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On the Chapel Hill Shootings and Outrage

02/12/2015

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Last night and this morning, I’ve been thinking a lot about the Chapel Hill Shooting.

When you have three Muslim victims and a vocally anti-theist attacker, it’s really easy to make speculative inferences. And when I think about how different news coverage likely would have been if the belief systems had been reversed, it makes me angry. I think this anger makes me more willing to mentally indict the shooter as a (anti-)religiously motivated murderer. It’s really, really, tempting, when you’re conscious of a crucially important injustice, to assume facts not in evidence to construct a powerful narrative example. Craig Hicks is a vehement anti-theist, and all three of his victims were Muslim. His crime must, therefore, have been the product of individual and broader Islamophobic sentiment.

I believe deeply that it is critically important to resist and stand up to Islamophobia in 21st century America. But in the end, I don’t know why Craig Hicks shot Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha. None of us do. There is zero necessary nexus between the shooter’s Facebook activity and his crime beyond speculation.

If the shooter were Muslim, and the victims white, atheist college students, I would want to fight against unconscious bias towards stereotype. I would want to push back against those that would cry, “Terrorism!”. I would say that we should reserve judgment and wait for the facts. Drawing conclusions about someone’s specific motive based on their broad beliefs is exactly the kind of thinking we shouldn’t be doing. It is the road that led us to NSA surveillance and broken-windows policing. It is a form of profiling. And it is wrong.

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