty of atheists out there that would not murder someone. It is also not impossible to believe that his rant was directed at all religions equally – although this is misleading to some degree when his main contention with radial religious individuals had to do with Christianity and Islam. So really, he was an equal opportunist against radical religious fundamentalism.
Other posts that I have come across have also elaborated that this is most certainly a hate crime.
Hate Crimes are defined by the FBI as:
A hate crime is a traditional offense like murder, arson, or vandalism with an added element of bias. For the purposes of collecting statistics, Congress has defined a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.” Hate itself is not a crime—and the FBI is mindful of protecting freedom of speech and other civil liberties.
It is important that advocates for social justice don’t fall into the habit of automatically assuming, alleging, or socially persecuting someone who murders another person of a different race, religion, or sexual orientation, as being a hate crime. This seems to be a trend among my colleagues and allies in the long battle towards equality – and I encourage those to take a long hard look before making conclusions. When dissent becomes misconstrued as hatred, or bigotry, all avenues for reformation cease, and we’ve come to far to undermine our success with that kind of failure.
Quoting Philip Gourevitch from the his post in The New Yorker:
Far more Americans are killed each year by the shooters in our midst like Craig Stephen Hicks than have ever been killed by all the jihadist terrorist outfits that have ever stalked this earth. That’s the price, or so the rhetoric goes, of our wild freedom. But maybe to understand the Chapel Hill murders better we need to imagine how it would be playing out if it were the other way around—if some gun-toting Muslim, with a habit of posting hate messages about secular humanists, took it upon himself to execute a defenseless family of them in their home.
But that is exactly the difference between Gourevitch’s hypothetical situation, and this case: Hicks was not posting, or running around blaspheming and railing against Islam specifically – he was an equal opportunist when it came to religion. Even so, I’ve heard very little about his actual beliefs specific to Islam. I have heard plenty about his apparent distaste for all religion – which diminishes the notion that he was Islamaphobic. Maybe he was religiphobic. Even so, none of the posts circulating the internet right now point towards an apparent hatred, as opposed a strong dissent, disagreement, and opposition to religion. His level of opposition to religion does not appear to be too far off from the level of opposition among our two primary political parties.
Maybe his anti-theistic worldview exacerbated his reasoning to extreme levels, but that does not make him outwardly, or specifically islamaphobic. If we are to go that route, we should also assume that he is also Judeophobic, or an Anti-Semite, Christianophobic, or Hinduphobic. But we cannot assume these things because that risks, and indeed creates a false generalization, that all people who disagree with, or are opposed to religion must be bigoted, or racist.
This brings me to an important point on the word islamaphobia, and the various issues with this word. So, what is Islamaphobia, anyway? Steve Rose posted on his Twitter account that “Craig Hicks used his Facebook to deny Islamaphobia exists” and posted a picture that Hicks had posted, shown below:
The problem with Mr. Rose’s statement is that the meme is structured on an ongoing analysis on the term “islamaphobia”. It isn’t just Mr. Hicks, or so called New Atheists that presumably reject this term, it happens to be a great number of academics that reject it as well. For one thing, the term is used to refer to the hostility directed towards Muslims. The term has apparent roots spanning almost 100 years, but the current use of the word seems to stem from a 1997 Runnymede report. The individual who edited that report, Robin Richardson, however, has since clarified the use of the word, and highlighted several reasons why it is a poor word to use with the specific meaning for which it is used for. Richardson’s clarified definition can be quoted as:
A shorthand term referring to a multifaceted mix of discourse, behaviour and structures which express and perpetuate feelings of anxiety, fear, hostility and rejection towards Muslims, particularly but not only in countries where people of Muslim heritage live as minorities.
Some of the issues mentioned by Richardson are that phobia is a medical term that refers to a mental illness, and to refer to someone for whom you disagree with as being insane, or irrational, only serves to shut down what could have been a legitimate conversation. Doing so also divests the individual from the responsibility of understanding any alternate viewpoints. Richardson makes clear in his seventh point that islamaphobia is an inappropriate term when describing opinions that are in essence anti-religious. A person who is anti-religious (anti-theist) is not therefore islamaphobic. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re solely anti-Islamic, or solely anti-Christian. We cannot interweave opposition as being distinctly similar to, drive to or somehow connected to hatred simply because opposition and dissent exists.
To be anti-religious is not to be anti-Islam, and a natural progression from there, is that to be anti-Islam is not to be anti-Muslim. One can, reasonably, object to Christianity, or Islam, without objecting to Christians and Muslims.
Indeed, Islam, is a set of principles and ideas, similar to that of Christianity. To be a Muslim, is to follow the tenets of Islam. The distinction is necessary because when an individual, or an atheist, critiques the tenets of religion, that does not automatically make them hostile, or even necessary opposed to the followers of those religions. Following this same line of reasoning, are we to believe that conservatives are ‘liberalophobic’ or that liberals are ‘conservatiphobic’? Absolutely not, because it is not the individuals that are being criticized, indeed, it is their beliefs, or belief systems. Mr. Hicks critiqued religion as a whole, not the people who followed those religions. That does not make him racist.
So the meme shown above by Mr. Rose goes to highlight a consistent them among individuals who take every opportunity to demean individuals like Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins.
That all having been said, no evidence has been shown to suggest that he was Islamaphobic (based on the clarified definition above). Yes: the father has pointed out that they were harassed, and felt threatened by him. Yes: he was an anti-theist. Yes: he posted things on his Facebook page such as this often quoted bit:
I give your religion as much respect as your religion gives me. There’s nothing complicated about it, and I have every right to insult a religion that goes out of its way to insult, to judge, and to condemn me as an inadequate human being—which your religion does with self-righteous gusto…
If your religion kept its big mouth shut, so would I. But given that it doesn’t, and given the enormous harm that your religion has done in this world, I’d say that I have not only a right, but a duty, to insult it, as does every rational, thinking person on this planet.
But even this quote gives no indication that he’s violent, or that he was targeting Muslims, or even Islam specifically. It just sounds like a typical individual making a typical argument against religion. There are no calls for violence, only insults. In fact, it would seem that Mr. Hicks was far more opposed to right wing Chrisitans, calling them hypocrites when news broke about a mosque being built near Ground Zero. For more elaboration on what Hicks’ beliefs were, please read Michael Nugent’s piece here.
The three biggest reasons why people are assuming that he’s islamaphobic is that: 1) He killed three Muslims, 2) because of a tweet and a rant by relatives, and 3) because he was anti-theistic, a topic I have already covered.
Dr. Mohammad Abu-Salha, the father of Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, stated:
‘It was execution style, a bullet in every head…This was not a dispute over a parking space; this was a hate crime. This man had picked on my daughter and her husband a couple of times before, and he talked with them with his gun in his belt. And they were uncomfortable with him, but they did not know he would go this far.’
and Haya Barakat, the cousin of Deah Shaddy Barakat stated:
“My cousin, his wife and sister in law were murdered for being muslim. Someone tell me racism/hate crimes don’t exist. #MuslimLivesMatter”
Reports from relatives, and an old roommate indicate that he would talk to them with a gun. Even so, other neighbors have indicated that he was just an intimating bully, and at one point held a secret meeting to decide what to do with him – because he was just scary. This points even further to the idea that the victims’ religion had little or nothing to do with the fact that they were targeted. To further my claim on this absence of evidence, when the father of the two daughters recants his daughter as saying that Hicks hates them for who they are, that’s really only an assumption. Simply having a gun, and constantly telling them to quiet down or tell them they can’t park in visitor parking does not outwardly indicate that he was doing this because they were Muslims. In cases where race seems to be an issue or a motivating factor, there is ample evidence of racial epitaphs, and an apparent hatred of the victims’ particular characteristics, be it their sexuality, race, or religion – components that are awkwardly lacking in this case. Even Karen Hicks, the assailant’s soon to be ex-wife, has stated that religion has nothing to do with this.
I’ve elaborated on all of this for the main purpose of academic discourse, and intellectual honesty. Justice becomes undermined in every way when we begin to categorize, label, and otherwise make sweeping assumptions with little to no information. The individuals calling Hicks islamaphobic, i.e., anti-Muslim, are making the same sweeping statements that many white individuals make towards Muslims, i.e., assuming that they must all be terrorists (also New Atheists, ‘Anti-Theists’) – ironically, a stance that Hicks fought against.
As many individuals have said, now is not the time to assume what his motives were – indeed we may never fully or truly know the motive. This piece here was not meant to serve as an attempt to determine motive – it was to combat this persistence among the general population in their ever so swift judgments to label and classify something. Furthermore, the situation, the crime, and the lessons that can be learned from this situation evaporate when both sides refuse to look at evidence, overshadowing it with perceived and misunderstood concepts of dissent. No victim can possibly be honored by a reinforced insistence to label dissent as hatred.
Please feel free to comment! Discourse is important!