Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Three young Muslim Americans, murdered in North Carolina

Three young Muslim Americans -- two sisters and the new husband of one of the sisters -- were murdered Tuesday in an apartment complex in Chapel Hill, N.C. The suspect, Craig Hicks, 46, turned himself in to police and has been charged with the crimes.

While law enforcement officials attribute the killings to a dispute over a parking spot, the roots of the tragedy apparently go much deeper.

As the Raleigh News and Observer reports:

.... the women’s father, Dr. Mohammad Abu-Salha, who has a psychiatry practice in Clayton, said regardless of the precise trigger Tuesday night, Hicks’ underlying animosity toward Barakat and Abu-Salha was based on their religion and culture. Abu-Salha said police told him Hicks shot the three inside their apartment.

“It was execution style, a bullet in every head,” Abu-Salha said Wednesday morning. “This was not a dispute over a parking space; this was a hate crime. This man had picked on my daughter and her husband a couple of times before, and he talked with them with his gun in his belt. And they were uncomfortable with him, but they did not know he would go this far.”

Abu-Salha said his daughter, who lived next door to Hicks, wore a Muslim head scarf and told her family a week ago that she had “a hateful neighbor.”

“Honest to God, she said, ‘He hates us for what we are and how we look,’” he said.

This was taken from Hicks' Facebook page:

Hicks is apparently a radical, fanatical atheist, a man deeply antagonistic to all forms of faith and all those who practice such faiths. As he posts on Facebook:

"I give your religion as much respect as your religion gives me. There’s nothing complicated about it, and I have every right to insult a religion that goes out of its way to insult, to judge, and to condemn me as an inadequate human being - which your religion does with self-righteous gusto.

Craig Hicks

"When it comes to insults, your religion started this, not me. If your religion kept its big mouth shut, so would I. But given that it doesn’t, and given the enormous harm that your religion has done in this world, I’d say that I have not only a right, but a duty, to insult it, as does every rational, thinking person on this planet. Because the moment that your religion claims any kind of jurisdiction over my experience, you insult me on a level that you can’t even begin to comprehend. "Even if your beliefs had substance, the arrogance of that would be insult enough. But the fact that they have no substance, and are merely a transparent raft of delusions and lies, magnifies the insult enormously."

As that rant illustrates, atheists can be every bit as intolerant, bigoted and close-minded as they believe people of faith to be. That fact suggests that intolerance is not a product of religious faith in general, nor of a particular faith system, as some might suggest. Instead, it is a basic human trait that can find expression through almost any faith or even, as in this case, the rejection of faith.

For example, although I myself am not a religious person, and although I find some of what comedian Bill Maher says funny and insightful, I cannot watch him because in his anti-religious tirades he is just as haughty, offensive and insulting as the most dogmatic of preachers, imams or other religious leaders. He is the mirror image of what he claims to despise.

Given what we know so far, it seems that Hicks' fanatical hatred of religion played at least some role in this tragedy. It also seems plausible, although we'll never know for sure, that under different circumstances the victims could have been three young Mormon missionaries or three Sikhs. But again, it is the fanaticism -- the rejection of all doubt about questions that have no absolute answers, the certainty that those who disagree are so wrong that they deserve no respect -- that is the root of the problem and our common enemy, regardless of what form it may take.

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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.