By Mustafa Akyol
On Jan. 10, three American college students were murdered at Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Unmistakably, they were all Muslims: Deah Shaddy Barakat (23), Yusor Mohammad (21) and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha (19). And again unmistakably, their murderer, a 46-year-old man named Craig Stephen Hicks was a self-declared “anti-theist” who wanted to see “religion go away.”
The exact motivation of the murders is still unclear and some say everything began with a dispute over parking space. Yet, people normally don’t commit massacres for parking space, and enough signs point to a hate crime: The victims were targeted because of their very Muslim-ness.
This is not the first time that hatred of Muslims, also called “Islamophobia,” causes blood spill. A worse incident had taken place in Norway in 2011, when a man named Anders Behring Breivik murdered 77 innocent people. He saw himself as a modern day Crusader, with a mission to protect Europe from the perceived onslaught of Muslims and the collaborating liberals.
Back at Chapel Hill, the murderer is not a “knight” who claims to defend Christendom against a rival faith. He is rather an anti-theist who hates all religions, perhaps with only more emphasis on Islam.
Here, let me focus a bit on what “anti-theism” means. It does not equal atheism, which is simply a belief in the non-existence of the divine. (A totally belief-free position would be agnosticism, which modestly accepts the limits of our knowledge about existence.) But an atheist can well respect theism and its traditional manifestations, such as Christianity or Islam.
I know many atheists, for example, who appreciate the way such Abrahamic religions foster a sense of community, compassion and charity.
An anti-theist, on the other hand, is not just an atheist himself. He wants to “evangelize” his ideology, for he sees theism as evil. Richard Dawkins, the globally famous Oxford scientist, is one such anti-theist, who defined religion as a “virus” and faith as “one of the world’s great evils.”
The murderer at Chapel Hill, Hicks, was apparently a fan of Dawkins and other “New Atheists,” who are actually passionate anti-theists. This, of course, makes neither Dawkins nor his other comrades responsible, as the crimes of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) do not make all Muslim leaders responsible. But this sort of crime refutes Dawkins’ presumption that traditional religion is the greatest threat to mankind. Hostility to traditional religion can also be a great threat, as was the case with the self-declared atheist tyrannies of the 20th century, such as Albania under Enver Hoxha orChina under Mao Tse Tung.
The truth is that every idea — whether it be theist, atheist, Eastern or Western — can become dangerous when it sees the world in a good-versus-evil dichotomy, and puts itself arrogantly on the bright side. Hicks apparently did that, by hating all religions as evil and depicting his anti-theistic dogma as good.
It is a tragic irony, however, that his victims were doing actual good. They were organizing medical care for refugees from Syria and also helping the homeless people in their town. Let their souls rest in peace, and let us remember them with love and respect.
And if you would like to help their noble efforts by making a donation, please visit: http://www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/syrian-dental-relief/206249.