Overshadowed by Obama’s request to Congress for formal authorization to use military force against ISIS, comes news of the grisly murders of three young Muslim students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Throughout Tuesday evening and into Wednesday morning, coverage of the murders was notably absent from the major news outlets—CNN’s top story was an op-ed piece about whether or not another Spiderman movie reboot was necessary. Late into the night, the valley of the news giants was filled with the sounds of peaceful snoozing. Trying to find additional information about what had happened proved fruitless and frustrating for the thousands on social media demanding—through tweets, status updates, and tags—that some major outlet pick up the story.
The first reports and rallying hashtags reached social media shortly after the murders took place. Seventeen long hours later, the major media finally began to report on what had happened. Three UNC students—Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23; Yusor Mohammad, 21; and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19—were murdered in their home, allegedly by Craig Stephen Hicks, who has since turned himself into police. He is currently being held without bond on three counts of first-degree murder. The initial police report presented the killings as the result of “an ongoing neighbor dispute over parking.” This would therefore appear to be an open-and-shut case. A terrible crime was committed, but the assailant turned himself in and justice will be served. President Obama referred to it as a random act of violence and will likely not be taking calls from world leaders expressing their sorrow over the tragedy of these lost lives.
However, numerous Facebook posts by Hicks, expressing his “militant atheism” and his distaste for Islam, have since emerged, one stating, “When it comes to insults, your religion started this, not me. If your religion kept its big mouth shut, so would I.” Now, belatedly, CNN asks the question , “Was it a dispute over a parking space or something more sinister that prompted the shooting death of three students in an apartment near the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus?” For Mohammad Abu-Salha, the father of two of the victims, the answer is evident: “This was not a dispute over a parking space; this was a hate crime. This man had picked on my daughter and her husband a couple of times before, and he talked with them with his gun in his belt. And they were uncomfortable with him, but they did not know he would go this far.”
Across Europe, attacks and threats on Muslims have increased in the aftermath of the attack on the editorial staff of Charlie Hebdo. The Southern Poverty Law Center recently reported  that in Arizona, a neo-Nazi group was seen distributing anti-immigrant leaflets that included cartoons from the covers of Charlie Hebdo. Significantly, less than a month ago, after numerous threats, Duke University—which is only miles away from the site of these murders—backtracked on their initial plan to allow a three-minute Muslim call to prayer to be broadcast from the top of the university chapel’s bell tower every Friday. Franklin Graham, Reverend Billy Graham’s son, was one of the loudest opponents of this plan, declaring, “We as Christians are being marginalized [by Islam].” It is in the context of this poisonous atmosphere that these murders occurred.
Although the #BlackLivesMatter protest movement has waned in recent months, #MuslimLivesMatter has emerged as a trending hashtag. In the protests against police brutality and racism that swept the country at the end of 2014, many were instinctively coming to the conclusion that it isn’t just a question of racism against blacks, or of individual racist police officers, but is fundamentally a question of the state and the economic mode of production it exists to defend: capitalism.
The Marxists have long explained how racism and xenophobia are used by the ruling class to divide the working class. The American capitalist class is perhaps the most astute in their use of “divide and rule” tactics, both at home and abroad. While millions are rightly appalled by the heinous crimes committed by reactionary groups like ISIS, Boko Haram, and the recent fundamentalist attacks in Paris, this has at the same time been exploited by right-wing bigots, like Marine Le Pen in France. These events have been used as justification for their anti-immigrant and anti-Islamic poison, which in the final analysis is only a cover to continue and intensify the exploitation and oppression of the entire working class. Even so-called atheist “progressives,” like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, have objectively aided the ruling class in fueling the division of the working class, given their one-sided approach to the question of religion.
While many individuals may point their finger at the various Islamic fundamentalist groups throughout the world as “evidence” of the “evils of Islam,” what lies behind these groups isn’t the religion of Islam, but the crisis of capitalism and the maneuvering of various imperialist powers which have encouraged, funded, armed, and trained them. We must never forget that imperialism and fundamentalism are two sides of the same reactionary coin. And while Marxists do not support or encourage religion, and understand that these obscurantist doctrines are used by the ruling class to control and manipulate the population, we understand that it cannot be simply abolished, and even less so within the limits of capitalism. As with money and the state, religious belief will only “whither away” over time, on the basis of a fundamental transformation of the productive and human relations of society.
It is doubtful that a self-declared “militant atheist” shot three Muslim students in the head simply because of a parking spot. However, with the recent acts of mass violence, and the general decay in human relations, which are a reflection of a fundamentally sick society, this cannot be altogether ruled out either.
As the crisis of capitalism deepens we will see the intensified polarization of society. On the one hand, we will witness individuals and organizations manipulated by imperialist, racist, anti-immigrant, and other discriminatory ideologies to fight in the interests of a dying system. On the other, we will see the vast majority moving instinctively towards the united struggle of the working class. Through these struggles, millions of workers of all races, ethnicities, and religious backgrounds will discover their colossal collective power as a class, and will end the racist capitalist system once and for all.
An injury to one is an injury to all!
Workers of the world unite!