25 July 2007

Hate Crimes Law, and the bums

Driving to lunch after a morning of interning at school, I happened to catch a bit of a show that used to be called Tavis Smiley, and now goes by the name News and Notes. They were discussing the strange phenomenon, allegedly increasing, of beating up, or otherwise violently assaulting homeless people. Farai Chideya was interviewing a researcher from a large university who was helping to lobby hard for the inclusion of assault on the homeless as part of hate crimes legislation. For those of you who don't know what hate crimes law entails, it is simply, and traditionally this. Lets say I assault someone. If my reason for whatever manner of brutal assault has nothing to do with the person's race, religion or sexual orientation then I will recieve a lesser sentence than if my crime has been motivated by one of these old bigotries. Several advocacy groups are now supporting an inclusion of the homeless in hate crimes legislation.

Hate Crimes Law is a scary kind of legal subterfuge. It makes no sense, it doesn't punish criminals equitably for the same crime, rather it tries to disburse justice by passing judgment on motives. To which I say, bullshit. Crimes, or actions of any kind, have some reason, motive, rationale or impetus. Quite frankly it doesn't matter what the motive is. What matters, is that a crime has been committed. There is no need to tack on a few years to anyone's sentence because the crime was caused by the perpetrator's hatred of the victim. Hate and anger figure into most violent crime. If guilt has been established, and we as a society agree -as I am quite sure most of us do- that murder is wrong, then let the law do its job.

The problem with taking additional punitive actions based on thought is rather obvious. Where does it stop? If we can say well, this man committed a murder because of his bigotted hatred against blacks, or the homeless, or white folk or because he was Catholic or Muslim, why stop there. Indeed, the next step to this hate crimes law, is that it leads to mind numbing hate speech law. And it invites the gleeful manipulation of such law to the most bizarre hypocrisy. This is fast becoming the case in the terribly PC Britain, and our northern neighbor Canada. Canada recently had a bit of a row over hate speech law. Sweden has such laws. The laws themselves are enforced in strange and uneven ways. Typically it is minority groups that are protected, though sometimes there are others. There is a strange conflation occuring in the minds of those who would defend us all from an unpleasant thought, or word. Namely they are confusing ethnicity and religious ideaology. THink of a term like anti-islamic racism. It confuses everything. It is as if an attack on a system of thought were the same as some racial slur. An army of the faithful await a similar multi-sylabic of protection from critique. The catch phrase of most of the faithful, that is meant to end all discussion, and to respectfully concede a valid point, is "Well, its a faith issue." Sub-text:I have no more arguments please stop. And show some respect for my lack of convincing counterpoints. It is faith, better than thought. Fundementalist Christians detest such laws not because the laws themselves, but because at the moment they are not part of the club. They aren't an oppressed minority in our own country. However they are slyly using this faith issue language, so beloved of numerous religious minorities. And sadly it is working. Issues of Faith are becoming ensconced in such laws.
Well piss on that.

A few years ago a private Dutch paper published a series of cartoons that characterized the Prophet Muhammed. A subtle, and completely insidious campaign was mounted by a people determined to be offended. They helped enrage the rest of the muslim world, in part by fabricating some extra offensive cartoons. People were killed, women raped, Embassies burned, as if the goverment had anything to do with the cartoons of a small privetly owned paper. THe newspapers, and magazines in London, Canada, or the US did not distinguish themselves by publishing the cartoons. In fact only one magazine did so in the US, and that was Free Inquiry. Borders pulled the issue off the shelves immediately. Later on, picketers and protesters would be seen flouting signs much more, heinous and hateful than anything perpetrated by dutch cartoonists. (My personal favorite was, "Behead those who call Islam a violent Religion." It was not a joke.) Here a religion attempted to limit free speech with the threat and promise of violence. Most papers and magazines said they would show respect to Islam by not republishing the cartoons. Religious leaders like the Pope didn't critisize the hooligans, thugs and murders acting in their zeal to limit the speech of others. They criticized the cartoonists.
In the free world, from London to Toronto, no one acted to limit the speech of those calling for death to cartoonists. No officer pulled down a sign inciting people to violence. The news world lived in fear of a mindless mob. And people want to protect the easiliy offended from any contary thougth and writing.

We should cringe whenever we here the phrase Hate Speech, especially when it is used in conjunction with the word law. We should feel the same way about hate crimes. A crime is a crime is a crime. Who cares about the motive. Either it was an immoral act, that caused injury of some kind or it wasn't. Let motive hang the man or woman, but not be penalized again. Because if it is a an act required legal action in conjunction with a crime, then isn't it a crime itself? No hate isn't a crime.
Never has been. Freedom of expression means I can hate anyone I want, and say anything I want about them.

THe answer to unpleasant speach, and thought isn't limitation. It is more speech, and thought. If someone says there was no Holocaust, we tend to feel some offense. But pause a moment. Is having some law silence them the answer? Doing that is almost like giving some one a huge wealth of instant support. No..listen to the person. You owe it to them, and yourself.
Then think, and research. An unwelcome idea maybe wrong or it maybe right, but no matter what, it can be an edifying experience.
Ask yourself some questions.
Is that right?
I think he or she is wrong but how do I know?
Limiting speech doesn't help anything, or anyone in the long run. Sure maybe it means we keep the offense and hurt quotient down a little. But mostly what we do is end dialogue. Moreover we can't event change minds with counter argument. What we do is drive an engine of lies, hypocrisy, and self-deception. That it is done under the banner of good intentions doesn't help matters. In fact it may very well make things worse.


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