THE BLOG

Were the Chapel Hill Killings a Terrorist Attack?

02/20/2015 08:27 am ET | Updated Apr 22, 2015

A crime is always despicable. Whether the result of a terrorist attack or a crime, death is always despicable. First and foremost for those who lose their lives and their loved ones. But when do these deaths become news stories? If the motivation tells us something about society. Political and not personal hatred tells us something about society. These are what are known as "hate crimes" in the USA, where they are far more frequent than in Europe.

The arson attack in Houston was clearly motivated by hatred, as was most likely the triple slaying in Chapel Hill. The killer had been involved in an ongoing dispute with his neighbors over parking and his relatives are insisting on this point. The families of the victims, however, insist that he had become more aggressive when he saw the women wearing Muslim headscarves. Nothing can explain this triple slaying other than insanity.

The fact that this insane act was directed at Muslim neighbors undoubtedly raises questions and in the present context of increasing numbers of racist aggressions we should be concerned. But why do we insist that the media coverage of this crime must reflect, or even rival, the coverage of the terrorist attacks in Paris or Copenhagen? This is the question we should justifiably be asking.

Was it really an "atheist" attack?

Many in the American media have referred to an "atheist" murder, as if atheist convictions could explain shooting at Muslim neighbors. This has opened the door to all kinds of crazy theories. Some internet surfers have taken perverse delight in calling on atheists all over the world, especially those who support Charlie Hebdo, to dissociate themselves from this crime in the USA. It's a way of saying, you called on Muslims to condemn the terrorist attacks committed in the name of Islam, now it's your turn. The difference being that responsibility for this crime was not claimed in the name of atheism....

There is not a single atheist organization which can be compared to al-Qaeda or Daech. Nor has any atheist ideologist who shares the views of Charlie ever called for the murder of Muslims. There are, however, islamist ideologists who constantly use Islam to call for the murder of infidels, Jews and blasphemers. And very few religious groups combat this discourse, even if they deplore the deaths it causes.

It is not only despicable, but also rather perverse, to hold to account supporters of Charlie, which has always fought against racism. As if a racist crime could justify divisions in the fight against terrorism.

"Double standards"?

We all know the "victimization" refrain, which is immediately taken up to try to smash national unity and counter the international outcry. What? European reporters cover terrorist attacks in Paris, but no special edition on a murder between neighbors in America?

Even the Al Arabya news channel, founded by the Saudis but based in Dubai and which is usually more open, dared to do this. All the more reason to strive for a more educational approach to news coverage, in particular on the operational difference between the information presented in the general media and on social networks, which many now confuse.

A news channel is not a page on Facebook

On social networks we seek out information according to our affinities and priorities. We share what concerns and touches us the most. This is quite normal. But the time has come to explain to those who harass journalists on Twitter, so that the press is becoming like a page on Facebook, that the role of the media is precisely to provide an alternative, more prioritized, vision of events. To contextualize, put in perspective and not to serve their own personal desires as priority.

However, from the rhetorical "victimization" viewpoint, a racist crime is not a "terrorist attack," even if it suits their purpose to present it as such.

One cannot qualify the assassinations across the world as "terrorist attacks" simply because Muslims are involved, either on the side of the victims or the assassins. Whether it involves a madman shooting his Muslim neighbors or a Muslim madman deliberately driving his car into a crowd.

In both cases it is an individual act, motivated by insanity. A terrorist attack, however, is a political, historical affair, which calls for taking a new look at the way our democracies work: intelligence services, prisons, public debate methods, in order to find the way to counter the propaganda which arms these killers and threatens our freedoms.

In the first case we have to explain that we cannot confuse everything -- terrorists and Muslims, as is constantly done in the European and American media. In the second case we must combat the misunderstandings which the "victimization" proponents and experts in unfounded accusations of 'Islamophobia" persist in arousing. The "double standards" rhetoric is part of this.

The double penalty of anti-Jewish racism

Explaining that we spend too much time deploring anti-Jewish racism or terrorism contributes to weakening our solidarity in the fight against terrorism and totalitarianism. For what is the difference and why are we so affected by anti-Jewish acts? Not because some victims are worth less than others. All forms of racism are despicable, but in today's world certain forms of racism do not carry the same message.

Anti-Jewish racism is rooted in hate-filled propaganda spread by a totalitarian international which threatens all of us with terrorist attacks. It is therefore doubly political, from the racist and terrorist points of view.

Anti-Muslim racism also concerns us, as it deforms our aspirations for equality and fraternity. But the peak in aggressions is directly linked to terrorist attacks perpetrated in the name of Islam. It is to be hoped that their number will decrease as soon as these terrible actions cease. All the more reason to form a united front against terrorism instead of seeking to divide. Uniting in the combat against terrorism is a fight against racism. By saying that we concentrate too much on the fight against terrorism and not enough against racism we are playing into the hands of the terrorists and racists.