Violence against Muslims is not an exceptional event in this country. It is the norm. The triple homicide in Chapel Hill is no outlier. It is only the most recent and brutal manifestation of the pervasive Islamophobia in this country. Michelle Golberg, writing for The Nation blog, captures some of this:
According to the latest FBI statistics, there were more than 160 anti-Muslim hate crimes in 2013. Mosques and Islamic centers have been firebombed and vandalized; seven mosques were attacked during Ramadan alone in 2012. Several Muslims, or people thought to be Muslim, have been murdered or viciously attacked. In 2010, a white college student and self-described patriot tried to slash the throat of Bangladeshi cab driver Ahmed Sharif. The white supremacist who slaughtered six people in a Sikh temple in 2012 may have thought he was targeting Muslims. So, apparently, did Erika Menendez, the homeless New Yorker who pushed a man named Sunando Sen in front of a subway train that same year.
She writes that, in most cases, “the perpetrators have been disaffected, disaffiliated losers” who “picked up broader currents of hatred and conspiracy theorizing.” Islamophobia, according to Goldberg, “has been a consistent motivator of violence.” This is fine as far as it goes, but it ignores one crucial detail: the xenophobia is not some rootless current existing in society. It is institutionalized. Violence against Muslims is carried out by the United States government–whether it is in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, or Yemen–and the dehumanization of Muslims, with deadly consequences of its own, is its inevitable companion.
Goldberg contends that an “organized jihadist movement exists; an organized cadre of terroristic atheists does not.” Fair enough, but Islamophobia does not require an armed coterie of atheists to be dangerous. There is the FBI which taught its counterterrorism agents that mainstream Muslims were “likely to be terrorist sympathizers,” that the Prophet Muhammad was a “cult leader,” and the Islamic practice of zakat, or charity, was nothing more than a “funding mechanism for combat.” There is the US military which “taught its future leaders that a ‘total war’ against the world’s 1.4 billion Muslims would be necessary to protect America from Islamic terrorists.” It considered several options including “using the lessons of ‘Hiroshima’ to wipe out whole cities at once, targeting the ‘civilian population wherever necessary.'” In a surveillance training document from 2005 the National Security Agency listed the creative “Muhammad Raghead” epithet “as a placeholder for a target.” Perhaps the NSA, FBI, and US military are filled with disaffected losers but they also belong to the most powerful institutions of the country.
And Muslims continue to feel the effects of this institutionalized Islamophobia. They are relentlessly surveilled, entrapped by informants, suffer grave consequences when they refuse to become informants themselves, have their places of worship designated as terrorist organizations, and so on. All of this is quite aside from the millions of Muslims wounded, killed, or otherwise affected by the War on Terror itself.
Obama has been unusually silent about the Chapel Hill murders. There was no statement by the President claiming that Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha could have been his own children, as he once claimed about Israeli children. When the Press Secretary was asked about the murders at the White House Press Briefing he responded that “there’s no specific reaction from the White House.” I can understand why some might want Obama to comment on the murders. However, given his own complicity in the institutionalized Islamophobia that enabled it there is no reason to expect honesty from the President.