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True on Sept 10, True Today

On hate crimes, profiling, flag-burning, and the enemy.


by James Leroy Wilson
October 10, 2001

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True on Sept 10, True Today_James Leroy Wilson-On hate crimes, profiling, flag-burning, and the enemy. September 11 and its aftermath has changed the world upside down for a lot of people. For example, most of us probably thought that the Department of Defense had more than enough money to provide for our common security, plus tens of billions more dollars dedicated solely to pork and waste. The reality, though, is the reality of government: the pork and waste will always, always be there, even at the expense of underfunding essential security services. But that's the least of the surprises of 9-11 for a number of people, who find themselves afraid to even go outside anymore.

I was personally fortunate not to be touched dramatically by the tragedy; I'm not aware of a direct acquaintance hurt, dead, or missing from the disasters, and know very few people who were affected thusly. And in many other ways my world still has not changed. I had long expected national catastrophes to occur in my lifetime. I had become increasingly wary of foreign interventions, believing that determining outcomes in foreign civil wars, basing troops on foreign soil, and otherwise dictating domestic and trade policies of other countries could only stir hatred and violence against us. Further, this national humiliation did not affect my values or beliefs. My outlook on human nature did not change. The attack did not make me question my priorities.

It did, however, confirm some things, though at a price I wish had not been paid:

1. Hate crime laws are not wrong and are sometimes necessary. Some conservative and libertarian commentators do not see what difference it would make to a victim or to society why a crime has been committed. If, say, your home has been vandalized, the cost of repairing the damage would be the same regardless of the motive. That obviously means that the victim has no right to feel any more threatened because of the motive. But being the random victim of juvenile mischief, or even being the targeted victim (because, say, you are a strict and unpopular school teacher), is fundamentally different from being the target because of the color of your skin. A hate crime is designed to create social division and segregation, if not outright extinction of the targeted group. Hate crimes are not directed toward random members of the general population, nor of specific persons because of a dispute, but rather toward random members of a specific group designed to inspire fear and exile for that whole group. Hate crimes strike at the heart of the principles of a free, open, and democratic civil society. This is true now that many Arabs, other Muslims, and Sikhs live in fear of their neighbors in America. But do you know what? This was equally true on September 10.

2. Racial profiling is okay if it is case-specific. This is the lesson of a July article in Reason magazine, whose general thrust was an argument against the War on Drugs, which depends on racial profiling to determine which people are "suspicious." The lesson is, if one resembles a suspect, one might actually be the suspect. Supposed "profiling" and detaining of Arab-looking men is legitimate if they actually resemble known suspected terrorists or conspirators. Such profiling, however, is not legitimate as a fishing expedition. If we are to wage the "War on Terrorism" the way we do the "War on Drugs" we'll likely unjustly detain many innocent men not because they resemble actual or suspected criminals or terrorists, but because they look like they're of the same ethnicity. This is not good in any circumstance; perhaps it is more understandable in the case of the possible killing of innocents than it is in the prosecution of the unconstitutional War on Drugs.

3. If flag-burning or flag "desecration" is wrong now, it was wrong on September 10. Admittedly, I once threatened to a few people privately that if the McCain-Feingold "Campaign Finance Reform" bill (read: Campaign Censorship Act) ever passed, I would burn the American flag. Burning the flag, in my thinking, would have sent the message that the principles and institutions that founded our nation had been destroyed to such an extent that burning the flag would be the only form of "free speech" left. The point of such a demonstration would have been ironic, for the impermissible (promoting treason) would be permissible and the permissible (supporting a candidate) would be regulated. Texas v. Johnson (1989) was the Supreme Court's decision that started the whole preposterous mess of seemingly annual Constitutional Amendment proposals. What the Court said then perpetuated myths of the Court's own creation: "speech" is whatever the majority of nine unelected lawyers say it is, and the Bill of Rights applies to state and local governments, though the Constitution neither says nor implies any such thing. But in war, a flag-burner is openly advocating defeat of the country. There is no other reason to do such a thing. The question is, would such a wartime activity disturb the public peace as the mainstream citizenry objects to seeing such a thing in public places. I don't know the answer for sure, but I, for one, believe the essence of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution is to allow each state or local government to decide for itself how best to preserve domestic tranquility. And if public flag-burning could disrupt domestic tranquility in wartime, then it could in peacetime.

4. Never assume that enemies are rational, let alone have good intentions or are willing to compromise. The Republicans unfortunately selected the big-government George W. Bush as their Presidential candidate to "change the tone" in Washington, which obviously meant playing nice with and compromising with Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle and their budget-busting, unconstitutional, totalitarian schemes. (That's why I voted Libertarian.) Thankfully, now-President Bush has had the wisdom to assert American strength abroad and to refuse to play nice with the Taliban and its clients. But this lesson of strength and will is the lesson of peace. Individuals who arm themselves are best protected from crime; nations who are constantly prepared for war best preserve the peace. This was true on September 10. It is true now.

That's the way truth is. It exists regardless of what we think about it. You may disagree as to these specific examples, but if you dispute that truth never changes, that what's true now is different from what was true on September 10, you have a remarkable philosophical project ahead of you. If truth isn't eternal, then nothing is real and God doesn't exist. I'm guessing that placing faith in the existence of truth, God, and all the rest will lead to better outcomes for ourselves, our country, and the world than acting as if everything is arbitrary and temporary.

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