The killing of a Iraqi immigrant last week has become an occasion for Vox to revive the climate of hate argument, i.e. the claim that malevolent forces prompted the violence.
Vox made exactly the opposite argument less than three months ago after the killing of two NYPD officers at the hands of a black Muslim.
Iraqi Ahmed al-Jumaili had only been in the Unites States for three weeks. Last Wednesday night, he went outside with his wife and brother around midnight to take pictures of the snow which had fallen on their Dallas, Texas apartment complex. A group of men (either two or four) had entered the complex from outside around the same time. At least one of the men began shooting using a rifle. Al-Jumaili was hit and died later at a local hospital.
No suspects have been arrested yet but police released video of four men who are possible suspects leaving the scene. A spokesman for CAIR has asked the police to look into the motive behind the shooting, but said there is no evidence to believe this was a hate crime.
At Vox, Max Fisher wrote a long piece over the weekend arguing the case saying that a climate of Islamophobic hate led Americans to kill al-Jumaili. In a section of the piece subtitled “A wave of hatred is becoming a wave of violence” Fisher claims that fear of ISIS and the film American Sniper has played a role in increasing Islamophobia:
Media outlets, particularly on TV, are increasingly promoting overt bigotry against Muslims, stating over and over that Islam is an inherently violent religion and that peaceful Muslims are somehow to blame for ISIS. Hateful stereotypes are treated as fair game; the question of whether Muslims are somehow lesser human beings is raised as a valid or even necessary debate.
In January, Warner Brothers released American Sniper, an Iraq War film that portrays Iraqis as an undifferentiated mass of terrorists and terrorist sympathizers who can only be confronted with violence. In one scene, the film’s protagonist and namesake shoots an Iraqi woman and child to death — an act the film tacitly approves by later showing them as having carried a grenade. The morality of killing Iraqi civilians is raised only so that the hero protagonist can shout down whoever has had the gall to question his decisions by explaining that those civilians were no innocents. The film went on to become one of the most successful war films in American history, to be nominated for the Academy Award for best picture, and to inspire a wave of death threats against Muslims and Arabs.
These sentiments are translating into physical violence. Thankfully, so far most of that violence has targeted Islamic buildings rather than people — a series of mosques and Islamic cemeteries have been vandalized — though even this is rightly perceived by Muslims as a threat of more deadly attacks.
This argument, that Americans’ feelings create a culture of violence, was famously used by Paul Krugman and others immediately after the 2011 Tucson shooting. It turned out none of what Krugman and others claimed was true with regard to Jared Loughner, the deranged killer in Tucson, and we still don’t know if it’s true now. Both the Chapel Hill shooting (in which an atheist murdered three Muslims) and the killing in Texas last week (by unidentified suspects) are still under investigation.
Vox’s argument is completely at odds with their reaction to the shooting of two NYPD officers last December, where a minority man was the perpetrator. Officers Liu and Ramos were murdered by black Muslim Ismaaiyl Brinsley last December while sitting in their patrol car.
“I’m putting wings on pigs today,” Brinsley wrote on Istagram just before the shooting, adding “They take 1 of ours…Let’s take 2 of theirs #ShootThePolice #RIPErivGarner #RIPMikeBrown This may be my final post I’m putting pigs in a blanket.” While Brinsley declared he was going to gun down cops in revenge for the deaths of strong-arm robbery suspect Michael Brown and petty career criminal Eric Garner, Vox said Brinsley’s motive was a mystery.
Another Vox author wrote a piece titled, “Why it’s wrong to blame protests for the Brooklyn cop killings.” This piece rejected the same climate-of-hate argument Vox is now making about the shooting of Ahmed al-Jumaili.
In this case, critics seem to have eagerly interpreted Brinsley’s actions as representative of widespread anti-police antipathy in the black and civil rights communities, and a sign of more violence to come from others who have been incited by recent protests. It’s hard to imagine any other explanation for this, besides the fact that many automatically see a black criminal as a representative of an entire community and not as an individual perpetrator.
But look at the individualized roots of Brinsley’s alleged actions, which indicate that he was a person who did not decide to take up a life of crime in recent months: he reportedly had a lengthy criminal record and mental health issues that preceded the current wave of protests. He was also not a protest leader or even a protester, as far as we know. Nor was he a member of Sharpton’s National Action Network. But details aren’t important when people are looking to make connections that support their biases.
Americans, from everyday Twitter users, to politicians, to television pundits passionately criticize our laws and elements of our culture every day. None of us would want to live in the world where constructive criticism was avoided or stifled to avoid the small risk that some out-of-control person could latch onto it and be inspired to commit a crime. If we really believed this, every politician who’s ever spoken against Obama would have to apologize every time someone tried to hop the White House fence.
It’s possible that the shootings in Chapel Hill or Dallas will be judged hate crimes after a full investigation. Perhaps the men who shot Ahmed al-Jumaili were motivated by hatred of Islam. The defendants, assuming they are caught, might even cite some current news events as the source of their hatred toward Muslims. If that’s the case, we can count on Vox (and others) to seize on that.
But when we have such evidence in the case of the NYPD shooter, Vox found it unpersuasive. It’s almost as if their opinion on whether a climate-of-hate can lead to violence changes depending on the race of the victims.