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Americans Divided by Hate Crimes Bill

Karin Friedemann (Letter From America) / 16 May 2009

Despite lingering concerns about threats to Constitutional protections such as freedom of religion and freedom of speech, the Federal Hate Crimes bill, HR 1913, passed recently in the House of Representatives.

If passed by the Senate, the legislation will expand the federal definition of such crimes to include those motivated by gender identity and permit increased federal power to investigate and prosecute crimes as “hate crimes.” The meat of the hate crimes bill is a $10 million grant for the establishment of a federally funded surveillance centre.

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R, NC) argued HR 1913 would move America “down a slippery slope” to loss of freedom as has happened in Canada and Europe, where imprisonment for “thought crimes” has become a regular occurrence.

Susan Fani of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights warns: “The problem in general with hate crimes legislation is that it invites the government to probe way beyond motive. And in instances like this, it trespasses on free speech and religious liberty.”

Although the bill “declares that nothing in this Act shall be construed to prohibit the exercise of Constitutionally-protected free speech,” it sets a dangerous precedent of punishing motivations rather than actions because the actions — stalking, assault, etc. — are already illegal.

Anisa Abd el Fattah, President of National Association of Muslim American Women (NAMAW) points out: “Before our Congress passes such a law there are many questions to be answered, the most important of which is ‘who’ will decide that a given act is a ‘hate crime’?” The Jewish Anti-Defamation League (ADL) originally wrote this bill. Arab, Latino and African-American organisations support it because they hope that prosecuting “hate” will decrease racist attacks on their communities. Serious fears exist, however, about the government surveillance centre, given the highly politicised nature of hate crimes labeling.

The ADL, along with the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), is already heavily involved in Homeland Security’s locally based “fusion centres,” which collect personal data for intelligence databases that synchronise national intelligence collection with local police.

ADL and SPLC have a record of illegally spying on American citizens and providing false information to law enforcement officials.

A fusion centre in Missouri recently distributed an “intelligence” document on “hate groups” to local police, which was written by the ADL and the SPLC. It instructed the police to look for Americans who were concerned about unemployment, taxes, illegal immigration, gangs, border security, abortion, high costs of living, gun restrictions, FEMA, the IRS, and the Federal Reserve, as well as supporters of third party presidential candidates! Mainstream Christian organisations that espouse a traditional orthodox view of homosexuality were lumped into a list filled with violent neo-Nazis and skinheads while Roman Catholic institutions were singled out as “encouraging anti-Semitism and ethnic and religious chauvinism.” The report also predictably vilified religiously observant Muslims and anti-war activists.

“There is no level of hate crime that is acceptable—period,” says Dan Stein, President of Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). “However, the SPLC’s calculated abuse of the term ‘hate group’ and manipulation of hate crime data for self-serving political interests is an affront to hate crime victims and those who advocate on their behalf.”

The Christian Anti-Defamation Commission declared, “If we were to apply the same twisted logic of the SPLC to the SPLC, it would have to label itself as a hate group because they are intolerant of conservative Christians.” Similarly, Hussein Ibish, a secular Arab-American lobbyist, could be charged with inciting hate crimes targeting Muslims and political activists, his compilation of anti-Arab hate crimes statistics for the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) aside.

Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), and the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) expressed concern about how the fusion system has been “monitoring the legal activities of American Muslims exercising their constitutional privileges” and the “use of McCarthy-era tactics, most notably dissemination of Islamophobic analysis by federally-funded ‘fusion centres’ to local law enforcement agencies.”

Americans for Legal Immigration PAC (ALIPAC), a citizens group in Missouri, issued a national advisory to all local, state and Federal law enforcement agencies and officers, including all DHS fusion centres, “warning against any reliance upon faulty and politicised research issued by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and Anti Defamation League (ADL)” that “cast suspicion on millions of Americans.”

Governor Peter Kinder took the advisory seriously and is now engaging in damage control.

He issued a public apology to Presidential candidates Ron Paul, Bob Barr, and Chuck Baldwin, and placed Missouri Public Safety Director John Britt on administrative leave pending an investigation of the absurd report.

America’s problems with intolerance do not result from the absence of hate crime laws but originate in structural problems associated with bigotries of government officials, and often involve conspiracies against rights.

Karin Friedemann is a Boston-based writer on Middle East affairs and US politics. She is Director of the Division on Muslim Civil Rights and Liberties for the National Association of Muslim American Women

 
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