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Are we all responsible for the killings in Chapel Hill?

Are we all responsible for the killings in Chapel Hill?

Photo credit The Providence Journal / Kris Craig

Last week, an angry man killed three of his neighbors over what he claims was a long-running parking dispute.

The three victims were all Muslim. Yusor Abu-Salha was a 21 year old planning to attend UNC Chapel Hill dental school that fall. She had recently been interviewed for NPR’s StoryCorps, by her 3rd grade teacher. Her little sister, Razan Abu-Salha, 19, was also killed, as was her husband, Deah Barakata, 23, who was enrolled as a dental student at UNC.

The motives of the killer have been a subject of wide speculation. He is an anti-theist, with a Facebook full of vitriolic comments about Islam and Christianity. His branch of atheism seems particularly fixated on Islam and adherents of Islam; he described himself as a fan of Richard Dawkins, who believes that Islam is a singularly violent faith.

Nearly half of all American Muslims polled reported experiencing prejudice against their faith or perceived racial identity and only 22% of Americans polled reported no prejudice towards Islam and Muslim. (Gallup Poll 2010) This sentiment is part of a larger phenomenon termed “Islamophobia”, representing a widespread fear and prejudice against Muslims and Islam in general.

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat spoke about societal attitudes towards Islam and Muslims as being a contributing factor in the Chapel Hill killings in her d’var Torah yesterday. (A d’var Torah is a Jewish lesson on the Torah, similar to a sermon.)

She reflects on a teaching in the Torah on who is responsible when an independent actor–in this case, an ox–kills someone.

From the blog:

When an ox gores someone to death, kill the ox, but don’t punish its owner. But, if the ox has been in the habit of goring, and its owner knows that but fails to guard it, and it gores someone to death — then punish its owner, because the person who had responsibility failed to act.

Barenblat reflects that although we live in a pluralistic society, we’re all part of a broader American culture, in which Muslim lives and the lives of people of color are stereotyped and devalued. She acknowledges the pervasiveness and Herculean scope of changing that broader culture, and outlines ways we can individually work toward a better world.

Again, from the blog:

American culture, media, and stereotypes devalue the lives of Muslims and the lives of people of color. This happens in a million tiny ways and it is constant and omnipresent. I fear that this persistent devaluing of these lives teaches us, subconsciously, that these lives have lesser value.

I don’t know whether this massacre could have been prevented. But I believe that an American culture of fear and suspicion of Muslims contributed to this killer’s willingness to shoot these three young Americans in the head in their own home. And I believe that if we don’t act to change our nation’s culture, there will be more killings like this one — and all of us who sat idly by will be the ox owner who could have stopped the ox.

How can we change the culture of our entire nation? It’s too big a task. But we can begin by teaching our children that we value diversity. We can teach them that the great thing about a world filled with people who look, dress, or worship differently than we do is that we can learn from and about each other — we don’t need to be afraid of each other.

We can begin by educating ourselves about the experiences of other people and other communities in this country. We can begin by expanding the circle of people about whom we care.

The Rt Rev Nicholas Knisely, Bishop of Rhode Island, has reached a similar conclusion. He notes the graffiti and vandalism against an Islamic school in his diocese in an essay title “To not be provoked to evil“, where he persuasively argues that these acts of retribution and violence against Muslims in America is the exact outcome desired by terrorists.

Are we all responsible? Is there more we can do, in our secular and faith lives, to see a kingdom of peace on Earth? What steps are you taking to push back against spreading Islamophobia?

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Donna Hicks

And one other thing I invite non-Muslims to consider is that before we ‘decree' anything, we have an obligation to deeply listen to the Muslim community about what it has experienced, what it has come up against. For me that’s what counts - not what my perceptions are 10 miles away in Durham NC and in the county where the case will be tried.

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Gary Paul Gilbert

"We can begin by expanding the circle of people about whom we care" would be a good start. I am reminded how some gay bashers sometimes feel they are doing the mission of a larger society which has failed to stand for its convictions.

The deranged can warp any text, but the text they warp may have some ugly aspects which made the warping possible.

Gary Paul Gilbert

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Anne Benedict

" We can teach them that the great thing about a world filled with people who look, dress, or worship differently than we do is that we can learn from and about each other — we don’t need to be afraid of each other."

Except of course when we do. When I was a kid I couldn't even spell "Muslim" and I had only the vaguest notion what one was. I sure as heck was not suffering from "Islamophobia" any more than I was suffering from "Unitarianophobia." Let us please not start some pathetic liberal chest beating that somehow the Christian world is responsible for "Islamophobia." Call me crazy but I think maybe it's the incessant drumbeat of daily atrocities and Christian beheadings that has something to do with it.

Re: North Carolina -- there is zero evidence this guy was "Islamophobic" -- or at least any more than he was "Christianophobic" considering his extensive Facebook rants against all religions. And, of course, his wife pointed out that he was pro-gay marriage and pro-abortion so right there you know he has to be an OK guy, except for a being a bit of a psychopath.

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Nancy Bennett

David,

This article is not about "irrational fear and hatred" of Muslims. It does not establish that Americans fear and hate Muslims, nor that such fear or hatred is irrational. What the article does say is:

"American culture, media, and stereotypes devalue the lives of Muslims and the lives of people of color. This happens in a million tiny ways and it is constant and omnipresent. I fear that this persistent devaluing of these lives teaches us, subconsciously, that these lives have lesser value.

I don’t know whether this massacre could have been prevented. But I believe that an American culture of fear and suspicion of Muslims contributed to this killer’s willingness to shoot these three young Americans in the head in their own home"

Notice the segue from sweeping unsupported massive generalizations about "persistent devaluing" of Muslim (and what the hell, let's throw in "people of color" for good measure) lives to "fear and suspicion" of Muslims and finally to everybody somehow being responsible for three people getting shot in North Carolina.

I argue that the article presents not a shred of evidence for the pervasive existence of "Islamophobia" other than blanket unsupported assertions that there are "millions of tiny ways" in Muslim lives are "devalued." In fact, millions of Muslims live in peace and security in this country knowing that they are safe in their homes, their schools, their businesses, and their places of worship. Which is a lot more than you can say for Jews in Europe or Christians in any Islamic-majority country. That's why the article has to fall back on a lot of hand-waving about "microaggressions" since actual aggression against Muslims is vitually non-existent in the US. A Muslim in the US has a better chance of dying at the hands of Muslim terrorists (or, for that matter, from shark attack) than by being killed by an "Islamophobe."

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Anne Benedict

BTW, just as a helpful tip for framing future arguments, in the Old Testament God on several occasions commands some serious wiping out of enemies -- including men, women, and infants. I don't think I would base my plea for more enlightened dealing with threatening neighbors on the Old Testament.

As far as Fox falsely reporting that Birmingham England is a Muslim "no go zone" I would say that if that is the biggest piece of anti-Muslim propaganda that Christians (if you can call Fox "Christians") have come up with, they're laughable amateurs compared to ISIS burning some guy alive.

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Anne Benedict

Did Jews need to be afraid of Germans in 1938 or was that just unbiblical of them? Absolutely all Germans weren't Nazis -- indeed some were resisters and some risked their lives to save Jews. But if you were a Jew living in Berlin in 1938, a serious paranoia about Germans was probably pretty good survival strategy.

I am delighted you are not afraid of Muslims. I suggest it has a great deal to do with sitting in the United States surrounded by the world's greatest military force. Perhaps you could move to any Islamic run country and continue blogging various liberal sentiments. It would be an interesting social science experiment in the genesis of "Islamophobia." It would not, however, probably be an experiment that would go on for a great deal of time.

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JC Fisher

"Let us please not start some pathetic liberal chest beating"

{shakes my head}

You know, whenever I hear the phrase "liberal chest beating", I hear, "No, let's go kick the cr*p out of THEM!"

Does the "Get 'em!" reaction feel good in the gut? Of course it does.

But at the risk of sounding trite (like the "pathetic liberal" I am) "What Would Jesus Do?" What would Jesus have his followers do?

Dieing w/ a prayer of "Jesus" on my lips (as the ISIS video apparently shows the Coptic Christians doing---don't have the stomach to watch), or sending in the drones and cluster bombs?

I know we don't WANT to hear the former, but consider again Who we follow: "like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb".

I place far more (Eternal) hope in the witness of those Coptic Christians, than in calls for revenge. And you can call me crazy. Kyrie eleison...

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Anne Benedict

I'm almost unable to parse your reaction as a reply to my comment, as it seems to be responding to something else entirely.

I'm advocating sending drones and cluster bombs? I wasn't even *talking* about a response to Islamic atrocities. I'm just saying that a headline that reads "Are we all responsible for the killings in Chapel Hill" is absurd.

1. "We" are not all responsible (in the sense of taking the guilt for) anything. That is classic liberal double-speak. When "society" is guilty of everything, then nobody is actually guilty of anything.

2. The headline also assumes (multiple) facts not in evidence -- starting with that this psycho killed these people because he was an "Islamophobe" and ending with "he was an Islamophobe because American society made him one." It is quite possible that he was NOT an "Islamophobe." The jury is out on that one. It is also *highly* likely that all he had to do to fear Islam (if that is what "Islamophobia" means) is read the paper. I work for two Muslim guys who own my company. Everybody gets along great. One of them is from Syria and terrible things are happening to his family. I feel very compassionate towards him. Sorry *I* am not responsible for somebody hating and fearing Muslims. However, clearly there are a lot of Muslims who are responsible.

What would Jesus do? Jesus could speak pretty harshly on occasion. At a minimum I think we could assume he would say something like the Pope just said.

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