Two stories that have captivated people this last week have involved horrific crimes, and unfortunately those crimes have exposed a real weakness in our society that could actually promote more crimes just like them in the future.
In the first a man in Chapel Hill, NC, killed three young adults, who were his neighbors in their condo complex, in what the police have characterized as a dispute over a parking space. Because the three young people who were killed were Muslim the initial reaction of many people in the community was that it must be a hate crime, that the killer must have targeted them for being Muslim. Indeed, their families have asked the authorities to investigate it as a hate crime, and if the killer was found to have been engaged in a hate crime then the punishment would be more severe.
In the second story the depraved humans who make up ISIS beheaded over 20 Egyptians of the Coptic Christian faith in a move that was obviously intended to not only continue the group’s campaign of terror but to provoke Christians into a fight, to drive a wedge even deeper between the members of the Muslim faith who aren’t crazed jihadists and Christians, and to recruit even more depraved jihadists to join their side, and not inconsequentially, to juice their fundraising.
What’s truly disturbing about these stories, beyond the horrific nature of the crimes themselves, is our continued practice of assigning greater value to them because of who the victims were. We act as if the killings are worse because the victims are Christian or Muslim and we think they were killed because of it, as if that’s somehow worse than being killed for walking into the bank when it just happened to be getting robbed by someone with an itchy trigger finger. We don’t say it, but we imply by our reactions that we believe that because someone from our faith, our tribe, was killed that the tragedy is greater. That those three or twenty lives were somehow more tragic to lose than if they’d been from another tribe.
As hard as it is to see past our emotions it’s imperative to be honest with ourselves and realize that as long as we assign greater value to one killing because of who the victim is, or the sect/race/family they are from then we are dividing ourselves and perpetuating the very thing that enables the ISIS’s of the world. If anything we should be more enraged that three young lives were lost to a petty neighborhood dispute than to the interminable sectarianism that has defined humanity since the beginning of time. We should be equally horrified by the massacre of all people everywhere, no matter their race or religion or tribe, because a life is a life, and any life lost to inhumanity is a crime against us all.
That of course is what institutions like religion and government are supposed to do – to help us overcome the very base emotions that define the human being – but instead they are used by many of those very humans to continue the cycle of strife and death that we seem helpless to escape. Sadly, this will likely never end as long as people walk the Earth. We are simply too human.