According to Muslim News Ed Miliband has promised to make “Islamophobia” illegal:
“We are going to make it an aggravated crime. We are going to make sure it is marked on people’s records with the police to make sure they root out Islamophobia as a hate crime […]We are going to change the law on this so we make it absolutely clear of our abhorrence of hate crime and Islamophobia. It will be the first time that the police will record Islamophobic attacks right across the country,” Ed allegedly said to the editor of The Muslim News Ahmed J. Versi.
Now, I cannot be certain as to the veracity of this statement nor the accuracy of the quotations. I am not certain of the integrity or quality of The Muslim News so I am assessing this with some scepticism while using it as a starting point to discuss a broader theme.
For me, whether Ed Miliband really intends this or not, it is a reminder of the essentially morally corrupt nature of the concept of hate crime. Is it healthy that Muslims should rejoice that they will be recognised by a law identifying them as a separate group, worthy of a special law, to gain parity with Jews and homosexuals? I would contend that it would be better for the social fabric of our society that their sense of separation be eroded rather than made official by law.
Hate crime is identity politics in legislative form, it erodes the principles that uphold the common law; that all are equal before it, it is the law of the land and applies to all, rich, poor, black, white, Muslim, Christian, the government and the governed. Hate crime is divisive because it creates further barriers and aggravates the sense of otherness that minority groups feel.
The law should be blind to race. It is supposed to be a unifying and inclusive force; we are all British and subject to the same laws. Equality before the law is one of principles that made Britain a great and free country, hate crime laws do not conform to it. Hate crime laws say that crimes committed against certain groups are worse than crime committed against people not within those groups, this is unarguably not the case.
I do not deny that it is abhorrent that a Muslim should be attacked because they are Muslim, or that a homosexual is attacked because they are a homosexual; but in the eyes of the law that should simply be a human being and a British citizen being attacked, which results in the appropriate judgement and punishment.
Moreover, the rule of law in a free country judges the individual on what they do, not what they think. You should be condemned for you actions, but not your thoughts. The law cannot pretend to see in into the minds of the defendant. Assault is a violent crime, but when the law enhances the sentence if it is judged that the defendant was motivated by racism/Anti-Semitism/Homophobia/Islamophobia/transphobia/misogony etc. etc. etc. etc. then we have essentially put thought crime on the statute books.
If an individual of one race is mugged in the street by someone of another race who, while taking the victim’s property at knife point, uses a racial slur, does that constitute a “hate crime”? Is there a real moral difference between a man beating another man to a bloody pulp in the street, and a man beating another man to a bloody pulp in the street because he doesn’t like blacks/muslims/jews/gays? Is it really worse if one assaults a person because they are Asian, than if one attacks a person because they are old and vulnerable, and therefore an easy target? Hate crime laws muddy the waters. The criminal justice system should punish the act rather than speculating about the motive.
It may, of course, be necessary in some situations to ascertain a motive in order to build a case to prove guilt. That does not however mean that the punishment should be harsher based on that motive. It is not okay to assault someone. It is not okay to murder someone. It actually does not matter what the perpetrator was thinking at the time nor what emotional state they were in.
I have yet to see any evidence that hate crime laws bring any tangible benefit to the groups that it is designed to help. If someone is intending to viciously attack someone else because they are gay; it is a dubious that they will be deterred by the possibility of a longer sentence based on their motive.
Such crimes should have sufficiently harsh sentences regardless of motive, the criminal who isn’t deterred enough by the sentence in the first place won’t think twice because he is committing a hate crime as well as an aggravated assault. Unfortunately, the existence of hate crime laws have not been shown to prevent or deter actions that are deemed to be hate crimes, making them unfit for purpose and a failure on their own terms.
Pandering to identity politics may win votes, but “divide and rule” should not be the mantra of a party that believes it has a monopoly on social solidarity.
Again, it is of course wrong and disgusting for someone to be the victim of crime or prejudiced based on their race, sexuality or religion, but that does not mean we need separate laws when the end result of a racially motivated assault is the same as an assault not motived by race. In the interest of fairness and true equality hate crime laws should be repealed.
New legislation specifically addressing the concerns of Muslims is misguided and wrong. Exacerbating the sense of “otherness” that some Muslims feel will not help us assimilate them into our society, only inclusivity will do that and there is nothing more inclusive than equality before the law.