Letter to the Editor: remembering the Chapel Hill victims

I read Shaan Shaikh’s article on Tuesday, February 17th 2015 entitled “Remembering the Chapel Hill victims” with a mixed reaction. Although I applaud the author’s points about taking action to aid Syrian refugees, volunteering at soup kitchens, and proactively working to better the image of Islam, I nevertheless found his remarks on the New Atheist “crowd” inaccurate and misleading.

As a secular humanist, I pay attention to prominent atheists such as Bill Maher and I watch his show weekly. There has been a savage and misinformed assault on Maher over his comments on Islam, with many liberals demonizing him as a racist. Maher is not a racist, as Islam is not a race — it’s a religion. Yes, he is an anti-theist, but implying he is an influence for hate is false. Bill Maher believes in racial equality, human rights and freedom of speech. Labeling him a racist without any logical justification makes liberals look the fool. Misconstruing anti-theism as racism is a threat to rational freedom of speech and conversation. Leading a fabricated racist-hunt against Bill Maher and other anti-theists is not a productive use of our time.

Furthermore, just because an atheist killed a Muslim does not make that a religious or racist hate crime — correlation is not causation. The details about Craig Hicks, from his neighbors’ testimony to that of his wife, indicate that the shooter had anger management issues and carried a gun. This is a bad combination, and I believe that the focus should turn to the frightening number of weapons in our nation, rather than taking us down a trail of alleged racism. The author’s dismissive attitude toward the role of mental illness indicates a disregard for the likely causes.

Let’s take a closer look at all of our ideologies, be they Islam, atheism, or Christianity, and think carefully about how they influence our world. I’m glad that the author advocates for positive action on the part of his community, but that is not just applicable to Islam. All communities should take a proactive role in their image, be they religious or non-religious. We can start by coming together on the issue of guns in our society. It’s time to take action against weapons and their destructive role in the world.