Cross-Post: Parking Space Atheists

This post originally appeared on Mad Art Lab, Skepchick’s fantastic sister site that deals with the intersection of art & science! 

Nearly two weeks ago, atheist Craig Hicks shot and killed, execution style, three of his Muslim neighbors in Chapel Hill, NC. Soon after, screenshots of his Facebook page and extremely anti-theistic remarks surfaced (most ironically, a cover photo generalizing that religion kills people). Richard Dawkins and Reddit rushed to Hicks’ atheism’s defense [Ed. Note: Obviously Dawkins et. al. weren’t defending murder. They were just defending their own atheist sensitivities]. His crimes weren’t motivated by his anti-theism, they were motivated by a parking dispute!* “Nothing to see here,” they yelled! While much of the world has moved on from the atrocities (outrage generally doesn’t last long when the victims are racial and religious minorities), the atheist corner of the web is still embroiled in the debate over whether or not Hicks’ Islamophobia was a motivator in the murders. Today, Kevin Moore over at The Nib (host to all sorts of fantastic cartoons) posted a brilliantly scathing depiction of the debate (click the image to see the entire cartoon):


I for one must disagree with Dawkins and believe it’s time to clean house on Islamophobia in our community. Who’s with me?

*Note for international readers: In America, shootings over mundane things like parking disputes are commonplace and can be ignored. An atheist shooting three of his Muslim neighbors is harder to sweep under the rug. 

Featured Image by Kevin Moore

Courtney Caldwell

Courtney Caldwell is an intersectional feminist. Her talents include sweary rants, and clogging your social media with pictures of her dogs (and occasionally her begrudging cat). She's also a political nerd, whose far-left tendencies are a little out of place in the deep red Texas.

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  1. Note for international readers: In America, shootings over mundane things like parking disputes are commonplace and can be ignored.

    This isn’t actually true. Just in case there are any international readers who might take it seriously.

    1. I don’t even know what you’re disagreeing with, but if you’re disagreeing that America has a gun violence problem that’s widely understated by the media then we probably don’t live on the same planet anyway.

      1. I’m disagreeing with only the literal statement that “In America, shootings over mundane things like parking disputes are commonplace.” I absolutely agree that there is a gun violence problem in America, but this is clearly hyperbole, which I assumed was intentional for the sake of bitter humor — I hope I have not misread you. I occasionally encounter people visiting the United States from overseas, or considering doing so, who have a distorted perception of just how dangerous the U.S. is because of sensational media reporting, and statements like this one, and who thus think it is literally true that there is significant risk of being shot over something like a parking dispute, even though in reality such random gun violence is rare.

        I’m not sure whether I agree that America’s gun violence problem is widely understated by the media. Rather I would say I think that it’s extremely distorted by the media. Gun violence in impoverished areas with poor, non-white victims is indeed relatively ignored, while gun violence in middle-class or wealthy neighborhoods with white victims is sensationalized, and relatively infrequent but horrific mass shootings are covered obsessively. (I was at Virginia Tech in 2007; I am all too aware of this last point.) But if you can point me to numbers on average reporting time spent covering gun violence versus other news topics in the major news media, I would be very interested to know if gun violence is across the board underrepresented relative to its prevalence.

        Since it seems I’ve come across as confrontational here, let me make it clear that regarding the major theme of your post, that Dawkins and the Reddit atheists are being hypocritical, tribalistic assholes in attempting to distance their Islamophobic atheism from any degree of association with the shootings of Muslim students by an Islamophobic atheist, I’m in total agreement with you.

        1. Seems I misread you! Yes, you’re right. To our international readers, I don’t actually think that any shooting can/should be ignored. It was a hyperbolic statement intended to convey how gun violence is portrayed in US media.

          Great points re: how class/race play a part in media portrayal. I think that echoes what I was saying in the post about the types of crimes that get comparatively ignored (white Open Carry activist kills estranged husband/stepchild), vs. extensively covered (Charlie Hebdo attacks).

    2. I’m sure Courtney had the sarcasm setting on full for the last 4 words.
      That’s how I read it anyway. (Otherwise it would be inconsistent with the overall conclusion, with which I agree, by the way).

  2. There is so much yes in this post, so rather than clog up this space with cheering, I’ll cut to the one sentence with which I take issue:

    “Richard Dawkins and Reddit rushed to Hicks’ defense.”

    Is that accurate? Unless I missed something, I don’t recall Dawkins defending Hicks, but contesting his motivation. I think that’s an important distinction. Obviously, Richard Dawkins is wrong, but to say he rushed to the defense of a murderer isn’t hyperbolic, it’s just incorrect.

      1. I know I’m being pedantic, but I also predict that the islamophobic pseudo-humanists would jump on that rather than address the actual points you made.

        Anyway, Re: cleaning up house. Yes, let’s.

  3. Hicks wrote “If your religion kept its big mouth shut, so would I. But given that it doesn’t, and given the enormous harm that your religion has done in this world, I’d say that I have not only a right, but a duty, to insult it, as does every rational, thinking person on this planet.”

    I see nothing wrong with this. A right to insult does not imply a right to kill. If “it’s time to clean house” means “it’s time to reject anyone who voices such ideas”, I have to disagree.

    1. I would recommend reading the post linked under the words “clean house,” as it clearly lays out what is meant by clean house.

  4. This post seems to be treating islamaphobia and atheism as synonymous. I could argue that islamaphobia was a motivator in the shooting, but atheism had nothing to do it.

    (FWIW, I heard about the shooting, but none of the follow up, so I don’t know any details other than what’s presented here.)

    1. No, the post doesn’t seem to do that at all. “Atheism has an islamophobia problem” =/= “Atheism=Islamophobia.”

      1. No where in your post did you argue that “Atheism has an Islamaphobia problem”, as you state in your reply, and nor did you argue that Hicks’ Islamaphobia had anything to do with his atheism.

          1. You’re misrepresenting my original post; I never said that you said that. I said the post seems to be treating the two as synonymous, and I was hoping someone could clarify this issue for me. As already stated by myself and other commenters, you’ve provided no argument or evidence of a link between Islamophobia and atheism. If you are using the Hicks’ case as an argument for cleansing atheism of Islamophobia, you need to provide this link. Without such a link, it seems to me that for the message of the post (cleanse atheism of Islamophobia) to have anything to do with the content (a story about potential Islamophobia), the two words must be used synonymously. (Alternatively, the stuff about Hicks may intentionally have nothing to do with the point of the post, or the point of the post is nothing about atheism or Islamophobia and I have don’t understand what the point of the post is).

          2. I’m not going to bring this down to 101 level for you and rehash things that have already been said plenty of times across the internet. This post assumes the reader is well-read enough to know that about the arguments stating that atheism has an Islamophobia problem. The point of this post is not to rehash those arguments, because again, this is not an Atheism & Islamophobia 101 post. If you’d like to learn more about the topic, this link has plenty of resources:


        1. If you’d like me to rehash things that have already been said in a million other posts, I’m not going to do that. I linked to one of them in the article. If you’d like to argue with something that was actually said or linked to in the article, be my guest.

          1. Ok, well in addition to my reply above, I’ll reiterate what I said in my original comment, that I haven’t read any other details about this event other than what you presented here. As for arguing about what you actually wrote, you can see my post above. I guess we are at an impasse if no arguments are presented in the post itself but instead are presented in the links, and I try to glean the meaning of the post without reading all said links…

          2. You’re correct, we are at an impasse if you expect me to do all your work for you and you can’t even bother to click the links already provided.

          3. It’s unlikely I’d visit skepchick as often as I do if I had to use google to understand each post. Maybe this post is an exception that genuinely requires background reading to be understood, but I think that’s an unreasonable assumption a priori. I’m disappointed that by presenting gaps in logic I have been met with such defensive condescension and links to google rather than simple clarification.

          4. Who even are you? Are you really too lazy to click links in a post or to google shit for yourself? How are you going to come in and demand people write up shit instead of link to it because you don’t want to click a damn link?

            Or, is it just that you are an argumentative prick?

  5. Hicks is a bad example as the poster child for Islamophobia. Catherine Thompson’s post at TPM quotes Hicks as writing:

    “I think I’ll start blaming McDonalds for my weight problem, Christianity for the Ku Klux Klan, and Islam for terrorism.”

    He also ridiculed America’s religious right for their overwrought hand-wringing over the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque.”

    This doesn’t read like someone who holds a special level of hate for Islam. Hicks’ comments about Islam (at the TPM link above, I haven’t read anything else written by him) reflect what appears to be his prevailing beliefs about religion in general, and are really no worse than comments I’ve seen published here and elsewhere around the atheist-oriented blogosphere. Indeed, people stupid enough to leave a post suggesting the anti-religion rhetoric and ridicule may be unproductive are often labeled “tone trolls” or “tone police.”

    To me, the fact that he carried firearms to discuss noise and parking complaints with his neighbors is a strong clue: Hicks wasn’t Islamophobic, he was nuts.

  6. I agree Islamophobia is a problem in atheist circles. I see it all the time and it is incredibly, INCREDIBLY frustrating, especially as an anthropologist who studied the middle east and knew so many great muslim individuals in school. Virtually every time Islam comes up in conversation, whether with Christian or Atheist friends, it turns into a round of muslim-bashing where I play the defense. I can talk about how salafism is a recent problem and a response to genuine assaults on their lives and liberty, I can talk about how Islam was at times a force for positive change in the Middle East (until recent centuries), I can talk about how the vast majority of muslims (including the largest muslim-majority country, the Middle East) are good people who don’t hew to these ideas until I’m blue in the face, but it’s still an uphill battle.

    This thing about Hicks, though – I am sincerely trying to see how this was motivated by his atheism. The execution-style murders are circumstantial evidence, yes, but he has no apparent history of Islamophobia from what I’ve read. Some people commenting on this blog have pointed out that he even expressed fairly moderate views on religion.

    Was he NUTS? Absolutely. Was the crime monstrous and hideous? COMPLETELY.
    Maybe he was racist instead of Islamophobic? I don’t know.

    Short version: Right now, I don’t see it. If I see some good evidence about it, I’ll change my mind.

    Still, I am all for clearing the air on Islamophobia. Even if this crime has nothing to do with it, I don’t mind if we use it as an excuse to dig deep into the very real issue that I see going on all around us.

    1. I already linked this in the post, but it’s a really good summation of my thoughts on the issue. Specifically this part:

      “I don’t think Craig Hicks set down his copy of “The God Delusion,” walked out of his house and shot three people to death because he thought that’s what Richard Dawkins would want. But I do think Craig Hicks’ hatred for Islam made his Muslim neighbors appear like a threat when they really weren’t. I think it made it easier for him to snap.”

      Read more:

      1. “But I do think Craig Hicks’ hatred for Islam made his Muslim neighbors appear like a threat when they really weren’t. I think it made it easier for him to snap.”

        That’s a good point – maybe he wasn’t thinking at the time that he hated muslims and that the world would be better off rid of them, but maybe an existing animus towards Islam made them seem “worse” in his eyes than they already were.

        ~ I’m a little dubious, still, I admit, because I haven’t seen this animus demonstrated. I’m probably unusual among atheists in that I have admiration for Islam and its history, but I personally think we’d be better off if all people were no longer religious. That would constitute animus under a definition that loose.

        Having seen some really nasty comments about Islam in certain atheist groups, I’m willing to believe it’s possible.

    2. I’d like to clarify/reiterate (since I can’t edit my post):
      1) Evidence regarding this being a hate crime is inconclusive at best and sketchy at worst. My personal feel is that it isn’t, but I could be swayed with more evidence
      2) Whether it is a hate crime or not is IRRELEVANT to whether Islamophobia exists in the atheist movement – it does
      3) We need to recognize the problem of Islamophobia and act to address it.

      My use of the word “nuts” was inappropriate, also.

  7. Dispute over parking space and islamophobia aren’t really mutually exclusive either.
    Let’s say I get into a dispute over a parking space with somebody (I won’t, I promise – I don’t even drive). If I’ve dehumanised them in my brain because they’re muslims (or any other group that I may find myself dehumanising for one reason or another), that will certainly make it more likely that the argument will escalate to murder. So it can be a dispute over a parking space AND a hate crime.
    Saying that the dispute over parking spaces thing means it isn’t motivated by islamophobia is just disingenuous.

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