Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Universal values against hate crimes

During the past few days I have been thinking about how to respond to the recent hate crimes committed here by extreme religious and nationalist attackers. A knife attack on the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade ended with the death of a 16 year old girl and the injury of 5 others. This murder was carried out by a man who had recently been released from jail after serving 10 years for a similar previous attack, and he had stated his intentions to attack again. Shortly after this, a Palestinian home was set on fire, presumably by settlers, and a baby burned to death, while other family members were seriously injured. These attacks follow other hate crimes committed in recent months, including the burning of a church and a Jewish-Arab school that promoted co-existence.

Apart from the shock caused by these crimes, I am also upset by the attempts of religious and settler groups to distance themselves from the attackers. Of course, people who commit horrific crimes are probably psychopaths or at least very unbalanced. However, where there are hate crimes, there was first an atmosphere of hate and dehumanization of the victimized group. When I look at the evil that has been done in the world throughout history, two things seem to motivate it: individual desire to profit at the expense of others, and groups dehumanizing members of other groups. Hate crimes can only be attributed to the latter type of motivation, and the attacker's group has to accept some degree of responsibility for the hatred that led them. At the very least, if they sincerely want to prevent such crimes from being committed by their members, they should reconsider their education and public statements in light of the way these attitudes can be put into action.

Because these recent cases involved Israeli Jewish criminals, this is the main group I will be addressing here. However, similar things can be said about other religious and nationalistic groups in other countries and cultures.

There is a spectrum of human compassion. Most of us naturally care about ourselves, our family, our friends, and the group we perceive as "like us". At one end of the spectrum there are those who try to extend their compassion, or at least tolerance, to the entire human race, and also to animals and our environment. These people have universal values, seeking to treat everyone well, no matter how similar or different they are. They don't see the "other" as less deserving than them. At the opposite end of the spectrum are those who have a narrow, rigid definition of their own group, which they treat well, while all other groups are considered somehow less than human, or even as enemies.

Religions, by their very definition, see themselves as the superior group, and their way of life as the only acceptable one. In the case of Judaism, which is both a religion and an ethnicity, religious Jews generally consider themselves the "chosen people", and believe that everyone born Jewish must obey the commandments and adopt a religious lifestyle, according to their interpretation. Other religions, such as Christianity and Islam, tend to believe they should try to convert every human being to their beliefs. Sometimes this is attempted through persuasion, and at other times it is "convert or die", or "convert or be enslaved". Extreme nationalist or racist groups employ similar ways of thinking to extreme religious ideologies.

When a group teaches its members that "others" are less worthy, it is a slippery slope to some group members deciding to punish them. First there is the tendency to keep a distance from them, then to discriminate against them, and eventually some unbalanced individuals may feel righteously justified in attacking them. The group cannot then claim that they don't support violence, since the choice of target is directly related to the teachings that treat the "other" as inferior. Saying "we didn't want them to be killed" leaves out the implied part "... but only discriminated against and marginalized". Discrimination and marginalization often lead directly to legitimizing violence, as can be seen throughout history.

What is most disturbing to me is the way religions habitually claim the moral high ground, while in fact they cannot avoid dividing the human race into "us" and "them", and considering their in-group to be superior to the "other". In fact, the opposite is true. It is people who hold universal values rather than group values who are truly more moral. Those who don't think they belong to a superior group, and actually consider all human beings equally deserving of compassion, are more moral than most religions. 

The way to prevent hate crimes is to educate people not to hate. This means everyone should be taught compassion and tolerance, to accept the other as different but equally deserving of respect and consideration, and to be able to take pride in whatever groups they belong to without having to degrade or dehumanize other groups. This means dealing with "others" as equals, and sometimes reaching compromises or "agreeing to disagree" rather than striving to achieve your own objectives at any cost, even at the expense of others' interests.

If you believe that hate crimes cannot be justified, it is time to think about any opinions and attitudes you have that might be just a bit higher up the slippery slope to violence. Most of us have some prejudices and few of us are truly egalitarian to all groups. We can all work on increasing and spreading compassion and tolerance, encouraging equality and inclusion of "others", and placing less emphasis on our narrow group identities and more emphasis on ourselves as part of the human race as a whole.

1 comment:

Ariadne said...

What a great article dear!Thank you for sharing this!AriadnefromGreece!