Two men murder for religious reasons – The Christian is charged with murder while the Muslim is charged with terrorism

Terrorism: The unequal treatment of two religiously motivated crimes
By Junaid M. Afeef, June 8, 2009

roeder-muhammadFor two recent crimes, a Muslim, Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, is charged with terrorism and murder. In a similar case, a Christian, Scott Roeder, is charged with murder but not terrorism. Yet, there are ample indications that both sought to influence government policy.

Two men, one Christian and the other Muslim, commit murder just one day apart in the United States. Both appear to have been motivated by their religious beliefs. The Christian murderer is Scott Roeder and his victim is Dr. George Tiller, a physician from Wichita, KS who performed late term abortions. The Muslim murderer is Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad and his victims are Pvt. William Long and Pvt. Quinton Ezeagwula who were new U.S. Army recruiters.

These two murder cases expose the media’s and our legal system’s bias against Muslims. Both crimes seem to fit the definition of terrorism motivated by religious extremism. The media and the legal system, however, are treating these alleged murderers and their crimes very differently.

The Muslim murder suspect, Mr. Muhammad, is charged with terrorism along with first degree murder. Mr. Muhammad’s faith has been front and center from the very earliest news reports. The American-Muslim community’s almost immediate repudiation of Mr. Muhammad’s murder was and still is largely ignored.

On the other hand, the Christian murder suspect, Mr. Roeder, is not being charged with terrorism. His faith has not been the focus of news reports even though there seems to be ample evidence to suggest that Mr. Roeder espouses extreme, right-wing Christian beliefs. And lastly, the media is giving anti-abortion groups ample opportunity to distance themselves from the murderous actions of one of their own.

Let’s start with the terrorism charges. Domestic terrorism is defined as an act that is dangerous to human life (guns were fired in the direction of the victims – this requirement is met) and which is a violation of the criminal laws of the U.S. or any State (both shootings fulfill this requirement) and which appears to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population or to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion or to affect the conduct of a government by, among other things, assassination (an argument for this element can be made in both shootings).

Mr. Muhammad is charged with 15 counts of engaging in a terrorist act. This is in addition to the murder charge. Mr. Roeder is charged with murder but there are no terrorism charges. On the face of both cases there seems to be ample indications that these men committed murder with the objective of intimidating a civilian population or with the intention to influence a government policy.

So, why a terrorism charge in one case but not the other? Both cases are heinous. Both local communities surely want to send the strongest message possible to the public that these crimes will be punished to the greatest extent of the law. And ultimately a judge or jury will decide whether the charges are proven beyond a reasonable doubt so the prosecutor runs little risk by adding the appropriate terrorism charge.

The disparate treatment of these two murder cases began right from the first media reports. Most major newswires and major newspapers focused heavily on Mr. Muhammad’s religion very early on.

The Associated Press reported on Mr. Muhammad’s crime by stating that a “Muslim convert with political and religious motives” shot two uniformed soldiers. The New York Times described Mr. Muhammad as “an American convert to Islam.” CNN reported that Mr. Muhammad is a “Muslim convert”.

Let’s compare the reporting by these same news sources on Mr. Roeder’s murder. The Associated Press is mum on Mr. Roeder’s Christian faith. Ditto for the New York Times and CNN. None of theses same news sources make any mention of Mr. Roeder’s religious affiliation or the obvious role his extremist religious beliefs may have played in the killing of Dr. Tiller.

What exacerbates this obvious bias in reporting is the willingness of the media to offer the anti-abortion groups immediate opportunities to distance themselves from Mr. Roeder’s murder while none of them provided a similar opportunity for the American-Muslim community even as they reported that Mr. Muhammad is a Muslim. Major national and regional American-Muslim organizations issued almost immediate statements condemning Mr. Muhammad’s murderous actions so the excuse cannot be a lack of public condemnation of the murder from the American-Muslim community.

To the American-Muslim community this unequal treatment is at the very least annoying and more likely very troubling. The bad news is that this situation is not going to change in the immediate future.

Not enough Americans know what real Muslims are like. There are up to 7 million Muslims living in America. By contrast there are a few hundred million Christians in America. Suffice to say that Americans feel more familiar with Christian values than they do with Muslim values. They don’t realize just how similar these values are – both faith traditions abhor the killing of innocents and neither faith condones the actions of Mr. Muhammad or Mr. Roeder. Plus, the steady stream of news about Muslim extremists killing others and themselves in suicide missions overseas certainly doesn’t help.

There is only one way for American-Muslims to sway Americans’ opinion of Islam. More Americans need to know what real Muslims are all about. While the media can do its job better by giving a voice to the American-Muslim community, American-Muslims need to take matters into their own hands.

American-Muslims need to become civically engaged. They need to get involved on issues of the common good and not just special interest issues. It has to be at the grassroots level with one on one interactions predicated on substantive work that gives non-Muslim Americans a chance to see firsthand what American-Muslims are all about.

President Obama’s message to the Muslim world, including his numerous nods to American-Muslims was great, but American-Muslims need to do some serious, old school, grassroots relational work of their own.

Junaid M. Afeef, Esq. is the Executive Director of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago. He can be reached at Junaid.afeef[at]


7 Replies to “Two men murder for religious reasons – The Christian is charged with murder while the Muslim is charged with terrorism”

  1. It is the “terrorism” charges that fascinate me in this analysis. It seems that terrorism charges are reserved for Muslims. Anyone can be a criminal, but only a Muslim can be a terrorist, is that it?

  2. I’m not sure what papers or news shows Mr. Afeef is watching, but Roeder’s Christianity is front and center every single time.

    As for the media giving the r.w. Xtians ample room to distance themselves, it comes off more like ample space to paint themselves in and look really bad in the process (which is perhaps an issue of true colors, I don’t know). By and large, many of the Christian voices I have heard that aren’t from more liberal denoms are coming off as justifying this murder, especially the Catholic ones. I have yet to hear an unequivocal denunciation of Tiller’s murder from a Christian who isn’t affiliated with a church like the UU. And frankly, there has been oodles more coverage of Tiller’s murder than there has been of Mr. Muhammad’s alleged crimes.

    As for the charges, each man, at this time, has been charged under the laws of the states in which they are alleged to have committed their crimes. Did the author compare the standards for a charge of domestic terrorism in Kansas to those in Arkansas? Is it possible that Federal charges are waiting in the wings? That we don’t know yet. Is it possible that the charges for either man will be amended later? I don’t know the future.

    It is always easier to say “Yes, it must be because of this or that” when one is sitting in the armchair and not drawing up the briefs or examining the available, admissible evidence before one.

    IDK, brothers and sisters… don’t we get tired of crying “victim” all the time? Personally, I think that if we want more Americans to be comfortable getting to know us, then it is high past time that we really, really take seriously the sorts of extremist masjids and halaqah circles, whatever that people like Mr. Muhammad come from. No we may not be like that, but we all know of people living in our own town praying in our own masjid who ARE and we don’t do anything about it. Why?

  3. Well written post, but I’m going to have to agree with Aaliya on this one. I’m tired of being a victim, and I’m particularly tired of sitting around and complaining about how Muslims are covered in the media. It’s motivated me to pursue a career in journalism as a Muslim American. I agree with you that we should be more active in the public, but I don’t think there was a disparity in coverage between these two men.
    The charges are definitely unequal, but the Christian man’s crime was committed in Kansas, where it is unlikely that a jury would consider him a terrorist. Hell, Kansas wanted to teach creationism alongside evolution as a scientific theory.
    Anyway, thanks for the good read.

  4. In Kansas, the jury was probably itching to give the “Christian” man a medal for killing that doctor.

  5. This is not only happening in the US. It’s also happening all over Europe, and the West in general.

    Whenever a crime is committed, and if the individual happens to be a Muslim, his/her Religion is always highlighted.

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