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11 February 2015updated 24 Jul 2021 11:20am

The Chapel Hill shooting: White male atheist murders three Muslim students

46-year-old Craig Stephen Hicks has been arrested and charged.

By Anna Leszkiewicz

Three Muslim students have been shot dead in what appears to be a racially motivated attack by a self-described “anti-theist”. 

The victims, 23-year-old Deah Shaddy Barakat, his 21-year-old wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, were murdered at their home last night in Chapel Hill, a quiet town in North Carolina. Their neighbour, Craig Stephen Hicks, has been arrested and charged with three counts of first-degree murder, after reportedly handing himself in to police.

Hicks, a white 46-year-old, described himself as a supporter of “Atheists for Equality”, according to his Facebook page, as well as a fan of Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason and Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. He regularly posted condeming all religions.

As hours went by with mainstream US news outlets failing to cover the attack, social media users expressed outrage at the media’s refusal to recognise the murder of three innocent Muslims by a white man as a terrorist attack.

At the Independent, Sabbiyah Pervez writes: 

At the time of writing this, many still haven’t given it any coverage, and people are furious. Do the lives of Muslims not matter? they have asked. Is our blood cheap? Why do we not get the same media attention when a crime is committed against us? This was a despicable act of Islamophobia. This will and has caused terror. But will the killer be branded a terrorist? Will the atheist community come out in force and condemn this man?

As the NS‘s own Peter Wilby argued following the 2011 Norway attacks by white Anders Behring Breivik:

When an attack comes from people with brown skins, we know what to make of it. It is an example of “Islamic terrorism”, and part of a worldwide conspiracy to overthrow civilisation as we know it. Brown-skinned folk must be closely monitored. Islam’s holy book and the statements of Muslim leaders of all sorts must be scrutinised for anything that appears to encourage or excuse violent acts.

When a white supremacist [engages in acts of terrorism] our responses – or at least those of the media – are instinctively different. While any Muslim killer is potentially an al-Qaeda agent, [a white man] must be an unhinged loner and misfit. The category “Christian terrorist” does not exist and so neither the Pope nor the Archbishop of Canterbury is called upon to dissociate himself. “Links” to the English Defence League are alleged, but though the league is considered racist and inflammatory, it is rarely presented as an existential threat to western liberal democracy.

Right-wing killers, it is assumed, are not ­internationally co-ordinated and do not attend jihadist training camps. They do not, therefore, present a serious danger to “our way of life”.

Wilby adds that an extreme suspicion surrounds ordinary Muslims, while the violence of white extremists often goes ignored:

Police regularly find white supremacists in possession of rocket launchers, grenades, pipe bombs and manuals on how to use them, and some senior officers have warned that elements on the extreme right would like to stage their own “spectacular”.


None of these cases were prominently reported in the national media. Muslims, on the other hand, need only sneeze or download a dubious text from the internet to put the mass-circulation press on red alert.