Three Muslim university students were gunned down on Wednesday in North Carolina, United States. After seeing the ‘breaking news’ alert on my phone, from the UK’s Independent newspaper, I switched on the TV to tune in to CNN. Nothing there. Instead, I saw a suitably stern Christiana Amanpour in conversation with French journalist Didier Francois about the latest Isis terror. Then I turned to the old, ever dependable Beebs. Nothing there, either. Not even on the ‘fair and balanced’ Fox News or our own Al Jazeera.
In fact, the news about the shooting of the family of three, Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife, Yusor Mohammed, 21, and her sister, Razan Mohammad, 19, all students of North Carolina University, in their home trickled down on wires much later. And even when it did, the response from western and international media outlets was limited and understated. No ‘Terror Alert’! No screaming headlines about the attack or minute-by-minute, live coverage.
President Obama did not rush to condemn the killings as he did following the recent attacks in Paris and elsewhere. As far as I know, the White House has yet to issue a formal statement on the killing. Much of the US and western media has played down it as a ‘petty crime over a petty issue’ like parking.
An Associated Press report wondered if the killing had anything to do with ‘hate.’ It answered its own question saying the killer Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, described himself as a ‘gun-toting atheist’ – as if that explained the killings.
Ripley Rand, the US attorney for North Carolina, said the “crime appears at this point to have been an isolated incident.” Hicks’ attorney said the man “was frustrated day in and day out about not being able to park where he wanted to.”
So there you have it. It was a minor parking issue. It wasn’t even a hate crime, it seems, let alone a terror attack. As someone quipped on Twitter, terrorism happens only if Muslims go berserk.
Comparisons are odious. But if all lives are equal in the eyes of the world, why do we not see the same global outrage and outpouring of grief and solidarity with the victims that one witnessed following the Charlie Hebdo carnage?
Where are the self-righteous statements from London, Washington and Paris, condemning the act of terror in this case?
After the Paris killings, an agitated David Cameron had vowed to “stand squarely for free speech and democracy.” Mimicking Blair and Bush, Cameron had thundered: “These people will never be able to take us off those values.”
What about the ‘freedom and democracy’ of those killed in North Carolina? Were they any less human? What makes the killing doubly tragic is the fact that the couple had only recently met, during a fund raiser for the Syrian refugees, briefly dated and married. The younger girl was visiting them. They were like any other regular American family. So why doesn’t their murder provoke the same response as other such killings and attacks have?
Truth be told, some are more equal than others, as Orwell would argue. Especially in these perilous times when the whole world seems to have gone stark, raving mad. Islamophobia in the west and around the world has touched unprecedented, alarming proportions.
A new USA Today cartoon, picked up from a regional publication, this week portrayed Muslims as the new Nazis and Islam as equivalent of Hitler’s sick, jaundiced worldview founded on hate and hubris. Few eyebrows were raised though. It seems it’s now perfectly okay and cool to wear Islamophobia and, worst, racial and religious prejudices on your sleeve and get away with it.
So given the sweetness and light that is spread around these days by western media narrative and even by responsible, elected leaders, targeting a particular people and faith for all sins imaginable, should you be surprised by these killings?
As Mohammad Abu-Salha, the slain women’s father and a psychiatrist, said: “The media here bombards the American citizen with Islamic, Islamic, Islamic terrorism and makes people here scared of us and hate us and want us out. So if somebody has any conflict with you, and they already hate you, you get a bullet in the head.”
On the other hand, can you really blame the world if Islam and Muslims these days find themselves under fire everywhere? The shenanigans of those like the Isis, Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and the Pakistani Taliban, all in the name of the blessed faith of course, do not just repeatedly shame Muslims, they have played a critical role in fuelling the mistrust, hatred and demonisation that the faithful face across the world. One incident like the Peshawar school massacre is enough to boost their already shining image.
Even from its own glorious standards of savagery that the Isis has established in a very short time, the manner in which the Jordanian pilot Maaz Al Kasasbeh was dealt with – caged, burnt to death and bulldozed – was truly diabolic and horrific. What faith can sanction and condone such satanic acts of revolting brutality? Certainly, not ours. If these people can do this to a Muslim, imagine the potential of their intolerable cruelty against those considered beyond the fold.
And how do Muslims expect to be viewed around the world after such bouts of casual, spine-chilling savagery by folks who claim to speak and act on their behalf? There are bound to be repercussions.
Of course, the tiny lunatic fringe that is Isis and groups of its ilk do not and cannot represent a great faith with 1.6 billion followers and a long and proud history of tolerance. Persecuted minorities like the Jews found refuge in Islamic Spain and Turkey when they were being hunted like animals all across Europe.
As US talk show host Dean Obeidallah put it, “Isisis about as Islamic as the Klu Klux Klan, the white supremacist, violent group, is Christian. They just use religion; their real agenda is political.”
Obama himself insisted, in an interview with Fareed Zakaria last week, that “99.9 percent of Muslims reject the terrorists’ understanding of Islam.”
Top Islamic scholars have repeatedly rejected and condemned the extremist violence in strongest terms. In September, more than 120 Islamic scholars and clerics wrote a letter to Isis denouncing it and its invoking of Islam to justify its shameful actions.
But clearly Muslims have to do more to confront the mindset and conditions that give birth to such nihilist extremism on the one hand and present the real face of Islam before the world on the other.
We have to speak out more often and more forcefully and effectively to reject the barbarity, death and destruction being visited on the world in our name. How can anyone kill in the name of a faith that came as a blessing for the whole of mankind and preaches oneness of humanity? It’s the ultimate calumny and injustice to a religion that literally means ‘peace and salvation’.
For their part, western societies need to do their bit to check the growing vilification of Muslims and other minorities in their midst. All said and done, it is not religion or dogma but historical injustices and double standards that lie at the heart of this conflict. Extremism and violence are born and thrive in the soil of injustice and oppression. Unless these are addressed, all grand solutions and coalitions will fail.
The writer is a Middle East based columnist.