Thursday, February 12, 2015

On Hate Crimes, War Crimes and Terrorism

Words and classifications help us understand the many events before us. In the Middle East especially, words are of extreme importance and people often get stuck on words as we attempt to make sense of a the chaos that has become the norm the region is living through. The word terrorist is used to describe violence, that many times people identify with its perceived causes. The Palestinian struggle for freedom and dignity, along with the underlying hate for Israel and racist hate of Jews often expressed as hate for Zionism but not Jews, are primary examples where millions of people find the label terrorist applied to acts they either understand,  justify or actively support.

Many of these people look at the brutal bombing of Gaza or the Iraq war of 2003 and subsequent killing of innocent people and cry out "this is terrorism, Israel is terrorist, USA is terrorist" they can't understand why this ugly painful label is applied one way but not the other. 

I would never actually label a state as a terrorist, it may sponsor terrorism or provide material aid to terrorism but a state can't actually in my view be a "terrorist". What escapes many people in the Middle East is that War Crimes, is actually a more serious accusation than terrorism, for war crimes such as the disproportionate use of lethal destructive force by Israel on Gaza is a more serious charge than terrorism. Israel is a state, that has a representative government and an organized army. Clearly the responsibility, it must carry must be far more than a lone terrorist or a mere terrorist gang, even one as powerful as Hamas. For in the case of Gaza, it's Israel that has the obligation to protect the civilians under its occupation. Israel has refused to recognize an independent Palestine State and it no longer disputes any land in Gaza, so under International Law, Gaza is occupied, therefor the civilian population of Gaza must be protected by Israel. The war crimes here are very serious indeed. This is well beyond terrorism, this is war crime!

Come to tragedy of the execution style killing of three young Muslim Americans in Chapel Hill, NC and again people in the MidEast want to see it called terrorism, for this has become the ugliest word one must use. Many voices from the racist right wing in the USA have started crying out, this is just a dispute between neighbors over parking, while millions of others, like me, see it as an abhorrent and blatant hate crime of the type born out of the bigotry and racism espoused by the likes of Ann Coulter and her friends. Hate Crime or a dispute over parking is the battle that is going on in the US social media; for a simple parking dispute would wash the blood off of the hands of the heroes of Islamophobia from across the USA political spectrum from the Bill Mahers to the Coulters and fanatical white supremacists and Christian nation types. Hate crime is a serious charge against the savage killer personally and the discourse created by the likes of Bill O'Riley and Fox News and its  principal owner Mr. Rupert Murdoch.

Was the Chapel Hill tragedy terrorism? Linguistically speaking because it frightens people, for it is terrifying indeed to see people getting killed, so in a way we can see the link to the word terror. Yes it aimed to terrify the Muslim and Arab American community of course, so there can be an argument for application of the terrorist label. However, I see the label Hate Crime, here, carrying far more weight than terrorism, for in terrorism the choice of victims is often arbitrary, accidental where, the very deliberate nature of this heinous crime was no accident. An hate crime, the deliberate selection of three beautiful young people at the prime of their lives, this is hate, in its worst and ugliest form, perpetrated by a human being whose heart and brain were blinded with bigotry. The ugly killer did not aim to change government policy, nor did he have an obvious political goal, he simply aimed to exterminate those he hated. This is a hate crime and to call it anything else would lessen its ugliness.

I wish there is a way the kind of work I've witnessed first hand, and played a small part in, by the Massachusetts Governor Task Force Against Hate is adopted elsewhere and possibly by the Federal Government. The discourse of Fox News, whose hands now are soaked in blood, must be challenged as an urgent national priority and effective US style campaigns against hate must be extended to cover all hate. It must no longer be acceptable for the likes of Bill Maher and Ann Coulter to go spreading hate and bigotry with no financial accountability, for had they espoused their same venom towards other racial or religious groups, they and their sponsors would have been in financial ruins.

Ayman S. Ashour