Monday, June 13, 2005


By William Fisher

Representatives from 55 countries wrapped up a two-day conference on bigotry in Cordoba, Spain, after being warned of the “alarming increase in anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim hate crimes” and the “disturbing lack of response to hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation, gender, and disability”, and many of the delegates agreed.

The warnings came from a new report – “Everyday Fears: A Survey of Violent Hate Crimes in Europe and North America” – prepared by Human Rights First (HRF) for the “Conference on Anti-Semitism and Other Forms of Intolerance” sponsored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The HRF report said, “Since September 11, 2001, an increasingly strident message of xenophobia has permeated both fringe and mainstream political movements. This new climate has made immigrants and those of immigrant origin particular targets. A result has been heightened anxiety and rising violence against racial, ethnic, and religious minorities and a new climate of exclusion. In this climate, violence toward those who are deemed outsiders because of their sexual orientation, gender, or disability may be less visible, but it is no less threatening”.

The New York-based advocacy group charged that only 19 of the 55 OSCE member states have enacted legislation expressly to punish crimes motivated by racism.

Mike McClintock of HRW, author of the “Everyday Fears” report, said he was encouraged by the delegates’ reaction. “In the hate crimes area, the OECS has been hampered by “a lack of political will and a deficit in resources and expertise.” He added, “HRW and others are helping in the expertise area, and member states are showing positive signs of responding to the need to treat hate crimes as more serious than ordinary crimes because they affect whole communities.”

He said he was hopeful that by later this year, armed with new mandates, OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights would produce reports on anti-Jewish, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant hate crimes.

While delegates adopted a declaration vowing to take concrete, legislative action to fight all forms of intolerance, many expressed frustration at rising rates of religious hate crimes across Europe.

"We need to do more to convert these sound words and goodwill to fight anti-Semitism and intolerance into action and it's clear that a number of states have just not taken that step," said New York Governor George Pataki, head of the US delegation. The New York Republican is close to the Bush Administration and is often talked of as a candidate for the presidency in 2008.

And Christian Strohal, who heads the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, said that in order to take effective action, governments need to gather more information about religious intolerance in their own countries. He criticized countries for failing to act on this point.

Almost half of the OSCE's 55 members missed commitments to provide data to track hate crimes. Just three countries -- the US, Canada, and Britain -- gave thorough, reliable data, according to an OSCE report.

Of particular concern among the delegates was anti-Muslim discrimination. Delegates said that public outrage at attacks by Islamic militants was being directed against the whole Muslim community, and that the fight against terrorism headed by Western governments was adversely affecting Muslims.

The OSCE explored similar problems at a conference in Berlin last year.

Among the HRF report’s other findings:

Just five national governments within the OSCE — Belgium, Canada, France, Spain, and the United Kingdom — have legislation to punish crimes motivated by sexual orientation and disability bias.

In the United States, the laws of 29 states and the District of Columbia punish hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation or disability bias.

Only Belgium, Canada, France, Spain, and parts of the United States (26 states and the District of Columbia) have laws that punish hate crimes based on gender.

Only France, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United Kingdom have effective specialized anti-discrimination bodies. “When governments create these bodies, data collection improves, criminal investigations are assisted, and minority communities gain confidence in public authorities,” the report concludes.

Ireland, Germany, Greece, and the Netherlands are among the countries that have no laws that provide tougher penalties for violent crimes motivated by racism or other bias.

In the United Kingdom, anti-Semitic violent personal assaults doubled in 2004 over the previous year; and in France, violent anti-Semitic offenses rose 63 percent in 2004, from 2003 levels.

In France violent hate crimes against gay men reportedly more than doubled from 41 in 2002 to 86 in 2003. Legislation was enacted to provide enhanced penalties for hate crimes based on anti-gay bias following the attempted murder of a gay man in January 2004. He nearly died when he was set alight with gasoline.

Even those states that produce accurate statistics fall far short of comprehensive coverage. The United States’ Uniform Crime Reporting system has model guidelines, but almost 90 percent of the 17,000 state and local law enforcement agencies participating in its last survey either reported that no hate crimes occurred or opted out of reporting altogether.

Citizens and non-citizens alike who are identified as Muslims have been singled out for particularly virulent attacks. Assailants in many towns and cities in Western Europe attack minority schoolchildren with racist slurs, beatings, or a hail of stones. They force those wearing a Jewish yarmulke, a Sikh turban,
or a Muslim headscarf, or those who look different only because of the color of their skin or the shape of their eyes, to run a gauntlet of menace just to get to school.

Among the report’s recommendations to OSCE member states:

Define hate crimes broadly to include those motivated by race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, mental and physical disabilities, or other similar forms of discrimination. Only five national governments within the OSCE --.Belgium, Canada, France, Spain, and the United Kingdom -- provide for sexual orientation and disability bias to be considered an aggravating circumstance.

Enact legislation requiring national justice authorities to collect, analyze, and make public data from law enforcement agencies concerning bias crimes or hate crimes.

Strengthen enforcement by enacting legislation that punishes hate crimes by establishing that racist or other similar intent is an aggravating factor in criminal prosecutions.

Facilitate collaboration between law enforcement and community-based organizations concerned with issues of discrimination.

Ensure that law enforcement agents, including police, criminal investigators and prosecutors are properly trained to combat hate crimes most effectively.

The sorry performance of most of these 55 countries illustrates not only their own lack of interest in improving the lives of their citizens, but the world’s preoccupation with the threat of terrorism. But this is an unnecessary choice: Home-grown terrorism is every bit as lethal as foreign terrorism. The two should not be treated as mutually exclusive.

Be Very Afraid

By Vicki Gray

Be afraid, be very afraid. Freedom of the press and, with it, your right to know is under frontal assault.

I know whereof I speak. I worked for three years in communist Poland with the United States Information Agency and some of my best friends at the time were Polish communist journalists who, despite that second adjective, sought to report truthfully, helpfully to their fellow Poles on what was happening in their country and the world.

Those journalists, struggling to be honest, shared with me their thoughts on dealing with censorship. It was a time – in the mid-1970s – when rules were being “loosened.” Prior to that time, they wrote the truth as they saw it and let the censors do their dirty work. Pieces of the truth would leak out, and they were not responsible. Afterward, however, prior censorship was removed. They were “free” to print what they wanted within the loose guidelines of what was and was not acceptable. If, however, their stories discomfited the government or party, they could be fired or jailed.

Those communist journalists, testing the limits of the system, confided to me that they preferred the old way of doing things. They could test those limits boldly with little fear of retribution. Under the new rules, however, they had to exercise judgment and be prepared to accept the consequences of any misjudgment. They became more timid, more gun shy, pulling their punches in advance.

American journalists, I fear, are now in that same uncomfortable situation and headed rapidly in the opposite direction, not toward greater freedom, but toward a priori enforced censorship. American media, as Bill Moyers said in a courageous speech May 15, is now being cowed into what he called “preventative capitulation.”

What began a couple of years ago as a drip by drip draining of the life blood of our freedom of the press has been transformed almost overnight into a life-threatening hemorrhage.

The American media, especially the broadcast media, are being transformed – before our very eyes – into a sycophantic propaganda arm of our ruling government and party.

Item: The literal drumbeat of cheerleading by the media for the Iraq war, coverage marked by the “political analysis” of colonels, breathless reports from “embedded” “journalists,” flapping American flags in the corners of your TV screens, and freedom of information requests needed to see the American flags on the coffins of our heroes.

Item: The manipulated chicanery last year of Swift Boat Vets, “Rathergate,” and the pre-election stand-down before the gates of Fallujah, giving the insurgents there months to prepare for the assault that began two days after the election.

Item: Planted stories by Armstrong Williams and planted questions by Jeff Gannon (aka James Guckert), whose White House pass has gotten a press pass.

Item: Taxpayer funded “infomercials” touting Administration programs circulated as “news” clips to small town TV stations.

Item: The Administration outing of Valerie Plame, the undercover CIA wife of an Administration critic, the recipient of the leak, Administration-insider Robert Novak, going untouched, while reporters who didn’t report the story are being threatened with jail time.

Item: Staged “town hall” meetings covered as “news” by Fox and CNN.

Item: The Pentagon Channel, a military propaganda outlet, being piped into American homes by satellite dish providers.

Item: Kenneth Tomlinson, a veteran of Charles Z. Wick’s Voice of America, now dispatched by Karl Rove to whip PBS and, now, NPR, into “preventative capitulation.”

It is against this background that the White House brow-beating of Newsweek over its story about the alleged desecration of the Qu’ran in Guantanamo Bay engenders such fear. Never mind that the story is probably true, having been reported months earlier by released detainees. Never mind that Newsweek had floated the story by the Pentagon without eliciting a denial. Never mind that the Department of State had promised to investigate the allegations. Never mind the still oozing scab of Abu Ghraib.

Violent protests erupted across Afghanistan and the Muslim world – precisely because the story, which is so in line with our already demonstrated behavior, is so believable. But, according to White House spokesman Scott McCllelan, the image of the United States, had been “tarnished” – not by substance of the allegations, but the fact that they were reported. He demanded a retraction by Newsweek. There was Rumsfeld of Abu Ghraib lecturing the American media about their “responsibility” to be “careful” and “cautious.” Never mind addressing the content of the story, attack the messenger! Beat the reporter, the respected Michael Isikoff, and his editors into submission. And so they have, shamelessly.

And, at the end of the day, Newsweek could not take the pressure. Watching Isikoff’s editor, Newsweek Washington bureau chief David Klaidman, playing back Rumsfeld’s words on Charlie Rose, my thoughts drifted back to communist Poland. “You can always be more cautious,” he said, “We will redouble our efforts to be careful.” The way in which he swallowed the lump in his throat, like a chastised child, was as instructive as his words. The chill made its way up my spine. Suddenly I was very afraid.


By Vicki Gray

And this is the judgment that the light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.
John 3:19-21

I have always been drawn to John’s vision of God as warming, illuminating, loving, life-giving light. It is a theme that runs through Scripture…from the very beginning.

But each time I sought the warmth of that light last week, I found myself sucked into the depressing darkness of evil - the appalling crimes at Abu Ghraib. That depression deepened, as those responsible sought to hide in the darkness “lest [their] deeds should be exposed.”

In the sickeningly pale light of those self-damning photographs from an American torture chamber, I found echoes of other crimes by other people that have rattled around my mind and haunted my conscience for far too long.

In the boarded over windows of the Abu Ghraib cells, I recalled Cell Block 11 at Auschwitz, the basement of which was described as follows by SS Unterscharf├╝hrer Pery Broad in a Polish book, Auzchwitz In the Eyes of the SS: …one could see in the dim light…that the windows were nearly wholly bricked up, with the exception of a narrow strip not wider than a hand, to get daylight in….Even the cellar windows were heavily barred. Here and there strange looking tin cases were affixed at the level of the cellar windows, and it was hard to guess what purpose they served.

Taking visiting Americans on tours of Auschwitz as American Consul in Krakow 1973-75, I learned that those tin cases were used to pump carbon monoxide from vehicle exhausts into the hermetically-sealed cells where Soviet POWs were killed in early extermination trials.

Later, as consul in Munich 1982-85, I often visited Dachau and came across a book by Wendy von Staden, the wife of the German Ambassador in Washington - a courageous account of growing up near a small concentration camp where prisoners from Dachau were sent to die of starvation and disease. In that book, Darkness Over the Valley, she described in personal terms what Hannah Arendt described as the “banality of evil.” Toward the end, as French troops approached, she and her mother came face-to-face with a work detachment rioting over a kettle of potatoes.

“What kind of people are these anyway?” mother asked [an SS guard], horror-struck. “They’re no longer human beings”….”They are Jews,” replied the guard, “sub-humans. You can see that for yourself.” I was standing next to mother, when suddenly we heard a man’s voice behind us. The voice itself was low and soft, speaking in good clear German, but there was an undertone of almost menacing fury. “It’s you who’ve made us into animals, and you’ll pay for what you’ve done to us.

Later at home Wendy’s mother confronted her father, who had been watching from a window: “Keep out of this,” my father said almost threateningly. “It has nothing to do with us. We can’t do a thing about it.” And then he grabbed his walking stick and went outside. Mother continued to pace, talking as if to herself, “These people are simply starving. That’s it. They’re half-crazed with hunger….That man was right, we’ve made them into beasts, into subhumans. We.”

I remember yet another instance in 1965 of evil in a darkened place – a place called Long Phu. I was a young officer, the junior of two advisors to a Vietnamese unit. The senior advisor, Dale, and I shared a thatched “hootch,” the opposite side of which comprised the “office” of our counterpart, Lieutenant Qui. The wall between was open at the top. One night, as we were dozing off, a dim bulb on the other side clicked on amidst a commotion of shouts and pleas, as a VC prisoner was hauled into the “office.” There were sounds of pistol whippings, the click of an unloaded pistol, and screams of torment. Pushing back the mosquito-netting, I hopped out of bed, and was about to dart around to the other side of the hootch, when Dale barked at me “Go back to sleep. It’s none of our business. That’s the way they do things.” I fell back on the cot in tears and sweat, listening to the screams, watching the shadows on a dimly lit thatched roof…unable to form a prayer.

It was against this flood of awful memories that I tried last week to process the atrocities of Abu Ghraib and the murder of a young American, Nicholas Berg. I’m still trying…and still crying…trying to form a prayer for forgiveness. For it is we who have created – in a gulag stretching from Bagram to Guantanamo - new legions of “sub-humans” who will seek to “make us pay.” But we have already paid. For, in staring at those awful pictures, we are staring at our self-made, self-willed hell.

But, are we, like Wendy’s Germans, condemned to live in an unending hell of collective guilt? If, like Limbaugh, Savage, Hannity, and O’Reilly, you believe that we have nothing to apologize for or confess to, perhaps. If, like President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld, you believe that the ultimate epithet to be tossed at the crimes of Abu Ghraib is “un-American,” perhaps. A people that so believes in its exceptionalism that “God” becomes “America” and “sin” “un-American” deserves a divine slapping around. It is truly surprising that a president who views the world through a neo-Manichean prism of black and white, good and evil, light and darkness, cannot recognize a sin when he sees one.

On the whole, I’m inclined to believe that sin is universal and that we, too, are capable of sinning in the same way and to the same extent as Germans sixty years ago. In this regard, I have learned much from Zygmunt Baumann, a Jewish Polish sociologist who warns, in his Modernity and the Holocaust, against: …focusing on the Germaness of the crime…exonerating everyone else, and particularly everything else. The implication that the perpetrators of the Holocaust were a wound or malady of our civilization – rather than its horrifying, yet legitimate product – results not only in the moral comfort of self-exculpation, but also in the dire threat of moral and political disarmament. It all happened ‘out there’ – in another time, another country. The more ‘they’ are to blame, the more the rest of ‘us’ are safe, and the less we have to do to defend our safety. Once the allocation of guilt is implied to be equivalent to the location of the causes, the innocence and sanity of the way of life we are so proud of need not be cast in doubt.

Well, I’m here to cast doubt on the innocence and sanity of our current American way of life. And, like Hannah Arendt, I agree that it is the individual’s obligation to resist socialization in the face of authority – governmental and/or societal – in which the “social foundations of morality have been cast aside.” I believe, moreover, with Baumann’s hopeful conclusion that: …putting self-preservation above moral duty is in no way pre-determined, inevitable, and inescapable. One can be pressed to do [evil], but one cannot be forced to do it, and thus one cannot really shift the responsibility for doing it on those who exerted the pressure. It does not matter how many people chose moral duty over the rationality of self-preservation – what does matter is that some did. Evil is not all-powerful. It can be resisted. The testimony of the few who did resist shatters the logic of self-preservation. It shows it for what it is in the end – a choice. One wonders how many people must defy that logic for evil to be incapacitated. Is there a magic threshold of defiance beyond which the technology of evil grinds to a halt?

I find hope also in the words of Tahar Ben Jalloun, a Moroccan, who endured horrors similar to those at Abu Ghraib in the darkened underground prisons of King Hassan II. Temporarily blinded, he described his real experience in a searing “novel,” This Blinding Absence of Light. In his “fiction,” he described a light that John would understand:

A sliver of sky must have hovered right above the vent, the indirect opening that let the air in but no light. I sensed the presence of this sky, and filled it with words and images. I shifted the stars around, meddling with them to make room for a little of that light imprisoned in my breast. I felt the radiance. How can one feel light? When an inner brightness caressed my skin and warmed it, I knew that it was visiting me.

The Holy Spirit in a Muslim’s breast…and mine. It warms me too…and gives me hope this spring morning.