Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Hate, March, Terrorize

What we have here ... is a failure to generalize.

Certain crimes of hate, violent political demonstrations, and flying an airplane through the World Trade Center all have something in common.

In what follows, please note that I am not calling for repeal of hate crime laws or a ban on political rallies, any more than I would call for a ban on airplanes because they can be used for destructive purposes. The purpose here is only to show that hate crimes and political rally violence are terrorism, and should be treated as such.

What is terrorism?

Wikipedia says there are "hundreds" of definitions. In essence, they all come down to this:
Terrorism is the use or threat of violence by civilians against civilian targets to induce political change.
There are obviously special cases to be asserted, such as paramilitary groups under indirect control of government. The definition of "civilian" blurs in the context of guerrilla warfare, in which combatants try to blend into the surrounding non-combatant population. Guerrillas may in fact engage in terrorism, or commit war crimes, or may operate strictly according to the ethics of war; in any event, the definition of terrorism above accommodates their case.

War crimes are distinguished from terrorism in that either the perpetrator or the victim of a war crime is an acknowledged combatant while the other is a civilian. That is not the entire scope of war crime, which is only discussed here to help build by contrast the understanding of terrorism.

The civilian leader of a country, when acting in his official capacity in control of its military, cannot, by definition, be guilty terrorism. Support of terrorist non-government organizations may make him responsible for terrorism, but that is a different situation than the use of a country's military.

Terrorism is also distinct from common civilian crime, because terrorism is political in motivation. A group destroying a building as a diversion in a bank robbery is not engaged in terrorism, while a person threatening to kill an official's pet to sway his vote is.

An area of civilian crime, crimes motivated by group differences, has been dubbed "hate crime". Hate crime laws have been enacted in several of these United States and in Canada. They typically include hostility against a person, group, or institution based on "actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation or gender" as aggravating factors for sentencing guidelines. Sometimes they curtail "hate speech", or speech against a person or group based on those aforementioned factors.

Hate crime laws fail to afford equal protection under the law, because their impetus was the special case of those intolerantly violating the civil rights of others. Such laws usually fail to be designed or enforced such that all anti-group violence is wrong, only that against the protected groups. In some cases they outlaw mere offensive speech. Since these laws specify certain classes of people for additional protection under the law, they facially do not afford equal protection. Their unfairness is caused exactly by their failure to see crimes of hate as action designed to send a political message.

Crimes motivated by the outward differences between groups of people are political in nature if their perpetrators seek to send a message to others through the crime. They seek to control or influence behavior, to govern, by threat of force. Burning a cross in a yard is obviously intended to send a message to the owners of the yard, or the home's occupants, and to drive away those like them.

A distinction could thus be made between one-on-one crime between in which the perpetrator and the victim do not share the same group membership and one-on-many or many-on-one crimes. It would be a rarity for a hate crime in which one person acts against a group or a group acts against an individual not to be intended to send a message designed to control group behavior. Even if the primary intent is not to send such a message, one will clearly be sent. Group hate crime is thus seen to be inherently political, and falls squarely under the rubric of terrorism.

Crimes between individuals are a different matter, however. What difference is it to society if one man kills another in a rage over their ethnic or other differences, rather than over money or jealousy? In any case the victim is dead, and a murderer is among us. Hate crime laws elevate one kind of motive over another, making all others into mitigating or extenuating factors. But they fail to get at the real problem, which is attempting to control the behavior of others through the threat or use of violence. The problem with hate crimes is not the crime itself, but the added communication of the social message: the problem with you is what kind you are.

The crimes of hate that we should punish differently than other crime are the ones that are violence by civilians against civilian targets to induce political change. We should punish all such action, not distinguishing its victims.

Recently, student groups at several American colleges and universities have demonstrated against military recruiting at their campuses. One protester, thinking himself clever, carried a sign reading "I'm already against the next war!". The message he intended to send, of course, was that the Bush Administration would rush into another war as it had rushed, with barely over a year of diplomacy, into Iraq. The actual message is somewhat different: there is no acceptable war, no matter what the cause. Our national future would indeed be in peril if that were a majority view.

Demonstrations are one thing, but vandalism and mob action to exercise political influence are another. They are the use or threat of violence by civilians against civilian targets to induce political change.

Violence must not be a substitute for political discussion, organization, or the ballot box. The problem with crimes of hate, violent demonstrations and vandalism, and other acts of terrorism is that they seek to manipulate and control people and force change through violence. Those who engage in such activities must be stopped, and those who would look the other way are complicit in the cause of terror, as well.

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