As police continue their investigation of the murder of three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, NC, neighbor testimony supports the finding that one of the bugbears working on Craig Hicks’ mind was a fixation with parking space etiquette. So to be clear, I don’t dismiss his aggressive policing of parking spaces as a contributing factor. But I’m not going to join the wagon circle of fellow atheists who refuse to acknowledge that anti-Muslim bigotry was another, very important bugbear burrowing its way through Hicks’ pathologies.
Then again, I won’t join those who insist this is terrorism. It certainly is a hate crime, but terrorism requires an organization and a political point. Both terrorism and hate crimes are forms of violence with political dimensions, of course; but terrorism has an actual agenda, while a hate crime has no other point than to inflict harm on people with certain targeted identities. Had Hicks set fire to a cross on the students’ lawn (a preferable act, they would have lived to register complaints about it), it would be a terrorist act of intimidation; or had Hicks committed his murders in coordination with, say, the Klan or an organized group of anti-theist with guns, that would be also qualify as terrorism. Hicks acted alone, driven by a volatile mix of resentments, prejudices and who-knows-what else. His lawyer, though opportunistic, is probably right: mental illness plays a role here. Given his methods and his choice of targets, mental illness should not get Hicks off the hook for a racist attack. But unlike the Fort Hood shooter — another mentally ill man whose mania was egged on by Anwar al-Awlaki and whose agenda he served — Craig Hicks was not an agent or a surrogate for any particular organization, and had no specific point to make.
This is a complicated case that defies our easy responses, no matter how much vocal elements on Twitter and Reddit would have it otherwise. The people who are in pain, who have had to deal with subtle and blatant forms of Western hostility to their faith, should be given a lot of latitude to vent their anger, their sorrow, and their fears. They don’t need to hear about parking spaces. They don’t need Richard Dawkins tweeting police reports at them.
And given what has happened in Copenhagen this weekend, they don’t need to be lumped in with the terrorist assholes who already make their lives difficult. My white middle aged atheist ass has no more to do with Craig Hicks any more than his victims, the dead and the mourning, have to do with some other gun nut enraged by the drawing of Muhammad as a dog.