The murder of three Muslims in the US city of Chapel Hill, carried out by self-proclaimed “anti-theist” Craig Stephen Hicks, was an act of terror.

Prior to the killing, Hicks posted multiple times on the internet his “right” to insult religion. He described religion as a “baseless superstition [which] keeps killing people”. His increasingly aggressive disposition was noticed by a number of co-habitants in his building. He was the holder of a concealed arms permit, and 13 firearms were found in his apartment.

The warning signs were all there, loud and clear.

Why, then, did no other atheists raise the alarm about his increasingly deadly interpretation of his faith? And why has the atheist community been silent in the aftermath of this act of atheist terrorism?

One can only conclude that the atheist movement approves of killing Muslims. This is, indeed, the explicit teaching of its most prominent leaders. Christopher Hitchens famously declared his support for cluster bombs on the basis of their lethality. When asked about the death toll in Iraq, he responded that it was too low: too many “jihadists” escaped death. Leaving no doubt, Richard Dawkins labelled Islam “one of the greatest evils in the world”.

If moderate atheists reject this interpretation of their faith, the responsibility rests on their shoulders to say so. Atheist voices must publicly reject the state terror practised against Muslim lands, as well as their opposition to the daily racism that Muslims experience.

Moreover, all atheists have a duty to keep watch for the “lone wolves” among them. These dangerous fanatics are usually male, bearded and dressed strangely. They are often social pariahs. From the safety of their lightless basements, often funded by families or welfare, they lecture the internet at large, believing themselves possessors of absolute truth. When this inevitably comes to naught, there is a real risk that these individuals will lash out in acts of terror.

Perhaps, if there is hope for atheism, it rests in a total re-evaluation of its history. Even in its golden age, known as the “Enlightenment”, atheism was a belief system associated with the bourgeoisie – advocates of the soul-less economic system known as capitalism. For a time, atheism lent its support to struggles for freedom and against absolute monarchy. A few atheists even defended laws which upheld freedom of religion.

However, as “enlightened” governments took power in the United States, France and England, a period of expansion into Muslim lands began. This alliance between capitalism, colonialism and atheism was the moral downfall of the atheist movement.

Contemporary thinkers like Hegel and Marx derided the arrogance of so called “enlightened” thinkers who preached atheism to the masses from the protection of their ivory towers. Sadly, atheism proved deaf to this criticism. Rather, it embraced a now-familiar dogma that all too easily justifies killing religious people in the name of “reason”.

The responsibility lies with atheists today to break this cycle and reject their faith’s involvement with racism, terror and hatred.