A Muslim girl was abducted and murdered early Sunday morning in Virginia, as she was on her way from her mosque to an IHOP with friends in preparation for fasting as part of Ramadan observances. The girl, identified as 17 year old Nabra Hassanen, was left behind as the group fled a motorist who left his vehicle and menaced them with a baseball bat. What are thought to be her remains were found later Sunday by police. Police have arrested Darwin Martinez Torres, citing evidence uncovered in his vehicle discovered after he was pulled over for erratic driving.
In England on Monday morning, a van barreled into people leaving a mosque in North London. Witnesses told reporters that the man driving the vehicle shouted “I want to kill all Muslims” before bystanders heroically detained the assailant, handing him over to police once they arrived.
Investigators in Virginia have not drawn any conclusions regarding whether or not Hassanen’s murder constitutes a hate crime, and the individual in London is under psychiatric review (though Neil Basu, the Deputy Assistant Commissioner, stated that the incident “is being treated as a terrorist attack,” and that “the Counter-Terrorism Command is investigating”).
Both attacks come in the wake of violence in both locations. In Virginia, an activist with experience on progressive campaigns opened fire on Republican legislators during baseball practice for a charity game. In London recently, Islamic extremists ran trucks into crowds and attacked people with knives.
Is all of this simply part of a sobering cycle of violence that occurs regardless of the motives and context for each crime?
This week’s attacks against Muslims could very well have resulted from reductive reasoning encouraged by the toxic debate concerning extremism, especially relating to immigrant and refugees. Many on the right choose to focus on Islam as is it poses some sort of civilizational threat, which helps dehumanize Muslims. Steve Bannon – a chief aid to Donald Trump – is among the more famous Islamophobes in power.
By expanding upon the actions of a violent few and projecting those motives onto a larger demographic, it becomes easy for people localize existential threats in perfectly innocent strangers. Will these lessons ever be learned on a macro level? With the steady stream of violence, such a positive outcome seems unlikely.