Jacqueline Ashkin takes a look at the recent Chapel Hill Shooting, contrasting it with January’s Charlie Hebdo massacre, and reflects on the nature of stereotyping in the media.
 

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On Tuesday, three people became victims of what has been vaguely described as a ‘hate crime’ by relatives and authorities alike. This is simply one more shooting to add to an innumerable and ever-growing list of attacks against everyday citizens across the globe. 

Over the last centuries, the nature of warfare has transformed from being something that happened on a distant battlefield to something that happens in our cities and in our homes. We can’t treat a war, even an ideological one, as an abstract concept that remains separate from our everyday lives.

The Chapel Hill shooting has turned much of recent debate regarding the Charlie Hebdo attacks on its head, as three Muslims are killed by a white man. The media has been largely reluctant to respond to the attack, as it threatens the status quo of ‘West vs. the Rest’. It’s uncomfortable. Nobody really wants to discuss the implications this has on Western hegemony, especially in regards to the conflict with those of the Islamic faith. Nobody knows where to look, because when it is a white man, nobody knows who to hold responsible.

It very much reminds me of Rupert Murdoch’s infamous tweet regarding the Charlie Hebdo attack:

‘Maybe most Moslems peaceful, but until they recognise and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible.’

It’s easy to replace the word ‘Muslim’ with just about any race, religious group, or have what you will. ‘Maybe most Emus are peaceful. . .’ we might have read had Twitter been largely active during the Great Emu War in the 1930s, and it would be reasonably easy to argue that the views of 200 emus do not equate to those of the other 20,000.

Despite efforts to ‘clarify’ his intent, Murdoch’s meaning is clear: in order to deal with acts of terrorism, people must be forced into rigid categories and held accountable for any activity deviating from the norm within these categories. Thus all Muslims are terrorists, all whites are racist, all businessmen are crooks, and so on and so forth – even if what we see of any of these groups is non-representative of the whole.

The world we live in is so media-saturated that our inability to separate the opinions projected onto us and our own views is dangerous. Whether we choose it or not, stereotypes are stigmatised in a way that only engenders fear-mongering. 

But why does this mean that we must constantly call on someone else – whether it be a people group or a higher authority – and ask them to condemn an attack? Why must President Obama say this is wrong? Why must all Muslims say this is wrong? Is it not enough that we, as people, can blatantly see that there is something deeply flawed in the way we interact with the Other?

We are all humans, and part of what makes us human is the ability to understand the consciousness and personal agency of those around us. Most of the time we cannot articulate what is happening in our own minds – why, under any circumstances, should we be able to ‘recognise and destroy’  the thoughts of others? We are not white blood cells. We may guess and we may influence the actions of the people around us, but ultimately there is no way to have absolute control over someone else’s thoughts or actions to such an extent that we can be held accountable for them.

At the end of the day, this debate isn’t really about liability. It’s about what, as a community of people – not Muslims, not whites, not even businessmen – we are willing to accept as constituting acceptable behaviour. 

It would be far too utopian of me to say that hate should end altogether; but we need to start hating the right things. We need to start hating hate.

Because that – that might just be possible.

 

 

Jacqueline Ashkin

 

*The content of Perspective articles, as with all articles posted on the Tribe, reflects solely the views of the authors. The opinions expressed are not those of the Tribe as a publication or necessarily those of any other member of the editorial and/or writing staff*