There seems to be clear double standards and disproportionate media coverage when a non-Muslim commits a crime, the Chapel Hill shooting is the perfect example, writes Nishaat Ismail.
“A white American radical atheist terrorist, shot dead three young Muslims in Chapel Hill, North Carolina”
Shouldn’t this have been the headline that dominated newspaper front covers and breaking news bulletins on 11th February after Deah Shaddy Barakat his wife, Yusur Mohammed Abu Salha and her sister, Razan Abu Salha Mohammed were murdered by Stephen Craig Hicks.
Rather, there was not even a whisper of the shootings from any major news outlets until hours later and even then the attacker’s ideological affiliation was omitted from the diminutive coverage the incident received. One cannot help but ask and wonder how would the story have been reported had the identities of the victims and attacker been reversed. Would there have been immediate speculation about “terrorist” motives behind the attack, would world leaders have rushed to issue statements condemning the heinous crime and declared their unequivocal dedication to fighting Islamic “extremism’ because apparently every crime committed by a Muslim is an exemplification of their beliefs and indicates an inherent flaw in the doctrines of Islam. Would there have been a rally held in North Carolina to send a message of defiance to the Muslim “terrorists” the answer is, yes. The narrative would have been in stark contrast had the assailant been a Muslim and the victims non-Muslim.
The Chapel Hill shootings expose the wretched reality that Muslims aren’t considered newsworthy unless they are the ones behind the trigger and not in front of it and an act of violence perpetrated by a non-Muslim, never seems to be labeled an act of “terror” a term exclusively enjoyed by Muslims.
The torrent on social media made up for the lackluster of the mainstream and hash tags #ChapelHillShooting and #MuslimLivesMatter facilitated the spread of the horrendous murders across the globe.
What comes across as more so illogical is despite the fact that Stephen Craig Hicks expressed an unyielding amount of anti-religious tirade on his Facebook page and quoted the infamous Islamophobic atheist Richard Dawkins in many of his posts, Chapel Hill police declared “Our preliminary investigation indicates that the crime was motivated by an ongoing neighbor dispute over parking.” The possibility of these murders constituting “terrorism” was completely disregarded. Channel 4 News in the UK also echoed this inaccurate explanation, with the channel’s most esteemed journalist Jon Snow rationalizing the murder as a “typical American parking dispute” However reports had already began to circulate with the father of Yusur and Razan, claiming that it was indeed a hate crime based on their Muslim identity.
Reducing these callous murders to a simple “parking dispute” is insensitive and condescending of the dead. It also undermines the ubiquity of Islamophobia and denies the environment of hate Muslims living in the west have to encounter everyday. However there seems to be a wider, more sinister agenda being carried out by the mainstream media to serve and suit western policy makers. Portraying those killed, as victims of “terror” would be acknowledging that mainstream media and western leaders are complicit in the Chapel Hill murders due to sensationalizing terrorism perpetrated by Muslims and unremittingly attacking the Islamic faith.
Double standards and disproportionate coverage
It is demonstrably apparent the preferential treatment white supremacist criminals receive in mainstream media. When channels such as Fox News and CNN finally reported the incident on twitter there was a notable difference in the aliases used in comparison to other attacks. The killer in the Chapel Hill shootings was simply named “man” whilst the tweets concerning the attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris last month was swiftly condemned by President Barak Obama as a “terrorist” attack.
When a crime is committed in the name of Islam, the world expects unassailable denouncements from the entire Muslim community across the globe as Islam and terror have become tantamount and a Muslim criminal is perceived an archetype of his or her faith. However why is the same not demanded from the white non-Muslim population when one of their “own” executes unarmed innocent young Americans? Why does “their” murderer obtain the epithet of “lone wolf” whilst Muslims are collectively pigeonholed as uncouth barbarians.
Thousands gathered on Wednesday night at UNC to honor the lives of Deah, Yusur and Razan. This was not covered by mainstream news. A very different scenario in comparison to the spectacles we saw after the attack on Charlie Hebdo, the vigils held for the journalists killed in Paris, across the globe were getting wall-to-wall coverage on every news channel. The hypocrisy and double standards are staring everyone in the face but few are willing to change this reality.
There exists an institutionalized intolerance in the west where even a white murderer receives privileged consideration in the media in contrast to the minority population.
Why did this “execution style” murder of three Muslims not make headlines? Is it because they were Muslim? Is it because they were not white Americans? Why do the police deny racism when people of color are murdered? Why haven’t western leaders stood on their podiums yet and declared the Chapel Hill Shooting an act of terror? Why is Obama not summoning state heads and officials to the USA for a march to declare to radical atheists that they will not tolerate hatred of Muslims and violence against them or any other minority group in America or anywhere across the globe? Why did mainstream media turn deaf, dumb and blind on 11th of February when those same media outlets were quick to label the Boston bombings of 2013 as an act of “terror” before the incidents were fully investigated?
These questions will remain unanswered but one thing we can be certain of is that the silence of our leaders and the media regarding the Chapel Hill shooting will empower the ever-growing Islamophobic and bigoted rhetoric that is rampant across Europe and America. Those overlooking Islamophobia as the actual motivation behind this attack are not simply in denial but accessories of murder.
Nishaat Ismail has just completed a post-graduate degree from Birkbeck University in Middle East in Global Politics: Islam, Conflict and Development (MSc). She has a BA in history from SOAS and specialises in the history and politics of the near and Middle East. She is also a blogger and contributing editor for The Moroccan Times.
You can follow Nishaat on Twitter @NishIsmail