Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Well, that didn't last long

Well, that break didn't last too long! Actually, I've discovered that I can't study for more than about four or five hours at a stretch without starting to zone out completely. So, I am taking a break from reading Mr. Braudel to blog about nonsense. Clearly, I am an addict.

Anyway, I'm also a bit intrigued by this article: A 23 year old Student was arrested Friday on hate-crime charges after he threw a Quran in a toilet at Pace University on two separate occasions, police said.

I don't have to read the "500-and-some comments" to imagine how the netizens are screaming about the Islamic menace. So I'm hoping that none of this comes across as being as immoderate as most bloganderthal writing. But, honestly, I'm not really sure why this would be considered a hate crime. I thought a hate crime was something that is already a crime, but which gets categorized as a hate crime because of its motivation. For instance, if I beat up a stranger, it's assault; but if I beat up a stranger because he's Portuguese, it's a hate crime, and the penalty is stiffer.

It seems to me that hate crimes legislation is similar to laws about killing cops. You used to do the same time for killing a cop as anybody else. But, during Prohibition, the mob found that it was worth their while to shoot police officers and take the manslaughter sentence. So, the punishment for cop killing became much stiffer; this is why it's often a death penalty charge now. The result is that cop killing is much rarer than it was in the era of Al Capone.

Similarly, the case could be made that bigotry against certain groups makes crimes more likely to be committed against them, or that racially-motivated crimes are, in general, more likely to destabilize society. This seems, to me, to be a plausible argument. It should be debated, however, if adding extra penalties based on intent doesn't make certain bigotries into thought-crimes.

But, unless I'm mistaken, leaving a book in a public toilet isn't a crime in the first place. So, what's being punished here is the intent, but not a crime. What troubles me about this is that I assume that the average American's response will be something like: "Why can you burn the bible then? Or the flag?" And, to be honest, I'd rather allow ignorant jerks to burn the flag, flush the Quran, or drive over a Bible than to allow the state to use police force to protect the sensitivities of a religious institution.

Of course, maybe the Qurans were stolen. I think there's probably more to story than we know. And I also don't want to contribute to the ill-tempered screaming of the blogosphere. So, these are just some thoughts, but no hard answers.

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