We must tackle hate crimes and raging intolerance
At 11pm on July 29, 2005, Anthony Walker, a British teenager of African decent, stood waiting at a bus stop in Liverpool. A promising young student, Anthony had aspirations for a career in law. Before the bus arrived that night, an unprovoked racially motivated assault left him with a mountaineering ice axe buried six centimetres deep in his skull. He died five hours later. His mother, Gee Walker, wept at his hospital bedside. After this racist murder, Gee said of her son’s killers: "I have to forgive them. I can't feel anger and hatred, because that is what killed my son … Hate killed my son, so why should I be a victim too?"
Where intolerance prospers, hate crimes blossom. Hate crimes are offences motivated by some aspect of the victim’s identity, be it gender, disability, race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation. For some nations, 2016 has been a particularly hateful year. The UK Home Office, for instance, reported a 41 per cent increase in hate crimes after Brexit. Many people fear that the Trump presidency may have a similar impact in the United States.
It seems timely then that this Wednesday is International Day for Tolerance. Started in 1995 to draw attention to Unesco’s declaration of principles on tolerance, the day itself is a good time to reflect upon its principles. At its heart is the idea that people are naturally diverse and only tolerance can ensure the peaceful coexistence of our increasingly diverse communities. “Tolerance, the virtue that makes peace possible,” reads one particularly memorable phrase. The declaration holds that tolerance is all about respecting and appreciating the rich diversity in our communities. It also goes on to suggest that tolerance can be fostered through knowledge and openness.
Although beautiful, these are not radically new ideas. One verse in the Quran, for instance, reads: “O mankind, indeed, We have created you from male and female and made you into various nations and tribes so that you may know one another.” There is no suggestion of fighting or hating each other, but rather, knowing each other. Intolerance is often born of ignorance, and then maintained or exacerbated by being closed minded and isolationist/xenophobic. The cure for ignorance is experience.
Combined with ignorance, there are lots of other factors in society that can influence the expression of intolerance such as hate crimes, an important one being the state of the economy. When times get hard, so do hearts. There are lots of examples from history, of minority groups becoming the sacrificial scapegoats for people’s financial frustrations. For instance, a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, reports that between 1882 and 1930, the number of lynchings of African-Americans in the American South, correlated with cotton prices; low cotton prices meant more lynchings.
Thankfully, the UAE has a relatively low rate of hate crimes. In fact, the UAE has a commendably low crime rate across the board. This, however, is no reason to be complacent and the UAE hasn’t been, as evidenced by the recent appointment of a Minister of State for Tolerance. Consider that hate crimes are just the sharp end of the intolerance spectrum: less dramatic manifestations include insults, prejudice and discrimination. A quick glance at social media can give us an indication of societal levels of, let’s call it, lesser intolerance. On Twitter for example, it is fairly easy to find examples of derogatory speech motivated by some aspect of the target’s identity (gender, race, religion and sexuality).
Critical thinking, ethical reasoning and fostering empathy are all key strategies for promoting tolerance. As an educator working with brilliant and flexible young minds, I view myself as being on the front lines in the war against hate. If tolerance is the virtue that makes peace possible, then the war on hate is the war to end all wars.
Dr Justin Thomas is an associate professor at Zayed University
On Twitter: @DrJustinThomas