Which racial or religious "hate crimes" do you choose to identify? And which do you not? That is a question with which the U.S. government and wider society seem to be struggling. In the process, they are revealing far more about their own worldview than they can possibly intend.
Since the beginning of this year, we have had, alongside the usual violence aimed at the Jewish state, the targeting of Jews in Brussels, Paris and Copenhagen. In all instances, the sites were targeted because they were likely to have Jews.
Unfortunately, the leader of the free world, U.S. President Barack Obama, among others, seems loath to acknowledge this fact. Just recently, he described the Paris terrorists as "a bunch of violent, vicious zealots who behead people or randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris." There are not many ways in which it is possible to see the targeting of a kosher store in Paris as "random." But with U.S. administration spokesmen trying to pretend that the victims in that shop were not likely to be Jews, it would be surprising if they simply lacked the information. It was, in fact, a heroic Muslim worker, Lassana Bathily, who risked his life to save the lives of several Jews by hiding them in the basement freezer, which he shut off before going back upstairs.
It is probably not out of ignorance that the administration tries not to focus on the religious dimension of the recent terrorist attacks -- which also include members of ISIS in Libya slitting the throats of 21 Egyptian Christians because, the ISIS members said, the kidnapped men were Christians -- but rather for fear of what the general public might do with this information.
Because if you view your public as a lynch-mob-in-waiting, as so many Western leaders seem to do, then you assume you must do everything you can to restrain them from perpetrating constant acts of violence against Muslims.
If that is your view of your public, then talking about "random" folks being shot is the sort of circumlocution you will select.
Should you wish to address the problem, you might call together a summit aimed at tackling "violent extremism." But the whole exercise must continuously be directed away from identifying the problem. The Jews cannot have been targeted because they were Jews, because if they were, then you may find yourself having to explain the ideology that propels the killers.
However, in this era of motive-avoiding, sometimes a terrible crime is committed that the selfsame people who duck naming one set of victims and perpetrators seem eager -- even determined -- to identify a different set of victims and perpetrators. Take the brutal murder of three young Americans last month in Chapel Hill. To date, it appears that the neighbor who killed them, crazy though he must be, did this terrible deed because of a parking dispute. That is the basis on which the police were working, and it appears to be the view of those who were close to the perpetrator.
However, after the Chapel Hill shootings quite a different story arose -- similar to what happened after the shooting of Trayvon Martin by a "white hispanic," and the shooting of a back young man in Ferguson by a white policeman, both of which cases triggered their own potential lynch-mobs.
It is important to stress that the Chapel Hill case has not been concluded yet. But it is equally important to stress that, because the three victims were Muslim, within seconds of news of the shooting, social media erupted with claims that this was a "hate crime," and hashtags such as, "#MuslimLivesMatter" started to trend on Twitter.
The father of one of the victims said that the police, who claimed the shooting was over a parking spot, were wrong, and that this was a hate-crime perpetrated solely because the victims were Muslim. The perpetrator's apparent atheism, stated on his Facebook page, was used immediately to not only explain the crime, but as a stick to hit anyone who shares the perpetrator's atheism. Crowds, which gathered for rallies in Chapel Hill and later at the funeral of the victims, insisted that the police must treat these crimes as hate crimes motivated by religious hatred. The police are now under serious pressure to attribute the crime to causes other than those they may actually think to be the case.
And just to help pile on that pressure, and lead the mob spirit, the White House helpfully released a statement from the President saying:
"Yesterday, the FBI opened an inquiry into the brutal and outrageous murders of Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, Deah Shaddy Barakat, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. In addition to the ongoing investigation by local authorities, the FBI is taking steps to determine whether federal laws were violated. No one in the United States of America should ever be targeted because of who they are, what they look like, or how they worship."
Indeed. Nor should anyone be killed because of how or where they park their car.
Here is the problem: There are many difficulties with "hate-crimes" legislation. But one of the worst is that it turns the law from being blind into being a tool that can be used not only to drive home a political vision, but one that be used to ignore and even lobby to change facts. Instead of being the instrument that upholds justice on behalf of all of us, the law becomes an instrument for special-interest groups to pursue each other -- and anybody else -- to see not just events, but crimes, in whatever light they wish.
Which is a hate crime, and which is "random folks"? Left: Survivors of the terrorist attack on the kosher Hyper Cacher supermarket in Paris flee the store, as police move in. Right: The three victims who were murdered by their neighbor in Chapel Hill.
This is the disturbing trend that seems to have fed into these moments of Presidential blindness.
The facts on Brussels, Paris and Copenhagen are largely in. The facts on Chapel Hill are not. While many people seem not to want to recognize when Jews are killed for being Jews, the truth is that a very great number of people appear to want Muslims or Blacks, when they are killed, to have been murdered because they were Muslims or Blacks.
If you cannot work out why that might be, then you cannot possibly crack why we are currently failing the ideological challenge of our time.