On the North Carolina Killings

14 Feb

[Prefatory Note: a short interview on how to interpret the ghastly murder of three young Muslims living in the North Carolina university town of Chapel Hill. Should such a grisly event be viewed as a tragic response of a deranged neighbor whose emotions took a violent turn after a dispute over parking in their common residential community or is it better understood as one more indication of the toxic realities associated with the interplay of gun culture and Islamophobia? My responses seek to give reasons for adopting this wider understanding of why such incidents, although horrible on their own, are also bringing death to canaries in the mines of American society. As such the embrace of the movie American Sniper can be seen as another dimension of how ‘the long war’ unleashed after 9/11 to satisfy a range of global ambitions is increasingly casting its dark shadow across the domestic life of the country. We are, indeed, living in a globalizing world where the wrongs done without will be in due course superseded by the wrongs done within. I thank Dan Falcone for his questions that gave me the opportunity to offer these responses.]




Dan Falcone: In light of the recent shooting of Muslims in North Carolina, Russian Television was pondering if the killings would have received a quicker, more widespread and more responsive media reaction had the perpetrator been a Muslim, instead of victims, as seen in this case. My thought is that this question is beyond the hypothetical. What are your thoughts?


Response: I think there is every reason to believe that the identity of the perpetrator influences the media response and approach taken by the public. If the actors are Muslim, whether linked or not to a political network, there is an aura of suspicion surrounding the crimes committed. In contrast, if the perpetrator is white, and Christian, he will be considered a lone actor suffering a severe mental disorder even if he is shown to have links to wider extremist communities as was the case with Timothy McVeigh and Andrew Breivik who engaged in terrorist acts in Oklahoma City (1995) and Norway (2011). The Islamophobic cultural mood predisposes the media and public to incline toward worst case interpretation of Muslim perpetrators and best case scenarios of Christian perpetrators, especially when the victims are Muslim as is the case for the murder of the three young Muslims in North Carolina (Daele Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammed, and Razan Mohammed Abu-Sahla) being partially trivialized as a ‘parking’ dispute among neighbors.








DF: Electronic Intifada and The New Republic reported on the case relative to what they call, “New Atheism,” a social and political secular movement that tends to use classical liberal views to masquerade the advance of reactionary behaviors. Furthermore, when coupled with neo-conservatism, new atheism cherry picks which socio-political groups are targeted in the name of freedom. Do you see this as an attempt in double-speak to intentionally cloud the issue?


Response: There may be an element of insight into some particular cases on this basis, but by and large this kind of discourse obscures the far greater relevance of the Islamophobic atmosphere prevailing in the United States and Europe, and also removes from consideration the linkage between overseas American militarism directed at Muslim societies and recourse to extremist behavior by Muslims. Both the views of the Tsarnaev brothers who exploded the bombs at the Boston Marathon and the Dzhokhar brothers who carried out the recent Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris seemed shaped by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and by the Abu Ghraib pictures confirming the torture and humiliation of Muslim prisoners.


DF: I noticed many educated readers and citizens and the popular press exhausting ways to explain how the killing of Muslims might not be a hate crime, whereas in the coverage of many killings around the world, there seems to be an automatic subtext anticipated in the first hour of reporting: “No word yet if terrorism played a role.” Does this type of thinking remind you of Edward Said’s work in Unveiling Islam?


Response: Yes, definitely. The journalistic tropes used to describe incidents of this sort, especially the initial take when little has been firmly established, are revealing of underlying cultural biases and self-serving governmental ways of processing sensationalist news. To ignore the Muslim identity of the victims, and explain the behavior of the killer as an exaggerated reaction to a dispute over parking is illustrative of this effort to avoid treating Muslim victimization as an expression of ‘hate.’


The insertion of a terrorist possibility is immediate and reflexive if the persons accused are Muslim, and avoided if not even when involving the mass killing of innocent civilians. Why was the Sandy Hook less of a display of a terrorist mind set than that of those who acted in Boston or Oslo?



DF: New atheism seems to suggest that hate crimes are symmetrical and are both color and religiously blind. Given the fact that all three victims had a Palestinian origin or background will this motivate the United States and take say, Israel to discuss the issue with the most minimal amount of complications? And do you think this tragedy provides the Palestinian community a chance to foster additional solidarity?


Response: I do feel that what is being described as the ‘new atheism’ is bound up with the recent popularity in some circles of the secularist idea that most of the evil in our midst can be blamed on religious belief that fuels fanaticism. Authors such as Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and media impresario Bill Maher all feed such views by adopting reductive views of religion that end up associating religious belief with sociopathic extremism. In one respect, such secular thinking is itself fundamentalist in ways that can result in violent behavior on the part of disturbed individuals. It is worth noticing that Craig Stephen Hicks, the North Carolina killer, was self-described as ‘a gun-toting liberal’ (former auto parts dealer now studying to be a paralegal professional) proclaiming his hostile attitudes toward religion on his Facebook page, making the fact that two of the victims wore headscarves possibly an element that heightened his lethal anger to the point of uncontrollable rage. That such a person, whose previous erratic was widely known, should be authorized to possess and wield guns in an intimidating fashion is itself a severe indictment of what ‘the right to bear arms’ has come to mean here in America.


I do not think stressing the links between atheism and extremist violence is helpful as it minimizes attention to the cultural and religious prisms through which political behavior is being predominantly shaped, especially with respect to foreign policy. It is likely that there will be a temporary surge of sympathy with those who share an Islamic identity with these victims, and a realization that such politically and cultural tainted crimes are a serious threat to the moral order of the country, including the maintenance of a sense of political community. I doubt that it will translate in any meaningful way into sympathy for Palestinian victimization, which as far as I have been aware is not given much attention in the mainstream reporting of the incident. It is true that the pro-Palestinian boycott groups associated with the BDS campaign have seized upon these events to indicate their solidarity with the victims of the North Carolina crime, as they did earlier with African American victimization in relation to the recent police killings in Ferguson (Michael Brown) and Staten Island ( Eric Garner).

9 Responses to “On the North Carolina Killings”

  1. pabmarq February 15, 2015 at 2:32 pm #

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  2. Gene Schulman February 16, 2015 at 3:02 am #

    Richard, I was just going to write my own comment to this latest blog post, when this popped up on my screen: http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article41005.htm. I can’t imagine doing better than Baroud.

    • Richard Falk February 16, 2015 at 7:14 am #

      Gene: Thanks for calling Ramzy Baroud’s excellent piece to my attention. I am sharing it via social media..But
      your words are likely to be valuable, also, coming from a quite different past and present.

      • Gene Schulman February 17, 2015 at 8:44 am #


        I believe the North Carolina killings are just another of the tragedies that have been occurring since the can of worms called 9/11 has been opened. Once the US decided unilaterally to declare war on Islam, and drag the American people along with it, it is inevitable that such events would occur. Americans have been brainwashed into believing that Islam is the evil enemy that must be eradicated if we are to retain “our freedoms”.

        One can cite innumerable occasions that have occurred over the intervening years: Whether they be instigated by wars against Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen or Syria, not to speak of the potential war against Russia, these have inculcated hatred of the “other” which seeps down into the psyche of the average Western citizenry. Thus Islam is the new enemy that threatens, and Islamophobia is born.

        The other disaster in today’s society is the supposed rise of anti-Semitism. These two phenomena are not unrelated. Since WWII, anti-Semitism was virtually non-existent in Europe, and certainly in the United States. It is only since the creation of Israel and its aggressive attempts to remove the indigenous Palestinian population from “Eretz Israel” via ethnic cleansing and constant murderous attacks against the Arabs that anti-Semitism has blossomed. As I have noted in an earlier essay, a review of the 2006 book, “The Jewish Divide Over Israel”, if Israel did not exist, there would be no anti-Semitism. Institutional anti-Semitism as we knew it before the war, died with the Holocaust, only to be resurrected after the 1967 War. Today’s anti-Semitism arises from the actions of Israel. I am not alone in believing that Israel even encourages it in order to maintain its image of the perpetual victim. Hence the calls from Netanyahu for French Jews to leave Europe and come home! Of course, we know that this is an election ploy (Israel could never absorb all the Jews of the Diaspora even if they chose to “return”), nevertheless, it encourages fear. Nary a day goes by that there is not some event where Jews are involved inciting the media to pit the anti-Semites against the Islamophobes. One has to look only at Paris last month and the past three days of alleged attacks in Norway, Brussels, and the desecration of a Jewish cemetery in central France. Is this really indicative of a rise in anti-Semitism? The establishment would like us to believe so, but they just may be false flags to scare people into believing so? I am inclined to believe the latter. Even in neutral Switzerland, today’s editorial headline in our local newspaper screams out: “La peur d’être Juif en Europe”! I refuse to be afraid. Aside from these manufactured peccadillos, the Jews have never had it so good in Europe or America. It is the Muslims I feel for, as they suffer the brunt of this “otherness”. North Carolina is only the latest incident of many yet to come.

        As for your discussion of the “new atheists”, as an atheist myself, I have been very interested in the subject as presented by, especially, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris. I have read each of their books, and know them by their fame as scientists/philosophers. I believe you give them more credit than they deserve. These are not atheists, they are anti-Deists! Their scientism has led them to believe that religion has no place in today’s world. Perhaps they can make a case for organized religion, but not religion in general, in it’s spiritual sense. They base their authority on their scientific credentials, but even those are in doubt. I have been an enemy of Dawkins’ genetic determinism via that great pseudo science, evolutionary psychology; as well as Dennett’s interpretation of neo-Darwinism (contra SJ Gould); Sam Harris, a wild-eyed pretender, but know-nothing about neuroscience, and finally Christopher Hitchens, a good writer, but poor political thinker who betrayed his liberal youth to become a neocon war monger. Bill Maher is not even an intelligent jester.
        I always like to recommend a book when commenting on these posts. Today’s contribution is Raymond Tallis’ “Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity” in which he exposes and destroys the arguments of the above pretenders. This is probably the best science book I have read in the past five years.

      • Richard Falk February 17, 2015 at 11:18 am #

        Thanks, Gene, for this very perceptive and informative comment. I am leaving tomorrow morning for the Philippines,
        and so have no time to respond with an appropriate comment of my own. Hopefully, in a few days. Richard

      • Gene Schulman February 17, 2015 at 12:37 pm #

        Bon voyage!


  3. Zeynep February 17, 2015 at 1:07 am #

    Richard, thank you for laying out the root of the problem so clearly. As my aunt so eloquently summarized it, the main cause of most of our problems is probably our own perceptions. And yet, so many smart, well educated people are also victim to this…


  1. TRANSCEND MEDIA SERVICE » On the North Carolina Killings - February 16, 2015

    […] Go to Original – richardfalk.wordpress.com […]

  2. Richard Falk: Murder in North Carolina - Guernica / A Magazine of Art & Politics - February 16, 2015

    […] By Richard Falk By arrangement with Richard Falk. […]

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