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The firebombing of a Bloomington mosque: was it a "hate crime"?
On Saturday morning, someone threw a Molotov cocktail into Bloomington's Islamic Center, which is the only mosque in the city. As expected, this is being denounced as a "hate crime". For a moment, let's assume that hate against Muslims was what motivated the arson. Does that somehow make the crime worse? If the incendiary device was thrown into the building in a random act of violence, would the fire have caused any less damage? If the firebombing was done by someone who had a personal issue with staff at the mosque but no general ill will toward Muslims, would it somehow have been better?
Labeling some crimes as "hate crimes" worthy of more severe punishment than others is an insult to other victims of violent crime. We should not be creating classes of victims, where some are more important than others based on factors other than the severity of the crime.
Imposing extra punishments for having the wrong motivations to commit a violent act (is there ever a right motivation to commit a violent act?) criminalizes not the violence, but the thoughts and beliefs behind the violence. As wrong as it may be to hate a group of people because of their religion, in America the people have the freedom to believe whatever they want, and to express those beliefs. It is important to remember that there are legitimate criticisms of Islam, and discussions of those issues must not be stifled in the wake of this bombing.
I am concerned that by labeling something as a "hate crime", we are moving toward criminalizing thought as opposed to actions. How long will it be before beliefs and speech are in the sights of people who push the idea that two identical crimes are actually different in severity depending on the motivation?
Of course, we are already going down that road. The Canadian government already places limitations on what it considers to be "hate speech". University "speech codes" are infamous, and the radical Left seeks to silence speech they consider to be hateful or offensive.
But do we actually do good by driving hate underground? Or do those who hold to irrational hatred feel vindicated when government tries to stifle their speech? After all, if those beliefs were not valid, why not allow open discussion of them? I am much more comfortable with hate out in the open where it can be refuted than have it fester in the shadows.
The thugs who did this must be hunted down, prosecuted and punished to the fullest extent of the law. Society must have protection from thugs who would bomb and burn. The arsonists should not, however, be punished more because we have a special dislike for whatever motivated them to commit this abominable act.
I have links to news articles on the story and to my past writings on hate crimes at Multi-Level Political Debate.