One of the most galling things of the general media coverage (in addition to the distinct lack of it) of the Chapel Hill terrorist attack has been the consistent line that, as the police are still investigating the incident we cannot definitively state the ‘reasons’ behind Craig Hick’s murders.
The smallest amount of context, though, reveals a facade of journalistic integrity that smacks in the face of the media’s recent history of covering incidents in which Muslims are thought to be the aggressors. It could well be that the incident began with a “parking disupte” but it would be naive to the point of foolishness to believe such a dispute to be the only cause. By and large, certain majors news organisations have refused to speculate on this particular story, despite the fact that modern news is built around fast-paced news constructed into a hasty narrative.
Laying out this “parking dispute” as an event which can explain what happened is rampant foolishness. Instead, the coverage of Chapel Hill has been a masterclass in demonstrating the power and role of the media in furthering the ideology of the ‘war on terror.’ We’re expected to believe that America can set on this war against ideology, plunder various nations for their resources and institute a comprehensively overwhelming system built to ‘other’ and dehumanise Muslim people.
We are then, in turn, supposed to believe that this brutal murder was enacted by someone who is routinely described as a ‘man’ involved in a ‘shooting,’ rather than, to use the now traditional rhetoric of terror reserved for brown people, a white terrorist who furthered his agenda with a gun-toting rampage in quiet, suburban America. The presence of aggressive, murderous whiteness and Muslims as victims is difficult for the media to reconcile itself with. This incident is charged with religious tension, in spite of the best efforts of the media to frame it otherwise.
The following media analysis cherry picks certain articles that demonstrate the absence of a rhetoric of terror in an event which unarguably involved the spreading of terror through forceful means.
Media framing of the Chapel Hill shooting
A handy dandy how-to guide for reporting on Muslims being murdered by a white person, and how to avoid pesky paradoxes with previous characterisations of Muslims (every single last one of them) as woman-oppressing, radicalising, war-mongering, terrorising sub-humans only.
- Be sure to establish the relatively benign connotations of the dead Muslims; namely, through clarifying that their dwelling housed ‘academics and young professionals’
- Never refer to the terrorist as a ‘terrorist’ – as a white man he is biologically incapable of spreading terror. It could also be the fact that since George Bush’s iteration of the ‘war on terror,’ the term ‘terrorism’ has been exclusively used to denote brown and/or Muslim people. The subsequent demonisation of Islam and its followers is a racially charged term aimed at marginalising and dehumanising those of the Muslim faith. But, it’s probably the biology thing.
- In the mandatory search of the terrorist’s Facebook page, state that he posted ‘regular images and text condemning all religions.’ It’s highly unlikely that given America’s campaign to bomb Muslim countries into submission that attacks like this will be racially and politically charged. He hated all religions equally, it’s all good. His atheism certainly isn’t relevant in informing his world view and thus radicalising him to the point of murder
- Follow the trend set by other major news organisations and don’t run the story as a major headline. Instead, tuck it gracefully into the World News section. After all, the Muslims aren’t doing the shooting and freedom of speech as we know it isn’t being directly threatened so let’s go with some other guff about smoking in cars or something. There’s no 24/7 coverage for two weeks on this one story to see here
- Be extremely careful about the fact that the police are ‘still investigating whether the attack was hate-motivated.’ It would be irresponsible journalism to already jump to conclusions about labelling the murderer(s).
- As before, the terrorist is actually a ‘suspect’; jumping to conclusions may well fan the flames of racial hatred and have significant consequences for other white people who may then likely be accused of radicalism and be asked to prove they aren’t about to go on a gun toting rampage
- Include social media by acknowledging that people on Twitter are already ahead of print and broadcast media in discussing the political and social ramifications of a white man openly murdering three Muslim people
- Place the story in your ‘top headlines’ section but also be sure to have it close to an article on the Muslim population ‘doubling‘ in the UK in the last ten years. (Ok, yes, the rest of that article does clarify that studies have shown that UK residents vastly overestimate the actual number of Muslims but this is the Age of Clickbait, it’s fine, all the cool kids are doing it).
- Frame an entire story over your belief that even if Craig Hicks hates all religions, he does believe in the rights of individuals. There are, after all, no individuals involved in Islam.
- Seamlessly transition from quoting the murderer’s hatred of Christianity, Islam and Judaism in directly quoting his Facebook page when he said ‘I wish they would exterminate each other!’ into this remarkably irony free paragraph: ‘But he was just as passionate about personal freedom and liberty — championing an individual’s right to worship or not worship, legal abortion and gay marriage and, perhaps most fervently, the right to own and bear arms. If he has a creed, it’s the Second Amendment.’ No. I can’t do this…sarcasm bit here. CLEARLY, the second amendment was extremely important to this passionate hater of parking abuses. Whether further details emerge the basic facts will not change – this man murdered three young people, he sought them out and shot them in the head. There’s rarely any point trawling through anyone’s social media to determine ‘who they really are,’ but in cases like this we can see that HuffPo have boiled this down to ‘he hated all religions equally and he believed in individual freedoms!’ Not the kind of individual freedoms which involve continuing to live without being shot in the head, but here we are
- Cue various people involved in Hicks’ life providing handy soundbites. His wife’s trembling hands, and presumably the rest of her, claims that Hicks was essentially unprejudiced. Include the obligatory old school reports that could provide an insight into the first hints of a disturbed mind – mental illness is always an avenue open for white shooters who, when they are inevitably led away alive, must have some singular reason as to their terrible no-good decision making. Reserve the hysterical speculation for the brown people, their social media is just a whole other trip
- End the article with comments from residents local to Hicks about his on-going trouble with parking spots. Really, really.
- Lead with the headline that ‘Muslims call for hate crime charges…but such cases are challenging;’ Muslims regularly speak in one voice and without interference or agreement from others
- Hide multitudes in the word ‘challenging.’ It’s important to look like an articulate, well reasoned piece
- Mention the ‘Craig Hicks is an atheist who hated all religions’ line just in case anybody else missed it
- Categorise the story as ‘hate crime’ (having thought about it in a challenging way, naturally), under the sub-category ‘Crime.’ Give it a prime spot next to ‘Terrorism’ in the Fox News Sidebar of Things That Rustle My Jimmies
As demonstrated above, much of the outdated forms of news communication are more than able to round up social media outrage without expressing that outrage themselves. They have hemmed themselves in to a particular rhetoric and their outrage is clearly reserved for the likes of Charlie Hebdo.
This same rhetoricdoesn’t allow for the world to feel that the victims of this terrorist attack are to receive sympathy for the fact that they were killed; their degrees, and their marriage and details of their personal lives and philanthropy are supposed to back up our sympathy because they’re just like ‘us,’ ‘us’ being white, western, middle class people. Plenty of Muslims are murdered by white men every day (see: many of the wars waged since 9/11 in the name of fighting against extremism and bringing civilisation to the globe) but, as this happened in the US, we pay more attention to it in a very specific way. We are not #jesuismuslims because it would be abhorrent for the average, every day Joe Bloggs to imagine themselves in a fate so..radical. Solidarity is not for Muslims.
Hicks does not need to have killed them specifically because they are Muslim – as an American on American soil Islamophobic rhetoric cannot have failed to seep into his brain. The parking disputes theory can be trotted out for as long as the media need it to be but the fact is that the basic points of this horrible incident have demonstrated that what we really need is to discuss why it is apparently so strange to have Muslims as victims. Why is it so strange that people should be able to feel empathy for Muslims without needing evidence of their innate goodness?
What Chapel Hill Means for Muslim-Americans – http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2015/02/chapel-hill-means-muslim-americans-150214055606694.html
Chapel Hill Shooting and Western Media Bigotry – http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2015/02/chapel-hill-shooting-western-media-bigotry-150211083909613.html
The Colour of Muslim Mourning – http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2015/02/colour-muslim-mourning-150215065825362.html (Mustafa Mattan, a black Muslim whose death went largely unreported in both the media and on social media states, this article questions the anti-blackness within many Muslim communities)