News - Hate without boundaries

Seeing the 911 tragedy for what it is

The 911 killers were well-off young men who believed they were punishing Americans for being American. They hated our politics, and they hated us.

Breaking down the hatred into several themes offers something in the way of an explanation: They hated our political support of Israel; they hated our opposition to the oppression of women; they hated the global reach of the American economy and the globalization of Western culture.

But it’s important to remember that killers, by definition, should not be counted on to tell the truth, not even about their own motivations. Osama bin Laden isn’t an oppressed Third World peasant. He doesn’t really care about Western capitalism. He’s a power-hungry trust fund baby who kills people who don’t agree with him. In that way, he has more in common with the Menendez brothers than Che Guevera.

Of course, this internal contradiction doesn’t diminish the power of his hatred for Americans. This hatred — like all hatreds — is only more lethal for its irrationality. The killers were well-off young men who wanted to kill Americans because we are well off. They enjoyed American culture as they plotted to kill Americans because of our culture. They pretended to despise our sexual promiscuity (not to be confused with women’s rights, which they also despised) while looking forward to a sexually promiscuous afterlife. They believed that different rules applied to them because of who they were.

In America, a crime targeting people based on their identity which, in turn, spreads fear among other members of that group, is labeled “hate” or “bias” and should be added to the FBI’s annual Hate Crimes Statistics report. Much has been made of the 90 anti-Arab crimes — mostly verbal threats, but at least one murder and a mosque firebombing — that are now being investigated by the FBI. But what about the people killed and injured in the Sept. 11 attacks? Why hasn’t the agency responsible for keeping the stats counted them as hate crime victims. The victims of Timothy McVeigh’s anti-Americanism in Oklahoma City weren’t counted either.

Hate crime laws are supposed to be colorblind. Advocates for such laws have argued vehemently that they should apply to anyone victimized by prejudice (except women, as there are “too many” bias crimes directed at this group for them to be counted as hate), be they white or black or Asian or Hispanic or whatever.

In practice, the notion of colorblind enforcement has not come to pass. The “National Origin” category apparently doesn’t apply to people who are victimized because they are American.

But if we neglect to call the 911 killings hate crimes, what we are saying is that attacking an Arab-American is evidence of prejudice, but attacking and killing 5,796 Americans is not. We’re behaving as if different rules apply to people who hate so long as they direct that hate at Americans.

This is, of course, an opinion that carries weight in some political circles. Unsurprisingly, these are some of the same circles that lobbied for the passage of hate crime laws and then used their influence with the Clinton administration to ensure that the laws would only be applied in ways that advanced their interests.

But so long as we have these laws on the books, we should at least make an effort to resist the tide of such ideological favoritism. If there is to be such a thing as hate crimes, then the murders in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania surely fit the definition.

Advocates for hate crime laws are not incorrect when they argue that “counting” such large groups of victims — e.g., women who have been raped by serial rapists and victims of anti-American terrorism — would change the character of the hate crimes movement itself. It certainly would be a change to acknowledge that, by vast numbers, the majority of victims of prejudiced violence in this country are women and Americans in general.

Amid our urgent national debate over the meaning of the Sept. 11 attacks — a debate that will shape our response to the terrorists — it’s probably too much to hope that declaring the killings hate crimes will change the minds of those who believe that America brought this on itself. But it’s still important to make every effort to enforce our own laws without prejudice, imperfect as they may be. The alternative — a refusal to count 5,796 killings as anti-American hate crimes — is even more imperfect.

Tina Trent is a freelance writer living in Atlanta.??

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