Moments before he died, Mukhtar Ahmed, a 41-year-old father, had dropped his daughter off at school. That same cold 25 February morning, Ahmed, a Pakistani-American Muslim, was shot multiple times through the passenger door of this car. He was killed on the spot.
Three hours later, police found the killer, Christopher McCullum—a white 43-year-old gun aficionado who, according to his Facebook profile, may be a US Navy veteran—arrested him, and charged him with murder.
Like clockwork, several hours after McCullum was arrested, the media blamed the crime on mental illness and drugs. For, you see, when white people kill Muslims and people of color, it is not their fault; it is the fault of mental illness and drugs.
Police Chief Steve Conrad claimed the attack appears “to be some sort of road rage incident.” Such a bizarre explanation may sound familiar to those who have followed the wave of anti-Muslim hate crimes in the US in February 2015, in the wake of the 10 February shooting of Chapel Hill, North Carolina students Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha, and Razan Abu-Salha by another white man (and Islamophobic bigot), Craig Hicks. In this latter attack—which families and friends of the victim, not to mention mounds of evidence, insist was an anti-Muslim hate crime—the police, in a similar exercise in absurdity, claimed the premeditated “execution-style” murders were the result of a “parking dispute.”
One might begin to see a pattern, to hear more variations on the same tired theme: Ignore race. Ignore religion. Pretend to be “colorblind.” Deny Muslims murdered by white people their own victimhood.
By now, this counterpoint of strident double standards has reached a flash point of cacophony.
As I wrote in January, when white misogynist terrorist Ben Moynihan was arrested, after having tried to kill three women:
Per usual, the media has not used the term “terrorist” to describe Ben Moynihan [or McCullum]. But if a man attacks random civilian women with overtly misogynist [or, in this case, potentially racist and Islamophobic] motives, this is clearly an act of terrorism, according to any rational, consistent definition of the term. This obvious double standard in the use of the term “terrorism” remains persistent, nevertheless. It leads to journalists having to publicly ask “Was Elliot Rodger a Terrorist?”
It is also never mentioned that Moynihan [or McCullum] is white, whereas, had this attack been carried out by an Arab, such a fact would be made known in the first paragraph of virtually every article.
Moreover, the same racist media that treats “Islamic” terrorists as representative of all of Islam—a religion with 1.6 billion adherents—is fervently insisting that Moynihan is mentally ill… even though he explicitly wrote in a note he left behind “I am not a psychopath.”
This is not to deny that Moynihan [or McCullum] is not ill. Self-diagnosis means little to nothing; he clearly is. Rather, it is to point out that the hegemonic, racist double standard in society that leads to the media not giving other terrorists the same leeway as white men like Moynihan. In the recent “Islamic” terrorist attacks on the racist Charlie Hebdopublication, for instance, the Kouachi brothers who carried out the murders were never identified as mentally ill. Why can’t other terrorists be mentally ill too?
Generally speaking, if you are a white terrorist, the media will claim you are mentally ill, even if you insist to the contrary; if you are a terrorist of color, on the other hand, you are to be treated as representative of your entire culture/race/religion.
As scholar Juan Cole quips in his article “Top Ten differences between White Terrorists and Others,”
2. White terrorists are “troubled loners.” Other terrorists are always suspected of being part of a global plot, even when they are obviously troubled loners.
4. The family of a white terrorist is interviewed, weeping as they wonder where he went wrong. The families of other terrorists are almost never interviewed.
5. White terrorists are part of a “fringe.” Other terrorists are apparently mainstream.
6. White terrorists are random events, like tornadoes. Other terrorists are long-running conspiracies.
7. White terrorists are never called “white.” But other terrorists are given ethnic affiliations.
8. Nobody thinks white terrorists are typical of white people. But other terrorists are considered paragons of their societies.
There is very little media coverage of the murder of Mukhtar Ahmed, a father whose three children now must go on without a parent, a husband whose wife now must go on alone.
Ahmed was described as “hard working, a strong family man, with a good sense of his role in the community, [who] never had any issue with any customer, and always preferred a peaceful resolution.” At his 26 February funeral, Louisville, Kentucky’s local Courier-Journal reported, “his 6-year-old son kept asking why his father wouldn’t open his eyes” and his “daughter wailed ‘it’s not fair.'”
Shamy Nabil, Ahmed’s wife, told the paper “He was my partner, my other half. If I was ill or tired or sick, I relied on him. Now I’ve got to be strong for our kids.”
Whether or not McCullum was motivated by Islamophobia, we may never know, given the US media’s infamous disinterest in cases in which Muslim Americans are killed.
If this was indeed an anti-Muslim hate crime, it will only further attest to the racist character of this anti-religious bigotry. “Islamophobia is racism, pure and simple.” Muslims have been racialized to be associated with brown skin, beards, turbans, headscarves (the orientalist stereotypes of yesteryear, vestiges of which still remain today). Mere days before Ahmed was killed, ignorant racists vandalized a Hindu temple and nearby school with swastikas and the threat “Muslims get out.”
In between publicly insisting that there “were no such thing as Palestinians” and that they “did not exist,” Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir regularly espoused overtly racist and Islamophobic beliefs, insisting that peace will only “come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.” Such a trope is constantly reiterated in Western discussions of Islam. “Muslims do not value human life,” the shockingly prevalent racist theme goes.
But the truth is that such disregard for life is in fact a projection of the West: It is the West which does not value Muslim lives, whether they are Pakistani Muslim grandmothers out picking okra, blown to bits by invisible death machines flying miles above, or Pakistani-American fathers dropping their children off at school. Neither tragedy makes the headlines.