Is Rising Islamophobia at Fault for the North Carolina Murders?

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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The killing of three university students in North Carolina has brought on accusations of double standards against the U.S. media and politicians for ignoring what many in the region consider an Islamophic act and a hate crime. For many observers, there is little doubt that the killer was motivated by a hatred against the victims’ perceived religious affiliation, even though the U.S. media has been slow to make that association. Others have expressed concern that years of Islamophobic news coverage by U.S. mainstream news outlets have made the Muslim community in the U.S. and elsewhere more vulnerable to such attacks. While some have suggested that such a narrative might be politically convenient for pro-Israeli politicians, no one doubts the need to do more to reverse the tide of growing Islamophobia in the West.

Writing for the Turkish Hurriyet Daily News, Mustafa Akyol harbors little doubt about the true motivation behind the killings, insisting the victims were targeted because of their ‘Muslim-ness’: “The exact motivation of the murders is still unclear and some say everything began with a dispute over parking space. Yet, people normally don’t commit massacres for parking space, and enough signs point to a hate crime: The victims were targeted because of their very Muslim-ness….The truth is that every idea — whether it be theist, atheist, Eastern or Western — can become dangerous when it sees the world in a good-versus-evil dichotomy, and puts itself arrogantly on the bright side. Hicks apparently did that, by hating all religions as evil and depicting his anti-theistic dogma as good.”

Diana Moukalled, in an op-ed for Asharq Alawsat, also believes that Islamophobia “played a part in the motive for the murder….Why then was the U.S. press, when it finally took notice of the story, so reluctant to label the murders as a hate crime? And how was it possible for this story to slip under their radars in this way—where it no doubt was destined to remain had it not been for the Twitter backlash?…Many Muslims on Twitter and elsewhere were easily able to relate to the three victims: the silent Muslims who don’t make the headlines and who feel their faith is under attack from extremists who insist on killing in their name—while at the same time being seen as a threat by those with whom they live in the West.”

The role of U.S. media has come increasingly under scrutiny in the days since the killings. Waqar Rizvi, in an article written for the Iranian news site Press TV, accused the U.S. government and society of showing crass indifference to the plight of the U.S. Muslim population: “Much like the White House, the overall American reaction to the executions of Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha at the hands of atheist Craig Hicks, especially in an increasingly right-wing media, has been a long yawn….For an American media and government which have done so much to demonize Muslims worldwide, both implicitly and explicitly, to achieve their worldwide political goals, how can they admit that the hate they have fostered is now backfiring on Muslims even within their own borders?…America and the West have for too long preached the good lessons of humanity, moral authority, equality, freedom, tolerance, and now is the time for the proof that they too live by these worthy ideals. Muslims’ lives, quite literally, hang in the balance.”

The Saudi Gazette editorial takes a different direction by suggesting that had the victims been of Jewish descent, the reaction would have been swifter and more sympathetic: “why it took social media coverage to wake up U.S. news editors to a story that was clearly important in terms of Islamophobia and race hate…. it has to be asked what the coverage would have been had the Chapel Hill victims not been three Muslims, but three Jews. The U.S. media has a pre-programed response for anti-Semitism. The coverage would probably have been a great deal faster, if not indeed instant and the parking dispute explanation examined far more critically.”

Expressing a similar sentiment, Times of Oman’s Aijaz Zaka tries to draw a comparison between the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attacks and the three students, wondering where the outrage was for the latter tragedy: “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 righteous statements from London, Washington and Paris, condemning the act of terror in this case? …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.”

According to some, the rising tide of Islamophobia should not be unexpected, given the vilification of Muslims in the U.S. media. Jordan Times’ Ramzy Baroud argues in favor of a more vigorous response on the part of the Obama administration: “The context of the killings, the murder itself and the media and official responses to the horrific event is a testimony to everything that went wrong since the United States unleashed its drawn-out ‘war on terror’, with its undeclared, but sometimes declared enemy, namely Islam and Muslims….It is time for Muslims to demand that Obama do more than issue a statement; he should call the United States government and hate-filled media to account. These outrageous double standards must end before more innocent lives are taken.”

The Saudi Gazette editorial team is pessimistic about any possibility of such vigorous action taken on the part of the U.S. government or the media, since the anti-Islam narrative, as the Saudi daily puts it in a recent editorial, serves the pro-Israeli narrative: “American media and the far right, ably assisted by Israel’s friends, acted as echo chambers of an administration to whom Muslims are an existential threat out to destroy Western civilization. Demonizing Islam and Muslims, largely unchallenged, became a daily occurrence on prime-time television….The 9/11 attacks and the war on terror gave them unfettered freedom to indulge in their negative portrayal of a great religion. All this served the Israeli purpose. According to the discourse encouraged by pro-Israeli pundits, Palestinians’ struggle against the occupation is part of Muslims’ war against Judeo-Christian civilization.”

Most commentators are proposing a combination of legal and social measures singling out Islamophobia in the West. The Peninsula’s Kahlid Al Jaber proposes implementing a series of legal measures aimed at Islamophobic acts: “Islamophobia prevalent today is similar to the negative ideas held about Islam and Muslims in 1910 in academic and media circles. But how can we counter these negative perceptions and their consequences? First of all, we need to remind the West about their double standards….The West should not only deal firmly with this crime but also make legislations to address Islamophobia and the spate of racist and hate crimes against Muslims, like it has done in the case of anti-Semitism for Jews and to prevent racism against African-Americans. This is important for the protection of religious rights and cultures and to build a society free from discrimination based on religion, race and ethnicity.”

In an attempt to present a balanced solution, Arab News’ Aijaz Zaka Syed takes aim at both Western and Muslim behavior, drawing attention to the need for vigorous rather than feeble attempts to address societal injustices: “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….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.”

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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: Comments and feedback are welcome at

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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