Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: What! You too? I thought I was the only one.

-C.S. Lewis

Friday, December 08, 2006

Terror = Hate crime

I've always been a little wary of how the word "terrorist" is used in common language these days. It mainly acts as an emotional trigger which, in many people, effectively switches off any normal expectation of due process. The case of Jose Padilla offers a pretty clear example. Once he was branded a terrorist, he was, in the minds of many Americans, properly relegated to an alternate system of justice. The idea seems to be: "Terrorists are evil enemies who do not deserve to participate in our legal system." The point is not that acts of terror aren't evil and destructive acts (they are), just that the climate is such today that when we say the word "terrorist" there is a fundamental shift in what many people regard to be the correct way to deal with the perpetrator. A jury trial is "too good" for such people. Send them to GITMO and beat the bejesus out of them.

This is odd to me, since I don't think many people have any complaint with how Timothy McVeigh was dealt with. Sure maybe you'd rather not the state have executed him, but the fairly unremarkable way in which his case proceeded through the legal system seemed to bother no one.

I'm interested to see how justice is done in the recent attempted mall bombing in Rockford, IL (hometown of Cheap Trick, by the way). The dude who's allegedly behind the plot has an Arabic sounding name, and was quoted in the article linked to above saying words like "jihad," "Allah," blah blah blah. So now he's not just any guy who wants to blow up a mall, he's a terrorist who wants to blow up the mall. He's gone from a common criminal to a guy we should send to Syria to be tortured for the inside dope on al Qaida.

Sometimes I wonder what the point of this distinction is. It this an important point to make? That he is acting for "religious" reasons? To me, the terrorist connection just means that this particular attempt at violence is in fact a hate crime. I've heard conservatives say that the reason they don't like the notion of the hate crime is because is has to do with intent. "We already have laws against murder," they say, "we don't need to legislate someone's thought process." I'd say that it has more to do with a latent hostility towards the typical recipients of hate crimes, but, whatever, that's just an opinion. Anyway, if introducing the notion of the hate crime is so bad, if that would be tantamount to the "thought police," then why so important to label a particular crime an "act of terror" rather than just a regular ol' violent act? Seems to me the intent behind the crime is very important indeed.

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