Three people were murdered in Chapel Hill. Suspicion circulates on Twitter that the media are hardly reporting this because the victims are Muslims.

What we know: Three young people were brutally murdered Tuesday afternoon in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The three, two sisters, 19 and 21, and a man, 23, were students, good in their subjects, socially active and popular at the university and in the neighborhood.

The perpetrator, who turned himself in to the police shortly after the triple murder, is 46-year-old Craig Stephen Hicks, who presented himself as an enraged atheist in posts on Facebook. His wife and lawyer say the religion of the three victims played no role in the murders; on the contrary, a lengthy neighborhood fight over parking spots had escalated. And Hicks had mental problems. The police say the investigation is ongoing, they are following all leads; as of now, however, there is insufficient evidence that Islamophobia played a role.

All day Wednesday, when only a few reports appeared in the media about the bloody deed, suspicion, followed by thousands, boomed in social media, especially on Twitter under the hashtags #chapelhillshooting and #muslimlivesmatter, that the deed was committed out of hatred of Islam and that the media were not reporting it because the victims were Muslims.

No one, according to the reproach, is speaking of an act of terrorism – and that is quite obviously what it concerns. If the victims had been Christians or Jews and the perpetrator a Muslim, the coverage would look quite different. “We all ask ourselves, not just Muslims, what reactions would have been elicited if the perpetrator had been not an atheist, but rather an alleged Muslim?” writes the chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, Aiman Mayzek. It doesn’t take too much to know that this is correct. Muslims as victims of bloody violence do not fit the narrative to which we have become accustomed.

And, if the perpetrator is Muslim, we all too often assume that is the motive for the crime – whether we suspect that it was a matter of an “honor killing” or ascribe it to Islamic political motives. If the victims are Muslims and the perpetrators not, we suddenly look more closely. As exactingly as we should always look before we claim something or even just insinuate.

Motives of the Perpetrator Unclear

We do not know if the gruesome murder in North Carolina was a matter of assassination. More and more neighbors are telling U.S. reporters that Hicks had attracted attention by aggressive behavior, and many of them were afraid of him; there was even a neighborhood meeting once on account of it. Disturbing the peace and occupying another’s parking spaces were virtually obsessions of his. His ex-wife relates that Michael Douglas in the role of the over-the-edge murderer William Foster in “Falling Down” was his hero.

If the media refuse to put the stamp of “anti-Muslim assassination” on the event in Chapel Hill – is that then really the willingness of the damned world-wide social media to accept the motive of a crime, however silly it may be, so that the definition of “hate crime” does not apply? Or is it simply journalistic due diligence?

Both. The media are not too restrained now; they are too quick to interpret matters involving suspected Muslim perpetrators. But replacing the reflex “Muslim perpetrator = Islamist” with the reflex “Muslim victim = Islamophobic murder” doesn’t help.