#ChapelHillShooting and Islamophobic Narrative
This is another example where I am glad to be a regular Twitter user. If not for Twitter, I may not have even heard about the shooting at Chapel Hill in North Carolina. Three young Muslim students (1 male, 2 female) were killed by a middle-aged, white, atheist man named Craig Stephen Hicks. The mainstream media (MSM) has been pretty much silent on it so far.
Do you remember the events of Charlie Hebdo in France? Muslim kills people. Story dominates the media for weeks. Reports constantly emphasized how the killer was Muslim and there was a lot of hype around rights of free speech even when that speech belittles others – a right I agree with, in case somebody misreads that. There were analyses about whether Islam is inherently dangerous (correct answer is a resounding “NO”). Everyone simply assumed motives, projecting their fears and thereby reinforcing that fear. World leaders were shunned if they didn’t drop everything to join France in mourning. We could do similar comparisons with the shooting in Ottawa or the siege in Sydney.
So far we don’t really have any MSM coverage of the shooting at Chapel Hill, although I imagine some bits and pieces will trickle out buried deeply on websites and in newspapers. Just as interesting will be to see how they cover it. What coverage has come out so far has often generalized the people involved – one person shot three people – rather than noting the religions, race, and age contrasts involved the way they would if it were reversed. I doubt we’ll see articles asking whether atheism or whiteness or being American is inherently dangerous. I doubt we’ll see mass marches where leaders are shamed if they don’t join the U.S. in solidarity. Instead, we’ll probably see the victims blamed, somehow made the deserving enemy because they are Muslim, and the shooter dismissed as “troubled” but definitely not a terrorist or otherwise a bad person.
Why aren’t they covering it as much and covering it differently when they do? It doesn’t fit the narrative.
Half of the narrative is that people like those in charge of the U.S. (and Canada, and most of the developed world) are the good guys who never do anything wrong. Look at the uproar over Obama simply pointing out that Christians and Americans have committed evil, too. We/they have. That shouldn’t be disputable. But it fights against the narrative we’re so used to hearing. If you’re a white, male, patriotic American, you can’t commit evil. Any suggestion to the contrary is worthy of a national controversy.
The other half is even more problematic: people who aren’t like us are inherently evil and worthy of punishment from us. The “them” is always inferior to the “us.” They’re barely even human, definitely worth less respect than most of us give our pets. The film American Sniper has been a great example of this. Dismiss it as just a movie all you like, but there is plenty of documented evidence that people left the movie expressing wanting to kill some Arabs (with much more colourful language than that). We see it in debates about violence against ISIS now, where some will point out that they have killed a couple of dozen Westerners while ignoring that a big part of their motivation is that the West has killed thousands of them. And that’s just in the past 15 years – no need to even go back all through history to the beginning of Islam or the Crusades. That doesn’t make ISIS more right, but they are operating on the same narrative framework as the West but with the nationalities/religions reversed.
I believe a central part of the Jesus story is destroying this kind of narrative. There is no more “us” and “them.” Our call to love isn’t limited to people like us. That call is towards everyone, including enemies – doesn’t even matter if they “started it” (something virtually impossible to determine anyway) or whether we did.
There is no room for Islamophobia in the Christian life. There is no room for racism. There is no room for sexism. There is no room for classism. There is no room for nationalism or imperialism. To participate in these systems – in grand violent ways like this shooter or quieter dehumanizing ways like shrugging over this shooting while being outraged over a Christian being killed – is anti-Christ.