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When Terrorism Is Not Terrorism
Monday February 16, 2015 10:59 AM, Abdus Sattar Ghazali

The seven-million strong American Muslim community was shocked and terrified by the execution-style murder of three Muslim students at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill on Tuesday.

The students, Deah Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, 21 and her sister Razan Abu-Salha, 19, were shot by 46 year old Craig Stephen Hicks who turned himself in to the authorities.

Mohammad Abu-Salha, the father of two of the murdered sisters, told media that his daughter Yusor told him "on more than two occasions that this man came knocking at the door and fighting about everything with a gun on his belt, more than twice" and that "Daddy, I think he hates us for who we are and how we look." Yusor wore a headscarf as many Muslim women wear.

While police in Chapel Hill said a preliminary investigation suggests Craig Stephens Hicks acted based on a parking dispute, Facebook posts show Hicks' atheist attitudes and his disdain for Islam and Christianity.

Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, said that based on those posts and newspaper articles he has read about the murders — in addition to people he has talked to in North Carolina — the parking dispute explanation is likely "not the whole story."

"It's prudent for us not to jump to a conclusion, but it's also prudent for us to keep all options open, including the possibility that it was a biased, motivated crime," Ellison said.

"Based on the brutal nature of this crime, the past anti-religion statements of the alleged perpetrator, the religious attire of two of the victims, and the rising anti-Muslim rhetoric in American society, we urge state and federal law enforcement authorities to quickly address speculation of a possible bias motive in this case," said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad.

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), in a statement said it firmly believed the senseless murder of the three Arab and Muslim American students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina is a result of hate rhetoric and the spread of anti-Arab sentiment and Islamophobia.

"The ADC has observed a drastic increase of anti-Arab sentiment and Islamophobia within the last few years, the ADC statement said adding: This increase in rhetoric and violence is directly linked to the negative media coverage and hateful propaganda launched against the Arab and Muslim communities. For example, the media's biased coverage following attacks on the Charlie Hedbo offices in France; the release of the film "American Sniper;" and the false statements by opportunistic politicians such as the Governor of Louisiana Piyush (Bobby) Jindal on 'no go zones for non-Muslims,' all contributed to the growing narrative against the Arab and Muslim American communities.

The ADC President Samer Khalaf stated: "The use and enforcement of U.S. laws to target Arab and Muslim Americans emboldens the violence we witnessed in the Chapel Hill executions. Targeted surveillance and racial and religious profiling against our community by the government perpetuates anti-Arab sentiment and Islamophobia in our society. Government laws and policies endorse attitudes that all Arabs and Muslims are potential threats, enemies, and disposable."

The American Muslim community was disappointed at the minimized mainstream coverage of the murder of the three students. The CAIR Communications Director, Ibrahim Hooper argued: "It goes without saying that if the perpetrators were Muslims there would have been international headlines immediately."

Domestic Terrorism at UNC-Chapel Hill
Arsalan Iftikhar, Senior Editor of The Islamic Monthly, called it an act of terrorism. Writing under the headline, Domestic Terrorism at UNC-Chapel Hill, Iftikhar said: To put it as bluntly as possible: The February 2015 UNC-Chapel Hill murders of 3 Muslim students is an act of "terrorism."

He pointed out that according to the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), the term "domestic terrorism" means any crime which: Involves acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law; Appears intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population (I can assure you that 7 million American Muslims qualify as a "civilian population" and we were certainly intended to be intimidated); and Occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States."

"So regardless of whether the 46-year-old gun-loving militant atheist Craig Hicks had executed three Jewish students or three Muslim students in cold blood at the UNC campus in Chapel Hill, we should all remember that this deranged person's clear "anti-religious bias" along with the brutality of his execution-style murders of these three innocent religious minority college students objectively encapsulates the overall definition of "terrorism" in every normative common-sense meaning of the word," he concluded.

Dr Mohamad Elmasry, an assistant professor in the Department of Communications at the University of North Alabama, believes that the murders were carried out in apparent response to the January murders of Charlie Hebdo journalists in Paris. Writing under the headline - Chapel Hill shooting and western media bigotry - he pointed out that the "Western media outlets will likely frame the most recent perpetrator of what some speculate is an anti-Muslim crime in the same way they frame most anti-Muslim criminals - as crazed, misguided bigots who acted alone. If past coverage is any indication, there will likely be very little suggestion that the killer acted on the basis of an ideology or as part of any larger pattern or system."

Dr. Elmasry went on to say, given what we know both about western media portrayals of Islam and Muslims on the one hand, and media effects and theory on the other hand, it would be foolish to dismiss western media representations as potential causal factors in anti-Muslim sentiment and crime. "In fact, it is likely that anti-Muslim sentiment and crime are, at least in part, driven by one-sided, narrow, sensationalistic, and arguably bigoted western media portrayals of Islam and Muslims."

According to the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), a leading Muslim civil rights organization, anti-Muslim violence and incidents are the second most frequent religiously-motivated hate crimes. From mosque permits being denied to women with head scarves being discriminated against to bullying of Muslim students, the nation has not seen this level of anti-Muslim hysteria in recent years. The execution-style of the three students at Chapel Hill and the environment of hate warrants a moment of national reflection: What is it that we are doing to create such a toxic atmosphere? Where does this anti-Muslim sentiment stem from? Who are the individuals and groups who are peddling this hate?

[Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America ( EMail: asghazali2011 (@)]

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