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Chapel Hill: Murder or Terrorist Attack?

Chapel Hill: Murder or Terrorist Attack?

Chapel Hill: Murder or Terrorist Attack?

Three American Muslims were shot dead on the 11th February near the University of North Carolina campus in Chapel Hill, in the United States.  In a statement police said that they responded to a report of gunshots, in the usually quiet area of Summerwalk Circle in Chapel Hill at 5pm local time. Upon arrival, officers found three young individuals, who were pronounced dead at the scene. Hicks, who has been charged for the killings, calmly turned himself in to local police in the town of Chapel Hill on Tuesday, shortly after the killings.

Authorities at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill called for calm, urging students to wait for police to ascertain the facts of the killings before ascribing motive. A US official later said that the shootings were “not part of a targeted campaign against Muslims in North Carolina”. Chris Blue, Chief of Chapel Hill police said his department was investigating reports that the killing was motivated “by an ongoing neighbour dispute over parking”.

The Council on American Islamic Relations issued a statement on the killings calling for an investigation into a possible religious motivation. Stating that “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 possible bias motive in this case.”

This shows why there has been a large amount of debate surrounding Stephen Hicks, the man charged with the murder of Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad and Razan Mohammed Abu-Salha, over whether he is purely a murderer or a terrorist.

Some argue that it does not matter as the man is accused of murder, should that not be enough? Others debate whether the slaughter is made more or less awful if the perpetrator is more strictly categorized. However, a few argue that, since the declaration of the “War On Terror”, the word “terrorism” has for many become conflated with the specific phenomenon of Islamist jihadist terror.

According to Hick’s Facebook however, he was a devoted believer in Dawkins/Hitchens/Harris school of atheism; a man who had displayed antipathy to the overt, although not extreme, religiosity of the kind displayed by the neighbours he shot. On his Facebook he posted about his right to insult and ridicule religion, although which religion is not specified. However, does this push his actions into the category of terrorism? Arguably not. Terrorism is defined by being carried out by group across the world, religious secular or somewhere in between, tends to come with a cause, a manifesto, a list of demands.

Ander Breivik – the far right extremist who murdered 77 people in Norway in 2011- with whom Hicks will be compared to, may have acted alone but, he had a manifesto; he laid out the reasons for killing, and hoped that others would follow his example.  There is no evidence so far that Hicks was hoping to inspire others, or to issue edicts, or even claim legitimacy for his actions. Although this does not mean that Hicks did not have motive. It does not do to say that every lone killer is a mad man – not least because of the associating stigma passed on to people with mental illnesses.

Unfortunately, the hate driven events since 9/11 and the issues in the West Bank to name but a few, have drawn the above into question. Murder is murder no matter the race, religion or gender of the victims. What happened is a terrible tragedy; however by calling into question whether this was an act of terror is prolonging and worsening the pain of losing these individuals.  As well as spreading fear in a society which does not need anymore.


Nina is in her Honours year at The University of Strathclyde in Glasgow studying History. She loves keeping fit and healthy at the gym and singing to her hearts content. Because of Nina's love of all things history related, she has a passion for reading, writing and researching. Nina is the Editor-in-Chief for an online magazine for female students at Strathclyde called Her Campus Strath and wants to continue her passion for writing after graduation. 


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