Friday, July 1, 2016

Empty labels

In the early morning hours of June 12, forty-nine people were murdered in a nightclub in Orlando. Forty-nine lives lost, at least forty-nine families shattered.

One of the questions left dangling is whether that deadly massacre was terrorism or a hate crime. The answer is neither.

There is no such thing as terrorism. In the West we use the term terrorism to describe the use of violence to achieve political aims. Interestingly enough, that term is only used to describe those actions by groups in opposition to our government or an allied government. It is a politically charged word used to rally people to a certain political position.

If there were a legitimate definition (outside the realm of politics) for terrorism then the United States would be the world's biggest sponsor of terrorism. The US dropped atomic bombs on two populated cities in Japan in August 1945 in an attempt to persuade the Japanese people to push their leaders to surrendering. The death and devastation caused by the bombings was the act of violence. The goal was to achieve the political aim of forcing Japan to surrender.

During the Cold War the United States supported right-wing dictators and trained right-wing death squads in Guatemala, Honduras, Argentina and Chile (as well as plenty of other places around the world). These dictators and their minions used violence to force compliance with political and economic policies that benefited big business.

Today the United States fires missiles and drops bombs in the Middle East killing scores of innocent people in order to achieve its political aims.

But no one in this country calls it terrorism.

Hate crime legislation in this country is unconstitutional. The First Amendment gives all of us the right to spew forth whatever appalling or objectional speech we wish - so long as we don't incite violence.

We will never know why Omar Mateen did what he did that day because he was killed during the incident. But it doesn't matter why he did it. If he were being tried for murder the only relevant question would be did he shoot those folks intentionally or not. Why he pulled the trigger isn't relevant to determining whether or not he is guilty.

The forty-nine victims are dead. And they will remain dead whether or not Mr. Mateen killed them because he hated them or not.

The purpose of our criminal (in)justice system is not to determine what someone was thinking at the time they committed a certain act, it's to determine whether or not that person had a certain culpable mental state at the time of the act. Did he act intentionally, knowingly, recklessly or negligently? That should be the end of the inquiry.

Punishing someone for murder is one thing, punishing someone because of their constitutionally protected speech is something altogether different.

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