A Chapel Hill man, who was also an outspoken atheist, has been charged in the horrific murders of three Muslims near the campus of the University of North Carolina. Before the facts were fully known, a torrent of equivalency fantasies hit the Internet. (According to police, the shooting might have stemmed from an argument involving parking.) Craig Stephen Hicks proves that Americans are just as easily radicalized as anyone else. Look, we terrorize Muslims, too. Look, we twist ideology into something violent, too. And, of course, in isolated cases, all of that is true. Broadly, though, it’s just a big lie.
Take this extraordinarily reckless and stupid tweet that argues anyone who dares criticize religious illiberalism – whether those people had anything to do with the crime or not – are now culpable for the actions of a true lone wolf.
I dont blame atheism for murder of 3 Muslim Amer students. My focus is the GOP officials+professional anti-Muslim bigots #MuslimLivesMatter
— Dean Obeidallah (@Deanofcomedy) February 11, 2015
Or take these tweets, ones only a bit subtler in their attempts to chill speech. Basically, the contention goes like this: “If you think it’s ridiculous to say ‘atheists should condemn Chapel Hill killer’, welcome to the world Muslims face every day.”
As an atheist, I can’t wait until Bill Maher, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris & Christopher Hitchens’ Ghost apologize for #ChapelHillShooting.
— Nima Shirazi (@WideAsleepNima) February 11, 2015
— Zaid Jilani (@ZaidJilani) February 11, 2015
For starters, if the atheist movement had a component driven by bigotry and violence, the appropriate response would be: “You’re damn right I’d be demanding atheists condemn a movement, even if 1 percent appropriated my beliefs for political violence. We certainly shouldn’t wait to reach those big percentages of Muslims that support theocratic violence.”
There is no excuse for any sort hate-motivated criminality (or any kind), but there is an enormous difference between the isolated murder of three people and the substantial theocratic movement within the Islamic world. The most obvious difference is that in the United States murders are condemned by nearly everyone without stipulation. Those murders are prosecuted by the state, they aren’t funded by it, and the murderers certainly aren’t celebrated as heroes.
Moreover, the philosophy of the New Atheists, who spend a lot of time condemning the illiberalism of political Islam, has no basis or tradition that could be misconstrued by anyone with a brain as violent. This is why, whatever you think of them, no radical contemporary atheist groups have burned people alive. Sam Harris does not demand the submission, or even the respect, of Christians. Richard Dawkins does not fund state-sponsored atheist cells or schools of extremist philosophy in your country. Christopher Hitchens made his case for atheism using open discourse that was provided by a majority-Christian nation. It’s the kind of free expression that can’t be found in any Islamic state. Never once, in any of his speeches or books, did Hitchens argue that believers should have fewer rights to proselytize than he did.
What this episode proves again is that Western apologists for illiberalism and terror refuse to make a differentiation between race and ideas. This is the easiest way to embrace moral equivalency and ignore proportionality and history. Their main goal, as always, is to discourage free expression.