Wednesday, June 11, 2014

How strong is the link between rhetoric and hate crime in the US?

Last month I wrote a post in this blog in which I explored some of the disturbing similarities between conditions for African-Americans in the southern US before the civil rights movement and modern day Europe, specifically when it comes to tolerance for a climate of racism and hate which contributed to the normalization if violence against a perceived "other." In that piece I noted that while there are important differences between the two, that in each, the perception that violence against a particular racial, ethnic or religious group is tolerated if not overtly condoned.

There are still plenty of reasons to be concerned about hate crimes in Europe, fueled both by Muslim extremists and ultra right-wing nationalist movements. I would point out the irony here, that there is ideologically no love lost between these two groups, but then again this is hardly the first time that neo nazis and Arab terrorists have put aside mutual contempt as they persecuted Jews - after all, the story of cooperation between the Nazis and Arab rulers in pre-state Israel is well known.

In that post my focus was on the idea that a bid for political legitimacy by far right groups in Europe (and their subsequent limited success) has contributed to an atmosphere of hate, intolerance and violence. But what about here in America ? Should we also be asking ourselves to what extent hate speech is emboldening those who may be on the edge of acting out  violently ?

As I was thinking about this recent horrific shooting in Las Vegas I came across an opinion piece by Paul Waldman on the Washington Post website, in which he raises this very question. I would highly recommend reading it - whether or not you agree with Mr. Waldman, in light of recent events it's hard to argue with his premise that this an issue worth paying attention to, and a conversation worth having.

Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2014.

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