The post I was preparing for Blog Action Day has been scrapped. It was too academic, too impersonal, and now much too irrelevant.
This past weekend I was reminded that even in the most developed nations, where rule of law and respect for human rights are the norm, there are those who act out of hate. They single out targets based on irrational fear and bigotry. Yes, even here in one of the most diverse and cosmopolitan cities on Earth.
Sadly, there have always been isolated incidents of hate in New York City. The flip side of our wonderful diversity is that it isn’t always easy for people of different cultures, religions, languages and opinions to live side-by-side in close quarters. Usually this creates a stimulating environment of contrasts.nOccasionally there are flare-ups.
Saturday morning, for the second time, the Catholic high school I attended years ago was damaged by vandals. The first time a new building just nearing completion on campus was vandalized; this time a fire was set in the old convent, now mostly replaced by the newer building, that was housing a few visiting nuns. Police describe it as a “hate crime,” and it surprised me how that label hurts. There was no theft, no motive of personal gain for the criminals. The damage was purely a crime of hate and destruction.
One nun was seriously injured when she jumped out a window to escape the fire. According to news reports she is hospitalized but expected to recover. The point, of course, is that she ought not to have been injured at all: she ought to have slept peacefully through the night, without need to escape out a window. The arsonists’ disdain for those who were inside the building in the early morning is obscene.
As bias crimes go, this one is unusual. Almost half (46.9%) of hate crimes in the United States are racially motivated; only about one in five (18.2%) are religiously motivated, and of those only 5.2% of those are against Catholic persons or institutions. (By far the largest percentage of religious hate crimes are against Jewish targets, 62.2%, with Muslim targets a distant second, 13.3%.) Roughly two thirds of bias crimes are directed at people; only 36.0% are against property or institutions, and fewer than 1% are arson. 10.7% of religious bias crimes occurred at educational institutions.
(All the data above is from the FBI’s report for 2011, the most recent available on their website: http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/hate-crime/2011)
In one way, we are fortunate. In the United States, bias attacks on people and institutions are considered wrong. While a few bigots may condone certain attacks, the concept is both legally and socially prohibited. Law enforcement and government officials generally take action against hate crimes. Communities sympathize with the victims, not the perpetrators. (It wasn’t always so, of course, but this is called progress.) It is significant that the FBI compiles annual statistics on hate crimes, and that criminals can be prosecuted for hate crimes and civil rights abuse on top of their other crimes.
New York City, with all its diversity, has its own Commission on Human Rights. It usually handles more subtle instances of discrimination, not outright attacks
I expect there will be many Blog Action Day posts about Malala Yousafzai and her effort to promote education for girls, and deservedly so. We face no such danger here, and yet I can’t quite avoid the comparison to attacks of vandalism and arson on a girls’ Catholic high school in New York City. We are safer, certainly, but we are occasionally reminded of the dark stain of hatred in the world.
There are times I truly despair for the future of humanity. It bothers me that I am reluctant to name my alma mater publicly, for fear of inciting a flame war. But there’s a bright side in Blog Action Day. Bloggers and netizens from around the world join forces to think about a theme each year. The diversity of writers serves up many viewpoints and insights. That we are considering human rights in 2013, as my alma mater recovers from a hate crime, gives me some hope.
It is our thoughts, our beliefs, our hopes and aspirations that define who we are. The right to express them, to speak out, and to come together with those who share our thoughts must be protected. The need is never really over and it is often closer to home than we realize.