The initial responses to my last post on the radicalization of American politics in response to the Fort Hood massacre is a case in point: an anti-abortion proponent jumped right in to essentially disavow the existentance of radicalized anti-abortion groups, implying that I had said there were only radicalized anti-abortion groups.
The comment cites the case of Abby Johnson as a non-violent anti-abortion activist who is being harassed by a Planned Parenthood gag order, leaving out two salient facts made clear with the link provided in the comment: (1) Johnson is not prohibited from protesting, just talking about confidential medical and staff information; and (2) it would be illegal for her to share confidential patient health information in the first place.
Of course there are legitimate anti-abortion groups, but there are also homicidal nutcases out there, with web pages, mailing lists, and apparently plenty of people will call the killing of physicians justifiable homicide.
Likewise, the commenter suggested that the difference between anti-abortion groups and Islam is that identification with Islam is a much greater predictor of violence:
However, the laundry list of people snapping, and murdering or attempting to murder others in the name of radical Islam, happens more frequently with larger, more organized incidents on an almost quarterly basis.
There is documented evidence that radical Islam imams openly advocate the murder of non believers, Americans, and U.S. soldiers. These imams reach hundreds, not a just a handful of followers.
Nice try, but essentially irrelevant to my point. First, it ignores dozens of violent anti-abortion incidents. Since the mid-1970s, aside from nine murders, there have been 17 attempted murders, 383 death threats, 153 incidents of assault or battery, and 3 kidnappings committed against abortion providers.
And yes, there are plenty of radical Islamic imams around and they preach violence and hatred, based--as Clifford Thies notes at Libertarian Republican--on an interpretative dogma of the Quran called abrogation, which is today just about as controversial, either in concept or application, among Muslims as the evangelical concept of literal Biblical inerrancy is with millions of other Christians.
[It is also important to understand that many Muslims who apply the principle of abrogation to their faith do not reach radicalized or violent conclusions.]
All of which brings me around by a very twisted thought process [sorry about that, but if you didn't this happened here you don't stop by regularly] to the question of terrorism and hate crimes.
I have long opposed hate crime legislation, based on the idea that murder is murder, assault is assault, etc., and that to develop specific crimes and sentences based on intent [not premeditation, but intent] is at best futile and at worst an egegrious extension of State power.
But there have always been aspects of this position that bothered me: are kids who spray random graffiti at a cemetery guilty of the same crime as people who spray-painted swastikas on Jewish graves?
Then townie76 asked why it was necessary to categorize the Fort Hood killer as a terrorist--why not just call him a murderer and have done with it?
Well, I thought, because to call him a terrorist is to make the linkage between his actions (violent murder) and his political intent (advancing the cause of radicalized Islam). Based on the evidence we currently have, being a nutcase does not completely explain his crime. Being a radicalized Islamic nutcase who is attempting to intimidate and strike fear into American soldiers and their families is a far better explanation.
The act of killing soldiers at Fort Hood appears to have been not just an act of violence by a disturbed individual, but a politically motivated act of violence by a disturbed individual.
He went on his killing spree because his victims--non-Muslims--had become acceptable not as individuals but as a class of people victims to kill. Their shared attribute? They were infidels perceived as a danger to Dar al Islam. They were therefore not people but a threat--vermin to be eradicated.
Which then led me to the uncomfortable question of how this asshole differed from the guys who killed Matthew Shepard. Shepard was killed not because of who he was as a person, but as a representative of a class of people: queers who threaten the existence the America his murderers fantasized they were protecting. They saw Shepard as being as much a threat to them as Al Qaeda sees American soldiers on Saudi soil, and they therefore felt justified in eliminating that threat.
They were making a political statement that homosexuals will not be tolerated here, just as people who tied hangman's knots and burned crosses were making a political statement that the blacks in American better learn their place and not be uppity.
Is it, I wondered, legitimate to equate terrorism to hate crimes, with the primary difference being the level of organization or the amount of destruction done by the killers?
Are Muslim honor killings in America best described as hate crimes or terrorism? Is one the retail form and another the wholesale form?
Perhaps. I am still not personally sure about the boundaries between them [although commenters will show up and set me straight in my ignorance, never fear].
But I am sure of this: from a societal perspective there is a difference between killing [maiming, attacking, etc.] someone because of the potential for personal gain, or because of heated emotions, or for personal revenge, than there is for executing the same murder/attack/assault against somebody just because they represent a particular group considered to be threatening, with the intent of not just killing that person but sending a message to the rest of the queers, bitches, negroes....
Do both categories overlap? Of course they do.
Do I still have profound reservations about the potential for the State to misuse hate crimes legislation? Yep.
Is there still a difficult line for me between hate speech and protected political speech? You bet.
But I cannot wrap my mind around declaring a war on terror and defining some murderous acts to be terrorism, while not being intellectually consistent enough to label other murderous acts as hate crimes.
I don't think you can make policy based on the concept of terrorism without acknowleding the existence of hate crimes.
So for Hube, Redwaterlilly, Waldo, and others, here's an admission of intellectual weakness in a world of absolutes: My position on hate crimes was fundamentally flawed. You were right all along.