Chapel Hill Murders: Between A Simplistic Media And Human Complexity
The shock I felt following the execution style killings of Chapel Hill students Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu Salha and Razan Abu Salha has made it hard to write. These murders represent a low point: murders upon murders have left my heart paralyzed and I know I am not the only one, many of us feel this way. I question how much we are doing here and how much we have accomplished on Loonwatch.
Every week, more than ever, we seem to be hurled from one crisis to the next: the destruction of Gaza and thousands of its innocent lives, attacks on a Kosher market in Paris, a satirical/Islamophobic tabloid, the burning alive of a Jordanian pilot, the burning alive of a teenage Yemeni boy in a US drone attack, attacks on a Synagogue in Copenhagen, impending war in Iraq, the murders at Chapel Hill, the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians, and the many untold murders taking place everyday in our cities, along the US-Mexico border, in Central Africa, Nigeria, South Sudan and many other places I am unable to recount in this short space.
Media Hypocrisy and Double Standards
These events however do highlight the double standards and hypocrisy of media reporting, in which some lives matter more than others and many facts that matter are either ignored or conveniently dismissed.
Interestingly, Russell Brand, a sort of jester-philosopher, has proven to be far more engaging and nuanced in his breakdown of the media through his YouTube channel, Trews News, than most of what passes today for media criticism.
In his most recent episode of Trews News, Brand deconstructs media coverage of Chapel Hill by comparing it with attacks in Denmark:
Chapel Hill Vs. Copenhagen: Which is terrorism? Russell Brand, The Trews (E257)
He points out the reinforcement in the media of narratives about Muslims as dangerous terrorists and Islam as the culprit of evil ideas that along with its votaries are the chief threats to “Western values.” This is in contrast to the way Craig Hicks was depicted, a man who we were immediately told (after an initial media silence on the story until Twitter users picked it up) was simply motivated by some strange and inexplicable rage over a parking space.
A lot of ink was spilled to indicate how gentle he was, how he supported gay rights, religious freedom and even loved puppies. His atheism/anti-theism many have argued was inconsequential and not a factor in his killings. Care was taken to say and repeat, ad nauseum, that either this had nothing to do with religion or, in fact, there was something else behind the reason why Hicks just went ‘haywire’ and murdered his Muslim neighbors: perhaps he was radicalized by a movie or he was just a gun nut.
The Simplistic vs. the Complex: The Case of Bill Maher on Muslim Americans
This brings me to my point: when non-Muslims, specifically Whites carry out murders such as these, media coverage tends to look beyond superficiality and digs into complexity. Muslim perpetrators (and often victims as well) of violence are denied this complexity; Islam/Islamism/Muslim cultures are simply to blame.
Take one instructional example that parallels in many ways the events in Chapel Hill. When Bridges TV owner Muzzammil Hassan killed his wife, Bill Maher had a whole segment about the murder on Real Time.
Hassan, gruesomely killed his wife by murdering her with what Maher described in racialized tones as a “scimitar.” Maher, would repeat the line about the scimitar again during the segment and also did a cartoonish ‘Arab’ accent (even though Hassan was Pakistani-American), while swinging an imagined sword in the air in a mock imitation of Hasan killing his wife (all for cheap laughs).
To drive the points home that this was a unique Islamic murder, a degree worse than murders perpetrated by “red-blooded White American males,” and that there are no trustworthy Muslim Americans he had Islamophobe Brigitte Gabriel on the show as a special guest:
Bill Maher: He [Hasan] ran a TV station specifically to highlight how Moslems are being misconstrued in the public eye [audience laughter]…(laughs)…and then he cuts her head off with a sword…(laughs)…and so I wanted to have this lady come on and comment on this. I read about her many times, she is the founder of ACT! For America and author of They Must Be Stopped: Why We Must Defeat Radical Islam And How We Can Do It. Please Welcome Brigitte Gabriel. [applause].”
Now this scares people because people think here’s a guy living in America 25 years, he’s assimilated, we can trust him and then he takes a giant sword off the wall and cuts his wife’s head off.
Maher implies here that Muslims, even those who you may know and are living exemplary lives, are untrustworthy, to be feared and a fifth column.
Now enter Gabriel to jump all over Maher’s offering:
Brigitte Gabriel: That’s right…[audience laughter]…and then he is touted as the exemplatory moderate Moslem who actually started Bridges TV which is an Islamic television to clean up the image of Islam. And what does he do? He beheads his wife, calls the police bragging about how he cut her head off and the police shows up and there’s the lady laying on the floor, in the TV station that they founded together and her head is next to her body and this guy did it in the name of honor. This is what we call a moderate Muslim businessman in the United States, it’s frightening. [audience hoots] (emphasis mine)
Maher: Well say what you really think…[audience laughter]
Gabriel: You can’t even make this stuff up.
Maher: I know.
Be afraid, be afraid of Muslims anywhere and everywhere we are being told. They cannot be trusted. I wonder if that crossed Craig Hicks mind while he plotted and planned the murder of his Muslim neighbors?
Next, Maher asks the obvious question, why is this murder different than other instances of domestic violence?
Maher: Let me ask you the other question: C’mon there are red-blooded White Americans who strangle their wives and OJ killed his wife with a knife, it wasn’t a giant sword, you know. What about the argument that this is just bigotry towards the Moslems to extrapolate all of this from this incident?
Gabriel: No, it’s very different and I have to make it very clear that I do come from the Middle East, I am an Arabic woman from Lebanon and this is strictly an Islamic practice and here’s the difference: when Westerners in the West kill their wives they usually kill their wife and run away, they try to hide the problem, they try to lie, they try to hide the evidence, [audience laughter] they do not call the police and brag about how they killed her. [audience laughter] You know there’s a major difference there. [audience applause] (emphasis mine)
Maher is asking Gabriel to give some reasons to justify the preset conclusion that they have already made regarding the murder; that it is “Islamic.” First, I’d like to point out that it’s quite funny to hear Gabriel say she is an “Arabic woman” when she has repeated in the past that Arabs are “barbarians” who “have no soul.” I guess when it is beneficial, why not be Arab, especially if it will give you supposed credibility to bash Arabs and Muslims.
In any case, we are to believe that this is an “Islamic murder” and worse than when non-Muslims kill because the guy allegedly bragged about it! This is so idiotic that even Maher has to make the obvious quip that well, it doesn’t make much of a difference to a dead wife.
Maher: [laugheter] But that doesn’t make that much of a difference to the wife…[laughter]…[applause]…You think he had that scimitar up on the wall just as a conversation piece?…[laughter]…(Ay-rab voice)“I keep it up there to remind me how far we come.” And then one day the wifey went too far, and he went: ‘bitch you are (makes sword cutting motion)’…and cut her head off.
Although, Maher makes this slight joke, he is still all in on leading the racist, anti-Arab, Islamophobic train of hate that imputes Hassan’s actions as a consequence of Islam and Muslim culture.
Next, Gabriel in her quintessential ditzy fashion tears down all her earlier claims that this was an “Islam” inspired murder by contradicting her assertion that Hassan was (her words) “an exemplatory moderate Muslim.”
In fact, he had a serial history of domestic abuse, as she herself acknowledges.:
Gabriel: Yea…off with her head. Listen this is a premeditated, calculated murder. She has reported many times domestic abuse and remember this is his third wife and the other two left him because of domestic abuse because he was beating them. This lady wanted to leave him because she was fearing for her life and finally he killed her and it’s a tragedy and I thank you for bringing it to light because no one in the mainstream media is covering the story.
Maher: I know. You start a TV station to highlight how moderate the Moslems are and you make one mistake. [laughter]
Maher, caps the surreal segment with a buffoonish reassertion of the theme that in his back-and-forth with Gabriel he’s been driving home from the beginning: “Moslems” by definition cannot be trusted.
Not only is this rhetoric the type that shapes Western cultural attitudes (Real Time has millions of viewers worldwide), it contributes to an environment where Muslim lives are dehumanized, suspect and not worthy of the same respect as other citizens. It is no wonder that behaviors such as hate crimes, discriminatory laws and police practices, as well as invasions of whole nations are normative and accepted.
It also highlights how simplistic answers and mono-causal reasons (Islam/Muslim culture) are forwarded when Muslims are involved in violence: whether it is domestic violence related, as in the case of Hassan, or the shootings perpetrated in Denmark by Omar El-Hussein, a young man who had a history of violence.
It is not surprising that the week of the Chapel Hill murders, Bill Maher made no mention of them on his program. No doubt he was uncomfortable, maybe in the back of his head he just couldn’t compute how an avowed anti-theist and self-proclaimed militant atheist (much like himself) could commit these grisly and horrid murders.
Why didn’t he, as he did with Hassan’s murder, deride Hicks’ faith based beliefs? Couldn’t he do a segment about how Hicks was an “exemplatory” citizen for 55 years of his life and then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, he took those “conversation pieces” (dozens of guns) down and for some inexplicable (insert: anti-theism) reason used them to murder his neighbors?
No, he can’t because it doesn’t jibe with his belief in muscular “9/11 liberalism” and his confident hatred of Islam as the “worst of the worst.” He can’t because he won’t countenance his particular sect, New-Atheism, being twisted in this manner. Maybe, it also makes him uncomfortable because it highlights the fact that human beings are not simplistic beings but complex and that maybe there are many reasons and factors driving them to do good and horrible things.