I came on here to post my blog on the Crusades, Barack Obama, and al-Dawla al-Islamiyya (ISIS, ISIL, IS, Daesh). Then, I woke up to this:
As reported, a man, Craig Stephen Hicks, who portrayed himself as an avowed atheist on social media turned himself in early Wednesday (February 11) after he allegedly shot, and killed, three people in Chapel Hill, NC at a condo complex near the University of North Carolina. The victims were Deah Shaddy Barakat, his newlywed wife of two-months, Yusor Abu-Salha, and her sister, Razan Abu-Salha. All three were Muslim.
I came across this disheartening bulletin on Twitter & Facebook, with the hashtags #ChapelHillShooting and #MuslimLivesMatter. Where I did not come across this news (at the time) was on any of the three major television news networks in the U.S.: CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. CNN posted a story 13 mins later, Fox and MSNBC followed suit within the hour.
I took to Twitter and posted:
While the motivations of Hicks are yet to be uncovered and made clear what is evident is this -- a breaking story wherein three Muslims were killed by a white, non-religious man, in the Southeast went uncovered by major news outlets for hours. Had it been three white victims killed by a single Muslim man I have no doubt this news would have shot to the headlines much quicker and, importantly, without the popular calls from thousands on social media who, without the aid of news outlets, got #MuslimLivesMatter and #ChapelHillShooting trending.
Although I understand that news outlets can't cover everything and even significant stories sometimes slip past their significant radar of journalists and staff watching local news sources and social media, I can't help but sense something more unnerving in this scenario. In a news cycle that pushes pictures of hostages in Iraq/Syria to the front page (and rightly so) and when a Muslim man (Alton Nolen) beheads a woman in Oklahoma and threatens/assaults others is the number one news item of the day and there is serious lag on the #ChapelHillShooting I feel like something is amiss.
And my suspicion is not just a flight of fancy. Edward Said, in his work Covering Islam, made it explicit that Western media coverage of Muslims and Arabs was decidedly rife with cultural bias and political motives. Over the last thirty years, the situation has not improved. In fact, the media re-presentations may be getting worse. Other studies over the last decade have underscored the predilection that the media has for portraying Muslims in a negative light, which concomitantly goes hand-in-hand with lack of coverage of Muslim victims, multiple instances of mosque arson, or clear cases of anti-Muslim bigotry (a la the "Happy September 11th" to-go box in Houston, TX).
Unfortunately, not only does this lack of coverage of anti-Muslim bigotry and simultaneous vilification of Muslims in the news on a regular basis (whether rightly or wrongly) cause us to devalue human lives simply because they are Muslim lives, but it also aggravates the situation that undergirds this entire confabulation.
Frequent commenter Erik Johnson wrote to me this morning that we should not let the #ChapelHillShooting be used as a "fig leaf for much other evil" perpetrated by the likes of al-Dawla al-Islamiyya and other religio-political violent terror groups. Certainly, Johnson is right to make this caveat clear. At the same time, we must recognize the fact that anti-Muslim bias and a reticence to highlight that #MuslimLivesMatter only feeds into the propaganda promulgated by al-Dawla al-Islamiyya and their ilk.
As I shared this morning:
Just as Muslims make it clear that violence and terror is not to be done in the name of Islam (#NotInMyName) we who are not Muslim (or even those who are) must make it unequivocal that we do not condone, nor will we allow, religious or a-religious violence or bigotry be done in our names or in our countries. We cannot allow the false dichotomy between Islam and the West to be compounded.
Instead, we must listen and learn, dialogue and discern, dine together, do good together, and seek peace together. While there is worth in learning from our history, there is little value in quarreling ad nauseam over emphases in history while a contemporary crisis boils over in both foreign locals and our own communities.
As Ronald A. Lindsey, president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry -- a secular educational organization for the promotion of humanist values -- said, "[w]e hope that what ultimately emerges from this tragedy is a deeper understanding between people of all faiths and no faith that each one of us has the capacity to do good, to help in our own small ways to make the world a better place....we are all responsible for each other."
Religious literacy, and its vehicles of religious education and experience, are crucial components in combatting religious cluelessness and its antecedents of bigotry, deconstruction of human identity and religious/sociological/racist/cultural violence.
As Yehezkel Landau said in an article entitled Teaching the Religious Other from the U.S. Institute for Peace, “We need to develop educational strategies to overcome the ignorance that leads to prejudice, which in turn leads to dehumanizing contempt, which in turn breeds violence.”
It is my hope that through religious education, both experiential and in-depth in the classroom, mosque, or local church, we can mature out of our religious ignorance and bias and instead step into a future where, while we may not all get along, we may at least understand a little bit more about each other’s religious convictions and customs. This won’t be accomplished by blogs alone, thoughtful articles or even secondary religious education, but instead will be forged in direct encounter with the “religious other” in a peaceful context and with an open mind prepared by previous study and discussion.
The good news is, you can start today. Pay attention. Share this news, talk about this news. Be impacted by this news today. Be disheartened for the families of the victims. Stand with atheists who are saying #NotInMyName. Stand with Muslims who feel persecuted in the U.S. and elsewhere. Stand for peace, reconciliation, and compassion. Stand for #MuslimLivesMatter.
And then, do something about it. Pray for mercy and peace. Build bridges of hope through education, relationship, or collective interfaith action.
Just. Do. Something.