Confronting Intolerance Today: Hate Crimes

Anne Frank was one of millions of individuals who died at the hand of hate. The Holocaust alone took the lives of 6 million Jews, hundreds of thousands of Roma, thousands of people with mental and physical disabilities, as well as untold numbers of gays and lesbians. The genocidal policies of Nazi Germany were intent not simply on targeting specific people, but on targeting specific peoples highlighted as inferior, and uniquely worthy of hate.

The Holocaust was not the first time entire communities were designated for mass extinction. But the scope and scale of the Nazi enterprise forced the horrific consequences of hate into the mainstream debate in a manner that was truly unprecedented. Over the next several decades, dozens of countries around the world would introduce laws and policies designed to counteract hate, and penalize its promoters.

Yet more than 60 years after the Holocaust, hate—and hate crimes—remain all too present within our societies. Racism, ethnic and religious persecution, as well as homophobia, pervade all continents—with violent and devastating consequences.

In the United States, alone, about 250,000 victims suffer each year from hate crimes, with offences stemming from religious (often anti-Muslim) hatred having doubled in recent years. In 2012, a white supremacist fatally shot 6 people, and wounded four others, in a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. That same year, the United States witnessed the number of conspiracy-minded antigovernment “Patriot” groups reach an all-time high of 1,360, with hard-core hate groups staying stable at the 1,000 mark.

Of course, hate crimes have not been limited to the United States. In Europe, anti-Muslim and anti-Roma hate crimes remain acute. Across Western and Eastern Europe there has been a surge in violent anti-immigrant attacks, accompanied by mounting support for far-right, xenophobic parties. In 2012, the continent also witnessed a dramatic surge in anti-Semitic attacks, many of them violent. In France, an anti-Semitic extremist murdered four people in a Jewish school in Toulouse. In Greece, hundreds have been injured in racially motivated attacks. Irrespective of where they take place, such acts are continuing impede the realization of Anne’s vision for a more just, peaceful, and tolerant world.

Which raises the question: what can be done about modern manifestations of hate? How can local communities, schools, law enforcement agencies, religious leaders and policymakers better address acts of violence, discrimination and intolerance borne by hate?

Rabbi Marc Schneier, Imam Shamsi Ali and Dutch Chief Prosecutor Herman Bolhaar employ unconventional approaches to answer those questions. Rather than ignore animosities shared within their communities, they are working to bridge the divide between different groups, by fostering dialogue, collaboration, and inter-communal activities. In the Netherlands, Chief Prosecutor Bolhaar seeks to combat hate-related offenses, including anti-Semitism and homophobia, not simply through acts of punishments, but by raising moral awareness and spurring behavioral changes that can prevent hate, before it turns violent. To influence the future conduct of those convicted of anti-Semitic crimes, for example, Bolhaar encourages a rigorous intervention based on forging relationships among the accused and Jews, arranging visits to the Anne Frank House, and organizing communal clean-ups of Jewish cemeteries.

In the United States Rabbi Marc Schneier and Imam Shamsi Ali have sought to bridge the divide between Jews and Muslims by opening channels of dialogue and communication among members of their respective faiths. Together, they have sought to counteract extremist acts of violence against Jews and Muslims by speaking publicly against such acts. As they put it, “as Jews and Muslims, not only must we carry out a sustained dialogue, but we must actively fight for each other’s rights, standing together against Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and xenophobia. We believe deeply that a people which fights for its own rights is only as honorable as when it fights for the rights of all people. For only when we see the humanity in the Other can we preserve it within ourselves.”

Of course, forging inter-communal dialogue is just one method to confront hate. Many countries have also opted to impose stiff legal penalties on those convicted of violent hate crimes. Human Rights First has identified a ten-point plan countries can adopt to combat hate, ranging from strengthening law enforcement and undertaking parliamentary inquiries to monitoring and reporting on hate crimes, and encouraging international cooperation on hate crimes.

Please share your experience and ideas by adding a comment

As your community confronts hate within its midst, what methods do you think work best?

What can you do as an individual do to combat hate?

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