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Trying to frame the Chapel Hill killings

There are many Americans who insist that Muslims are inherently violent and the peaceful ones are the exception

Abdullah Hamidaddin

Published: Updated:

A few days ago we all listened to President Barack Obama comparing between the brutality of ISIS and those of the Crusades and the Inquisition. He said: “And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.” This quickly prompted a severe backlash from various actors in the American political and media sphere. Max Fisher commented on the backlash saying that “It is a fight over whether it’s okay to hate Muslims, to apply sweeping and negative stereotypes to the one-fifth of humanity that follows a particular religion.”

Just a few days later Craig Stephen Hicks, a white American, shot three Muslims in what some people consider a dispute over parking spots. Until now there is no evidence to the actual motive of the murderer. This tragedy could have been over parking spots, though there is also the possibility of it being spurred by anti-Muslim sentiments, the type which many American media outlets – Fox being only one of them – fuel on a daily basis. I do not want to argue the motives of the murder as this can only be established after proper investigation procedures are complete.

Framing the killing

Here I want to point to the debates that followed the murder; debates over the question of: “What is the right way to frame this crime?”

Many Muslims, in the United States and outside, claim that was a crime motivated by hate. The response that we hear to this claim is that we need to wait till the facts are out. But this response misses the point. This claim is not spurred by facts: this claim stems from a deep-seated feeling that Muslims are always guilty, they are hated and seen as terrorists by default. Those who want to respond to that claim need to look to other than the facts of the crime. They need to look at the hate machine against Muslims, the continuous association of Muslims with terrorism and ISIS, the belittlement of a crime against a Muslim compared to the utter outrage toward a crime against a non-Muslim.

But that is only one part of the story. Muslims want to insist on framing it as a hate crime, or at least keep that possibility open, while most of the American media wants to frame it as a murder spurred by the anger of some deranged individual. I may not agree with Muslims who insist by default to frame it as a hate crime without seeing evidence of that first; but it is shocking to see that there are those who are categorically rejecting the possibility of it being a hate crime.

It is shocking to see that there are those who are categorically rejecting the possibility of it being a hate crime.

Abdullah Hamidaddin

This initial denial that this could have been a hate crime takes me back to President Obama’s statement. Obama wanted to put Muslims on par with other cultures rather than single them out. Violence, he wants to say, is perpetuated by all people of all faiths and backgrounds, and Muslims are not differently prone to violence than others. But there are many Americans who reject that idea. They want to insist that Muslims are inherently violent, and the peaceful ones are the exception. This same logic that wants to insist that Muslims are inherently violent lies behind the rejection of framing this as a hate crime. If you are allowed to hate Muslims in the first place, then how can you even use the term “hate crime” when violence is perpetrated against them? If someone is inherently hate-able then no crime against him can be a “hate crime.”

President Barack Obama wanted to put Muslims on par with other cultures rather than single them out.

Abdullah Hamidaddin

What scares me more is that if someone really believes that a Muslim is inherently violent – as many do – then killing them might even be considered to be some form of pre-emptive self-defense! Those people would still consider it a crime in the eyes of the law, but deep down, deep inside the minds of those people there would exist some form of justification or understanding for the murder.

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Abdullah Hamidaddin is a writer and commentator on religion, Middle Eastern societies and politics with a focus on Saudi Arabia and Yemen. He is currently a PhD candidate in King’s College London. He can be followed on Twitter: @amiq1

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.