The senseless extra-judicial execution of three young Arab-American Muslims – a male of Syrian origin and two sisters of Palestinian extraction – in Chapel Hill plays out the emergence of a new white terrorist meme; the New Atheist politics. A toxic combination of Islamophobic obsession and anti-Palestinian animus.
Commentators who focus only on the Islamophobic sentiments of the perpetrator and frame this incident within the racial politics of the US, get it half right.
“New Atheism” as a system of belief may encourage critical inquiry into and scepticism about all religious doctrines and ideologies, but New Atheist politics suspends its critical acumen when it engages with Islam and Palestine. It is not a coincidence that the terrorist who committed this massacre admired Bill Maher and other self-professed new atheists.
Ideologues and propagandists
These ideologues and propagandists share two main ideological strands common in popular discourses in the US; neo-conservative beliefs and Zionist Christian evangelism. That is; they are united by an irrational hatred for and fear of Islam and Muslims as well as an unwavering support for the Israeli apartheid state and its colonial-settler campaign and genocidal policies in Palestine.
Similarly, Richard Dawkins tweeted that violence is not democratically distributed among world religions: “Some have never been [violent]. Some gave it up centuries ago. One religion conspicuously did not.”
Despite their faux humanistic posturing, moreover, Maher and company are avowedly Zionist in their approach to the Palestinians.
The bulk of their anti-Palestinian animus recycles ad nauseam the main talking points of Zionist hasbara, which can be summed up in three points; the war between Israel and the Palestinians is an even war between two equal sides; the moral superiority of “team Hebrew”, as Maher says; Hamas and its charter and Palestinians harbour “genocidal intentions”.
Ultimately, New Atheist politics serves as an alibi for the US and Israel’s imperial wars in the region. It also rejects any accountability and responsibility on the part of these colonial powers for the destruction of human life through drones, surveillance technologies and apartheid walls that further intensify the gap between the “haves” and “have-nots” in the Middle East and around the world.
It is in this context that the media blackout on the Chapel Hill massacre should be read. It is not simply a matter of collusion with western Islamophobic forces, but rather a function of obfuscating the overall picture and the systematic violence that these imperial states unleash in the world.
For western media, Muslim-on-Muslim terrorism receives some coverage, especially in sensational cases where some irredeemable terrorists gleefully broadcast their barbaric acts against one of their own.
For western media, Muslim-on-Muslim terrorism receives some coverage, especially in sensational cases where some irredeemable Islamist terrorists gleefully broadcast their barbaric acts against one of their own. ISIL’s incineration of the Jordanian pilot, Moaz al-Kassasbeh, is a case-in-point.
Muslim-on-white violence, however, receives prime coverage in western media. Although Islamic-related terrorism constitutes a small fraction of terrorism in the world, the non-stop 24-hour live stream of news and analysis frame such atrocities within orientalist and colonialist narratives about Islamic monstrosity and civilisational hatred.
But in cases of white-on-Muslim violence, there is a total blackout. This media blackout is not simply a matter of the creative use of language and euphemisms in the representation of white terrorists. It is also not about the incredulous trivialisation of the motive of this terrorist act into, as they immediately did in the Chapel Hill executions, an unfortunate neighbourly dispute over parking spaces.
History of aggression
It was made clear that this massacre is a part and parcel of the terrorist’s long history of aggression, harassment and intolerance of others, especially those who can be publicly identified as “other”.
Nonetheless, the important issue about the media blackout is that it suppresses this individual act of terrorism in order to obfuscate the systematic terrorist campaign of the US government in the region and in the world.
As Glenn Greenwald wrote for the Intercept; “Indeed, concealing stories about the victims of American militarism is a critical part of the US government’s strategy for maintaining support for its sustained aggression. That is why, in general, the US media has a policy of systematically excluding and ignoring such victims [although disappearing them this way does not actually render them non-existent].”
Needless to say, Palestinians have been paying the price for this policy in the region for over 67 years.
Deah, Yusor, and Razan did not die in vain. Their activism on behalf of disposable people around the world, especially the refugees of the Syrian civil war, offers an antidote to the brutal imperial global wars.
It is to their memory and their genuine solidarity with the victims of these global wars that we should remain faithful.
Dr Jamil Khader is dean of research and professor of English at Bethlehem University, Palestine.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.