Sunday, February 15, 2015

Chapel Hill and Charlie Hebdo

Just to preface this post, the proceeding thoughts will be more "of the news" than about it. 

I awoke on Monday last week to the horrific news that three Muslim students – Yusor, Deah and Razan – were murdered by a Chapel Hill man. It was a heinous crime that devastated local, national and international communities. 

Quickly following the news break, I saw posts reprimanding the media for calling the crime a violent act instead of terrorism. Whereas, if roles in the crime had been reversed, media headlines would've mentioned terrorism. Here is the cartoon. I must admit, it makes an important point about problems of racism and stereotyping in the United States. 

But why didn't media call this awful murder a terrorist act? 

Terrorism is "the use of violence in the pursuit of political aims." 

A lot of terrorist activities happen in the Middle East because the West and especially the United States occupy and force Western philosophies on regions that can't function peacefully under the these political structures. And actually very few terrorist attacks in the United States are from Muslim perpetrators – difficult to believe if you follow mainstream media coverage. 

The definition of "terrorism" is without mention of religion or religious affiliation. Terrorism is entirely political, and although some terrorist groups like ISIS in the Middle East or the the All Tripura Tiger Force have religious associations, their primary motivations are political (usually occupation). 

The media called Charlie Hebdo a terrorist attack because the biographies of the attackers revealed their political intentions. According to Robert Pape, a professor of political science at Chicago University, they were "powerfully motivated by the Iraq War, by the Abu Ghraib torture abuse." 

France also has blatantly racist and anti-islamic policies like banning muslim women from wearing full face coverings

The Chapel Hill shootings were motivated by reasons that weren't political. Although parking is the alleged reason, I neither believe that was the true reason nor believe it qualifies as political. Any way you look at it, the attacker possessed hatred for his neighbors, which caused him to commit three murders. 

Really, what's in a name? Society has almost given terrorism a new meaning. For example, most Americans wouldn't consider the Boston Tea Party an act of terrorism (it undeniably was) because it was initiated by Americans.  Perhaps the media should just stop using the word. It perpetuates stereotypes and cultivates racism, and when you get down to it, both the Chapel Hill and Paris attacks are repugnant examples of people hating people. 


  1. I wonder if the crime would, or could, be made more heinous by calling it by another name. Also telling to me is how every media story, in the headline and early in the copy of the story, identifies the victims, above all else, as Muslims. How different would the reporting have been if his victims were of another religion? Can you see stories with the following headlines: "Three Southern Baptists murdered by neighbor"; "Three Catholics shot down by angry neighbor"?? No. The word "Muslim" sells papers. The "popular media" reporting on this story has clearly made the decision that the crime is religiously motivated and by implication, any crime nowadays that is either committed by Muslims or against Muslims is assumed must be some type of "terrorism," whether or not the word is used. This is one-dimensional reporting, and is why I usually don't pay any attention to mainstream news. It's not reality, or even close to it.

    1. I've been thinking about the use of the word "Muslim" in headlines and what impact it could have on the case. With the United State's (and rest of the world's) history of oppression and violence toward minority populations, I think it's central to the story – important enough to make headlines. I agree that mainstream news and media make lot's of editorial choices even when reporting news. But I think it's because people want to know what to think about the facts, not just the facts.

    2. Yes, apparently people do want to be told what to think about the news, not think for themselves. So people just choose their news outlets according to the editorial slant (which is all about selling more papers or more ads) and never learn much about the "real" stories, which are generally very complex and not easy to generalize about, like most of reality.

    3. That may not be a failure of news media but just a consequence of being human. Reality is impossible to capture without omniscient capabilities, so throwing out tons of facts, opinions, ideas and generalizations in the marketplace of ideas and crossing our fingers the Truth surfaces is really the best we can do. As for the editorial slants, I think they are important. The Federalist papers come to mind. They were highly opinionated, editorialized articles that interpreted facts to argue for a revised Federal system. And ultimately, I think they had a good effect on our democracy. (But thinking about it, these documents were very complex–much more complex than anything published today in newspapers–proving your point.)