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#ChapelHillShooting: There Are No White Extremists

Please welcome back guest writer, Ryan Hansen, a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology. He reflects on the recent #ChapelHillShooting:

In loving memory; Deah, 23 years old; Yusor 21 years old; Razan 19 years oldBy 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.

Angel 'us' vs Devil 'themIt all ties back to one of the most pervasive findings in Social Psychology: that how we divide people into groups fundamentally alters how we perceive them. We see people in our own groups as individuals, but lump members of other groups into more general categories. With people who are like us, we take the time to examine the circumstances and mitigating factors for their behavior. However, with members of other groups we are more likely to ascribe stereotype-consistent causes to their behavior.

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. 

Tweet from @cnni (CNN International): "3 Muslim students shot to death in Chapel Hill, NC. Did their faith play a role in the killing? cnn.it/1KLB6bS #ChapelHillShooting; Reply from @ToulasTake (Toula Drimonis) "No, I'm guessing the hateful bigot who executed them in cold blood played a role in their killing. #ChapelHillShooting" There are many instances of white male privileges in our society, and one of them is that if you commit a violent act the assumption is that your actions were motivated by mental illness or personal failing rather than as a characteristic of your race, ethnicity, religion, or gender (see post: Pathology of Mass Shooting). Too often in the media, a Muslim perpetrator is assumed to be radical until proven innocent.

One of the headlines that stood out was from CNN, which included the link-bating question “3 Muslim students shot to death in Chapel Hill, N.C. Did their faith play a role in the killing?” Despite this being a blatant case of the media blaming the victim, unfortunately the answer to the question is simple: Yes.
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.” 
Tweet from @amaditalks (Amandi) "If you think the #ChapelHillShootings were over a parking space you probably think Emmitt Till was killed over flirting with a white woman."
Even if Mr. Hick’s anger and violence were not explicitly caused by his religious views, there is a reason that he targeted these three individuals. They were not random members of a crowd that were simply “in the wrong place, at the wrong time” as Hick's lawyer suggests. They were in their home, and Mr. Hicks made the conscious decision to enter their home out of all of the other homes in that apartment complex and shoot them at point-blank range. Whether it is because of Mr. Hicks’ explicit views on religion or race, or the hate that has pervaded our society, there can be no question as to the relevance of their Muslim faith and culture.
See more commentary and insights at #ChapelHillShooting

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