When three Muslim students, Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Abu Salha, 21, and her sister Razan Abu Salha, 19, are murdered by a man with a gun in Chapel Hill, the natural response is one of disgust and upset. But perhaps the significance of the event hasn’t really impacted us in the way that it ought to.
Who remembers the shooting at Charlie Hebdo? The rallies, the solidarity, the reminders to the violent minority that ‘Je Suis Charlie’, and that we will not be intimidated; that collectively, we will fight for our right to draw the Prophet Muhammad however we choose. Our freedoms of speech, expression and religion (or lack thereof) are important to us. They are the basis on which we build our lives.
It’s possible that we are selective about whom we see as worthy of these freedoms; some feel, perhaps rightly, that Charlie Hebdo was achieving little more than marginalising minorities, and glorifying racism and prejudice.
Worse yet, it’s also possible that we’re selective about whom we see as worthy of our attention when their freedoms are breached. It’s only after the emotional climax of Charlie Hebdo died down that we were able to hear the background chatter of Nigeria and Boko Haram’s assault in Baga. It may well have resulted in up to 2000 deaths, not that anyone knows for certain.
“Our freedoms of speech, expression and religion (or lack thereof) are important to us. They are the basis on which we build our lives”
World leaders gathered in Paris to walk strong against oppression and are yet to do anything similar against Boko Haram. There is public outcry when extremist Islamic groups behead a journalist or kill an editor but we forget that ISIS’ greatest human cost comes not from our own population, but from the hundreds of Iraqis that have been murdered and beheaded.
Can we see a bit of Western-centrism here? Scope insensitivity is a recognised psychological phenomenon; we are all guilty of building a model of a certain type of victim deserving of empathy in our head. Our empathy cannot or will not extend beyond this, because we are incapable of conceptualising more than a few victims effectively. As a white majority, and non-Muslim majority country, we find it very easy to identify with a handful of French writers, but hard to identify with Muslim dental students and hundreds of Nigerian villagers.
“We forget that ISIS’ greatest human cost comes not from our own population, but from the hundreds of Iraqis that have been murdered and beheaded”
In light of his brutal killing of the three Muslim students, Craig Stephen Hicks is facing first degree murder charges. Condemning this hate crime as what it is – an act of terror – is our chance to unite.
We need to say we will not allow members of our communities, and others, to be intimidated because of their religion, no matter what their religion. We need to reaffirm that it’s not just Muslims that can be terrorists. And we need to look to look at the murders of Africans, Iraqis and American Muslims with a death toll in the thousands and say ‘yes, that is a lot worse than Charlie Hebdo’.
Image via independent.co.uk