Terrorism or hate crime?

A lot of people are rather confused about simple definitions: terrorism, hate crime, religion, atheism. All of these terms seem to confuse people. The definitions of these words are of utmost importance now, after the Chapel Hill shooting, in which a white, American atheist shot and killed three Muslims.

Some people have pointed out that it's a double standard that an attack by Muslim perpetrators (like the attack on Charlie Hebdo) is terrorism, while an attack by a westerner against Muslims isn't. First of all, I find this a rather silly excuse if it is used to protect Islam from criticism. Second of all, I think there's some truth to it, because Muslims are, after all, demonized by many. Finally, not all crime is the same.

All crime cannot be labeled terrorism, regardless of who the perpetrator is. Something isn't terrorism just because a Muslim did it, or because it was done to a Muslim. Terrorism is ideological; it is based on doctrine and dogma, which can be found in religion (though not exclusively in religion). Furthermore, it is based on the perpetrators' ideological beliefs. Hate crime is based on the victims' race, religion, etcetera. And if it's caused by marital infidelity or parking issues, then it's neither terrorism nor hate crime, regardless of the victims' background.

These distinctions are important, because atheism literally cannot cause terrorism. Some might find this an unfair double standard, but the reasoning behind my claim is quite simple: atheism has neither doctrine nor dogma; atheism is only the rejection of god claims.

I saw a person argue on Twitter that the Chapel Hill shooting was religiously motivated, just like the attack on Charlie Hebdo; he thought they were the same. This is not a very logical thought. Why? Being motivated by your own ideology is one thing, while being motivated by hatred or fear of someone else's ideology is another thing completely; one is ideological (terrorism) and the other is xenophobic (hate crime).

Atheism doesn't cause extremism, but it can be part of extremist ideologies, of course. State-enforced atheism and genocide of theists is not the doctrine of atheism, for example, but an ideology can favor atheism and oppress theists.

I'm not saying atheists automatically are good people just because they are atheists; in fact, what I'm saying is that atheism doesn't directly have anything to do with whether a person is good or not. Atheists don't have the conservative doctrine and change-fearing dogma found in many religions, but they can hold other beliefs, for better or worse.

One cannot find extremism within atheism, which isn't an ideology, but one can find extremism within such things as antitheism (although I do consider myself an antitheist) and Islamophobia (by which I mean actual fear and hatred of Muslims, not mere criticism of Islam). But even antitheism doesn't have the same doctrine and commands that religion does, so it more likely causes xenophobia and hate crime, not terrorism. That is, until antitheists and antitheist organizations regularly start to terrorize and murder theists.

The Chapel Hill shooting is not a terrorist attack just because three people were killed. It's not a double standard to call the attack on Charlie Hebdo terrorism, while simply calling this a hate crime. (It is true, however, that we label Muslim perpetrators as terrorists much too eagerly, sometimes.) The attack on Charlie Hebdo, the many death threats to cartoonists who draw Muhammad, the protests to prohibit blasphemy, etcetera are ideological, whereas despising and therefore killing Muslims is just pure hate; the former is terrorism, while the latter is a hate crime.

I'm not sure if the Chapel Hill shooting was caused by the parking issue in the neighborhood or because of the fact that the victims were, indeed, Muslims. If it's the latter, then it is a hate crime. This underscores a completely different problem than the extremism and doctrinal conservatism found in religions such as Islam. Even though this wasn't a terrorist attack, it is a major problem; it may just be a much bigger problem than terrorism.

What I despise in religion is the conservative and xenophobic mindset: change is bad (including acceptance of LGBT and equality for women) and anyone who's different is wrong or even bad. Likewise, I despise any conservative or xenophobic thinking, like for example the hate of Muslims only for the fact that they are Muslims. There's a clear distinction between criticizing an ideology or religion and hating a group of people; many in the west, especially right-wingers, cannot stay on the right side of this line.

We do have a lot of Islamophobia in the west, by which I don't mean critics of Islam, but rather hate of Muslims as a people and (especially) as individuals. Hate based on Middle Eastern looks or names is a problem. Hate based only on someone's identity as a Muslim, before even finding out what exactly the person believes, is a problem. Irrational fear of cultural changes as a result of immigration is a problem. These are all actual problems that require solutions.

The way to solve our problems is not to critic-shame blasphemers and critics into silence. It's counterproductive, because Islam does have a lot of problems, just like there are issues with xenophobia, bigotry, and nationalism in the west. It is important not to assume all problems have the same cause; bigotry toward Muslims does not have the same cause as extremism within Islam. If, however, a xenophobic nationalist killed Muslims to "keep Europe European" (or America American), then that might be considered terrorism; nationalism could be considered ideological, after all.

It is important to know the difference between one problem and another, so we can find solutions. It is important not to ignore problems, but to encourage open and honest discussion. One evil does not justify another. To use every terrorist attack and all violence against Muslims as an excuse to shelter Islam is quite illiberal; Islam is still a conservative religion that forms the core of institutionalized oppression in the Middle East. And since we live in a global society, we must fix the issues we have in the west and the Middle East. It's not about eradicating Islam or all Muslims, but about fixing the issues.

All dogmatic ideologies will have conservative qualities. The west—the world, in fact—is for all people and peoples; it is not, however, a safe zone for conservative and intellectually lazy beliefs.

At the same time, we must fight the nationalism that has been winning ground in Europe and is already widespread in America. We cannot disregard the xenophobia that is currently trending in the west. This is xenophobia that causes hate crime, perhaps like this one or like those that occurred after the attack on Charlie Hebdo. It pushes people to extremist, nationalist ideologies, and if violence is committed with these ideologies as motivation, then it must also be considered terrorism.

We must learn to see the difference between isms and a-isms, hate crimes and terrorist acts, and criticism and bigotry. I will just say this, though: Hate crimes can be ideological and thus terrorist acts. Neo-Nazi nationalists attacking immigrants is a hateful act, but it is ideologically motivated and is thus a terrorist act. Terrorism is always ideological, but not always xenophobic; hate crime is always xenophobic, but not necessarily ideological. And to get back to my original point: atheism is neither ideological nor xenophobic; it's just disbelief in gods.

My sincerest condolences go out to all those affected by the Chapel Hill shooting. Violence is almost never the solutionespecially not violence toward innocents.