The Rush to Defend White Shooters


The funerals of Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha, and Razan Abu-Salha in North Carolina. Photo from BBC.

It’s not that I’ve never been angry about a parking space before. But I’ve been baffled at the certainty of so many white Americans–before the conclusion of a thorough investigation, and even before the bodies of three promising young American college students were put into the ground–that a parking dispute was absolutely, positively the only possible motive for a white man to assassinate three Muslim college students in their home.

I don’t pretend to know why exactly this man did what he did. But I do know that, especially during this time of rampant anti-Muslim sentiment in America, this crime struck me deeply and personally, as it has many Americans who are committed to racial and religious equality. It has struck the hearts of not only American Muslims and their friends, but also Muslims worldwide. I chose to write about it in an op-ed, just published in the Tampa Bay Times:

Anti-Muslim sentiment of any kind is ignorance. Muslim citizens have been far too integral to America, and America has been far too connected to the Muslim world for far too long for us to excuse any such ignorance any longer. It is time for us to speak up about how American Muslims like Yusor Abu-Salha and her family represent the very best that America is and has to offer the world.

Yet what words of wisdom or inspiration do readers have to offer in response to what I wrote? I’ve gotten multiple manslpains from white people telling me, with a level of certainty as if they were present at the scene of the crime, informing me that there  is no shred of evidence that this white shooter was motivated by anything other than anger about parking spaces.

If there had been a rush to defend the Army major who opened fire on unarmed military members at Fort Hood in 2009, killing 13 people and wounding 32 others, as a deranged, angry, socially-marginalized lunatic who should’ve been weeded out of the military years before and/or flagged as a potentially violent actor who should’ve been medicated before he took action–then maybe I wouldn’t be surprised. But he was Muslim, and his explanation was that he was now taking the terrorist’s side in the War on Terror. Because that is clearly the sanest explanation for what he did.

If there had been a rush to defend the brothers who detonated IEDs at the Boston Marathon in  2013, killing 3 people and wounding more than 260 others, as deranged, angry, and socially-marginalized lunatics who should’ve been reported by neighbors, classmates, or family members years before for their interest or ties to extremists abroad–then maybe I wouldn’t be surprised. But they were Muslims, and the prevailing explanation seems to be “lone wolf” terrorism.

There is a lot to say here, but I’ll summarize by asking this question: when will white America be willing to acknowledge that racial or religious hatred (which are often tied together) are a profound component of violent crimes? Or, when will white America be willing to admit that white rage and white crime often stem from the impulse to “keep people in their place”? This is why we categorize specific criminal acts as hate crimes. It is to acknowledge that a crime is committed not simply as an isolated crime, but also as an act of intimidation to a category of person. Because history matters, and our criminal system, for its many faults, nevertheless uses this as a tool to reverse the tide of historic intimidation of minority populations.

Push back on this if you will. But know that there is a long list of white domestic terrorism that is routinely shrugged off as singular disputes or mental illness (with the same rabid certainty we’re seeing in this case). Know also that America has a long and profound history of racial crime that is barely acknowledged in history classes, and remains almost wholly unknown by a shocking majority of white Americans. Islamophobia is simply our current prejudice du jour.

Again, I don’t know why this man (who remains unnamed here, because his name is not worth mentioning) murdered Yusor Abu-Salha, her husband Deah Barakat, or her sister Razan Abu-Salha. (The names of these extraordinary young people are worth mentioning.) But you’ll have to prove to me that anti-Muslim sentiment had nothing to do with it. Why? Because I pay attention. Because I bother to study history. Because I see what’s happening.

Your immediate certainty that “parking” or “mental illness” (because murder is otherwise sane?) was the only reason for a senseless, horrific triple-murder is just a way to pretend that anti-Muslim sentiment doesn’t matter, or is somehow excusable. Or that our hearts shouldn’t be breaking for these victims, or for their community. Or that Muslim Americans shouldn’t be feeling fearful as they live lives like the rest of us–because these other hate crimes aren’t happening as we speak.

My point is this: this immediate certainty that hate had nothing whatsoever to do with an atrocious crime that has rocked people around the world is dismissive of any discussion about the very real problems of anti-Muslim sentiment and hate crime. And that is exactly the problem.

You’re free to believe or say whatever you’d like. This is America. But do not expect me to sit silent.

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