The Connection Between Hate Speech and Hate Crime


December 30, 2012 by Tariq Khan

In America’s Gilded Age, mainstream anti-immigrant voices railed against immigration from Eastern and Southern Europe, warning that these foreign “savages” would corrupt American “civilization.”  Students of history look back at that time period and laugh at the ridiculousness and ignorance of the anti-immigrant hysteria.  A few months ago, the American Freedom Defense Initiative – a bigoted right-wing anti-Muslim organization headed by an Ayn Rand fanatic named Pamela Geller – created ads which were placed in subway systems in major U.S. cities such as New York and Washington D.C.  These ads are like a trip back to the Gilded Age, only instead of Eastern and Southern Europeans, now the savage foreigners are Arabs, Muslims, and South Asians.  The ads read, “IN ANY WAR BETWEEN THE CIVILIZED MAN AND THE SAVAGE, SUPPORT THE CIVILIZED MAN.”  This bit of sage advice is followed by the command, “SUPPORT ISRAEL, DEFEAT JIHAD.”  Thanks, subway ad, I’ll get right on that.

racist subway ad

Civil rights organizations such as CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) and the ADC (American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee) warned officials in cities where the ads were placed that the ads were a form of hate speech, and that hate speech inevitably leads to hateful action.  It is not that anyone who sees such an ad will suddenly turn into a racist bigot, but this type of rhetoric contributes to an already existing climate of bigotry and it emboldens, validates, and encourages those who are already on the extreme end of the hate spectrum.  In other words, it contributes to a climate that is conducive to violence.

This past Thursday, Dec. 27, at a subway station in Queens, New York, a 31-year-old woman murdered Sunando Sen, a 47-year-old man who emigrated to the U.S. from India twenty years ago.  The woman purposely shoved Sen off of the subway platform into an oncoming train.  Then she took off running.  After she was captured, she admitted to the crime, explaining it by saying, “I pushed a Muslim off the train tracks because I hate Hindus and Muslims.  Ever since 2001 when they put down the Twin Towers, I’ve been beating them up.” It did not occur to her that the man she murdered was not Muslim and had nothing to do with the Twin Towers.

Sunando Sen

Sunando Sen

Mormons ought to be well aware of the close relationship between hateful rhetoric and hateful acts.  The early Mormons knew all too well that once the newspapers in their area started printing bigoted anti-Mormon articles, anti-Mormon violence was soon to follow.  Now we are in a moment in American history when Mormons are widely accepted by mainstream American society, but Arabs, Muslims, and South Asians, or those who are perceived to be Arab or Muslim are viewed by many Americans as savage “others” who we must be suspicious of.  The right thing to do for Mormons is to remember our own history and to be allies to our Muslim, Arab, and South Asian brothers and sisters.  They are not our enemies.  When we are in our own circles, we cannot tolerate prejudiced comments or attitudes about these targeted groups, and we ought to be courageous, bold, and informed enough to speak up to counter this kind of religious and ethnic bigotry and ignorance.

One side of my family is from Pakistan and India, the other side is from Utah, going back to the early Mormon pioneers.  I cringe when I hear the occasional Mormon say something stupid about Arabs, Muslims, or South Asians.  Such comments are usually more out of ignorance than they are out of maliciousness, but whatever the reason, such comments are unacceptable.  Xenophobes have no reason to examine their own prejudice until they are confronted about it.  Such confrontation need not always be angry or mean – sometimes there are tactful ways of going about it – but silence equals acceptance.  Oppression feeds off of “niceness.”

A great American labor organizer and anarchist named August Spies was an immigrant from Germany, and in 1887, popular rhetoric against immigrants like Spies was very similar to the rhetoric we see today against Arab and South Asian immigrants.  Spies, who was both smarter and braver than the anti-immigration zealots who hated him, showed no fear even as he faced execution for a crime he did not commit.  He used humor to point out the idiocy of the anti-immigrant crowd, saying, “I ought not to have made the mistake, ought not to have been born a foreigner, but little children, particularly unborn children, will make mistakes!”  When jingoes used the language of “savagism versus civilization” against Spies, he simply smiled and said, “Barbarians, savages, illiterate Anarchists from Central Europe, men who cannot comprehend the spirit of our free American institutions, – of these I am one.”

august spies

To people like Pamela Geller and the American Freedom Defense Initiative, I echo the attitude of August Spies to tell you, if you represent civilization, then I am proud to be a savage.

8 thoughts on “The Connection Between Hate Speech and Hate Crime

  1. Wow, I’m surprised that anyone would think the ads you described are acceptable. I’m not sure who they’re calling savages, whether Palestinians, or Muslims in general–both? Wow. I’ve also heard the occasional anti-Muslim sentiment among Latter-day Saints, but thankfully it’s been fairly rare. I don’t think you can honestly claim to be part of Christ’s church if you insist on turning certain groups of your Heavenly Father’s children into your enemies. He supposedly came to save everyone, right? Or everyone except the Palestinians? Thanks for the article.

  2. LDSDPer says:

    I’ve heard entirely too many anti-Muslim comments from members of the church–

    When a 16 year old boy (Awlaki) whose father was supposedly connected to some kind of terrorist activity (I doubt that, too; I think he may have been set up) was killed in Pakistan (I might be getting the wrong country)–a political commentator (whose name I have forgotten; I seem to have left my mind somewhere just as I began this comment)–

    said that he had chosen his father unwisely. WHAT!?

    What disturbs me probably more than anything is that I have known and worked with quite a few Muslims in my life, and I have always found them kind and hospitable–

    So why are these people being scapegoated? And I think that is what is happening.

    As for hate speech, I am sure it leads to violence; it’s propaganda, and PR experts realized many decades ago that propaganda is very powerful–

    But I don’t think it can be outlawed. It must be eradicated by truth and love–

    Somehow there must be anti-hate propaganda–

    • scootd28 says:


      You ask why they are being scapegoated. By my perception, it is truly out of fear, which may be born of ignorance, but I’m not sure. I personally fear Sharia law. I fear the examples I have seen where Muslims in large groups show complete disregard for local law – like in a recent video I saw of Muslims illegally blocking off streets in Paris for their prayers, simply because, by their numbers, it would be completely destructive to stop them. I fear the intolerance that seems to be the norm among organized Islam (is that an oxymoron?) toward non-Muslims. If these things are not reality, then my fear is based on ignorance. However, if these things ARE the reality, then my fear is justified.

      There is also the fear that is perpetuated by our own government in justifying our imperialistic foreign policy. This is the true scapegoating – blaming the Muslim world for all kinds of atrocities in order to justify that policy. This is truly based on ignorance and willful deception.

      I want to make something perfectly clear. I hate no one. I never have and never will treat anyone, regardless of religion, culture, heritage or national origin, with disrespect or unkindness. It’s just not acceptable behavior. My experience is also that every Muslim that I have met personally is intelligent, refined, and gracious. But I still have these fears, and for me they are real.

      • LDSDPer says:

        I’ve talked to others who have similar fears; I guess I just don’t have the same ones–
        I was once beaten up terribly by a group of kids on a playground, when I was very young–
        it was a completely senseless act–
        no cause, no reason–
        They were all white (and I am white), but one of things I had done was play with a Hispanic child–
        and several of the parents told their children they were not to play with me anymore; this was in the 50s, by the way (I’m old!)–
        I was quite badly hurt, but in the 50s no teacher ever sent a kid to the hospital, because his/her head had been bashed into the concrete by an out of control mob on the playground–
        so I just went back to class and hurt–
        no parents ever complained; my parents would never have done anything about it–
        back then kids just had to take whatever came to them–
        But I still have terrible feelings when I see a playground.
        Maybe that’s the same thing; it could be–
        Mobs are scary; any kind of large group, as I have gotten older, has become a place I don’t want to be–
        even the ‘friendly’ groups like large gatherings for regional/stake conferences–
        mobs are frightening to me, no matter what the skin color or clothing or language–just doesn’t matter; the kids who hurt me all those decades ago (I can still see their angry faces; they were, maybe, 8 or 9 years old; most of them were in my grade)–
        were all white, dressed in 50s clothes–
        I’ve never been afraid of “Sharia”, but then I haven’t watched the same youtubes. I am afraid of the American empire.
        I guess I have a different perspective; I guess that I believe that if the Muslims haven’t killed their unborn or curtailed their families and increase in number . . .
        those who are not Muslim had better watch their backs; after all, Americans who are ‘white’ and come from Europe–
        have been in power a long time; it could be time for a humbling–
        I even wonder if the remnant of Jacob that will tear through like a young lion (paraphrasing the Book of Mormon) is partly Muslim; after all, there has to be a lot of Israelite blood in all the middle eastern peoples, Jew and Gentile and Muslim alike, if they’ve been there enough years or been exposed to “Hebrew” populations for enough generations–it’s a simple enough thing to have happen–
        A strange twist, even, that Arabic middle easterners and Jewish middle easterners (and, yes, Christian ones of both ethnic backgrounds) have much common blood–
        and are . . . a ‘remnant of Jacob’–
        We all have fears; I don’t think we should be ashamed of our fears, but then that is my opinion; it is acting with violence, or ignorance, as you pointed out, on our fears that would be wrong–
        I have no right to go onto a playground and shout at all the children not to form into groups–
        *laughing out loud sardonically*
        –because a group of children hurt me when I was a child–

      • Tariq Khan says:

        I appreciate your honesty in talking about your fears. I suspect that many Americans share your concerns but won’t voice them out fear of being labeled ignorant or racist. I would respectfully suggest, however, that it is important to be careful not to judge entire populations based on the actions of a few. We would not want Middle Easterners to judge all Americans based on the Marines who desecrated Afghan corpses, or the U.S. soldiers who stole Qurans from a Mosque and drew Christian crosses on them, or the fundamentalist Christians who burned Qurans, or the right-wing Fox News pundits who regularly refer to Islam as an ideology of evil, or white supremacist organizations, or the U.S. military that continually drops bombs on them, or the U.S. State Department that props up their unpopular dictators, etc… Muslims could just as easily accuse organized Christianity of being intolerant as Christians can accuse Muslims, but I think we would both agree that such a worldview, whether on the part of Christians or Muslims, is narrow and unfair.

        The majority of Muslims in the United States have no more desire to live under Sharia Law than Christians have a desire to live under the Law of Moses. My experience with Muslims in the United States, which is probably more than the average white American’s experience, is that they want the same things that people like you want: a good place to live, a decent job, good education for their children, a safe neighborhood, community, friendship, family, and stability. Instituting Sharia Law is not even something that they think or care about. Even if Muslims in America wanted to subject America to Sharia Law (which they do not), there is no way they would possibly be able to do that. It simply is a fake scenario that certain segments of the right use to scare people into supporting right-wing policies and right-wing candidates. It has no basis in reality.

  3. LDSDPer says:

    Oh, and I should add–
    none of the other parents were informed, either, and probably most of those kids were LDS–

    • gomw says:

      I have read everything in this thread from Tariq’s excellent post and including all the responses. I have nothing to add except that I am totally overwhelmed and confused by what is happening in my country and in my world. Thankfully, I have my belief in Christ and in his restored Church. I wonder, in reflecting on all the ups and downs in the Book of Mormon history, just how far down we are relative to that history! We are caught up in worship of wealth and the wealthy, in pride of our own material well being and near total disdain for the poor among us. Hopefully we are at a nadir and not still on the down-slope.

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