Hate crimes against Muslims, or just trolls?

Recently in the Chicago art world, a Muslim artist had her exhibit on Muslim hate crimes  defaced with a robot and a speech bubble.  The Chicago media is abuzz with the words “hate crime”, and the Muslim community is even asking the FBI to get involved in the investigation. I write over on Chicago Art Magazine:

The most common comment on the internet about this incident has dealt with the irony of the defacement ( “doing it for the lulz” explained here). The same people leaving these comments are the very same disrespectful teenage to twenty-something males that run around saying “Why So Serious” (even a Wall Street Journal blogger has used this phrase) or making those funny cat pictures everyone loves.   I hesitate to call this a “hate crime” because the drawing of robots and speech bubbles on a piece of art don’t fit the definition of a hate crimea criminal offense committed against a person or property that is motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender’s bias against a race, color, ethnicity, national origin, sex, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, disability, age or religion.

A robot does not strike me as anti-Muslim, in so much as “anti-human”. A robot is not a swastika or a white hooded “KKK” member. What if this wasn’t about hatred at all, but just some jerk move by another artist? What if the vandal wanted to contribute to the work by saying any one who says these things about Muslims is a Fox News robot? Calling this a hate crime without proof of intention reminds me of the “possible hate crime” story about a Jewish man that was mugged. He wasn’t mugged because he was Jewish, he was mugged because he was alone, old, and an easy target.  I buy my Fox News Robot theory over the supposed Hate Crime theory. The robots don’t seem like “marks of hate” but ones of arrogance and trolling. Was this troll bothered and angered by her hate wall? I think they were probably bored by its “seriousness” and felt like causing some drama/humor.

And because I couldn’t embed this video over there in my pep talk to the defaced artist, I am going to do it here:

[youtubevid id=”WlBiLNN1NhQ”]

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12 Comments on “Hate crimes against Muslims, or just trolls?”

  1. Ms. Eordogh,

    I think you may have missed the point. You seem to have the idea that “hate crimes” have to fit a simple model where the the perpetrator say “I am doing this because I hate X” and have some easily recognized symbol, a swastika or KKK. It is just not that simple, you cannot pull out the “Hate Crime Check-List” and see if you can check off the right number of boxes. It is all about context. In this case, there were lots of other artists with their art in the same space, why was hers defaced? Given the current cultural and political climate (remember the recent “South Park” mini-brouhaha about the depiction of the Prophet Mohamed and the Times Square attempted bombing) it is entirely reasonable to suspect that the defacer (if that is a word) was indeed motivated by political and cultural biases. Your analogy to the Jewish man being mugged is false in that within the context, there is no reason to suspect that the attacker was aware that his victim was Jewish. If the attacker merely took the old man’s money, then the context suggests robbery, not hate. Had the attacker been able to be aware that his victim was Jewish and selected him from a number of other possible victims and failed to take any money, then the context would suggest a hate crime.

    If it is simply a question of the person defacing the young woman’s art being a troll, why did he select her art as opposed to all of the other art available to deface? Why now and not earlier? It is all about context.

    (Of course the vandal wrote “kill all Arabs” on Anida Yoeu Ali’s work so I could have just started there but that would have been too easy).

    • Fruzsina Eordogh says:

      Oh davidlosangeles, did you miss the point?

      the defacer did not write the words “kill all arabs”, but highlighted text that was already there. Some media outlets have been misleading:
      http://cbs2chicago.com/local/art.muslims.hate.2.1690880.html

      In the “jewish hate crime on the train” story, the man was said to be wearing a yarmulke. Did the muggers know what that meant? Maybe not, but probably yes, and still mugged him any way. Why did the media outlet delete the original hate crime angle? If there is no “check list”, who decided this was a hate crime? Just because she is Muslim, any acts of vandalism against her MUST be anti-muslim?

      As for the troll, he selected her artwork for being “too serious”, and for the “irony”.

      • Ms.Eorogh,

        My point was about context. Within the complete context of all of the cultural and political events in the US today, combined with what the individual vandal wrote (including his emphasizing the words “kill all arabs”), it is a reasonable supposition that the vandals was indeed motivated by anti-Arab, if not anti-Muslim, bias (most Americans would not recognize the nuance but many Arabs are not Muslims and most Muslims are not Arabs). There were many things written on Ms. Ali’s wall, why did the vandal selection “kill all arabs” from among those many choices? The selection of material was not random.

        I did not say, nor did anyone else say, it *must* but a hate crime, merely that it seemed *likely* within the more complete context of available information. The preponderance of evidence would lead many, myself included, in the direction. That is how criminal investigations go.

        You assume that the vandal was a “he” (and not a “she”) and that “his” motivation was more from critical aesthetic basis. However from what evidence would that conclusion be drawn? What is there in what was written and other contextual evidence to suggest that the vandal thought the work “too serious”?

        Are there not other ways of expressing criticism of art without defacing the art itself? I am not particularly fond Pablo Picasso’s work, I find it cold, analytical, and distant, however technically brilliant. Yet I have as yet never defaced any of his paintings or sculptures. In fact I have never encountered an art critic who found it necessary to physically assault a work of art that he or she disliked.

        I see nothing in the context of available evidence to suggest art criticism was the basis and much to suggest political and cultural intent.

      • Fruzsina Eordogh says:

        You and I are making the same point, it is about context. From what evidence is the conclusion that this was a “hate crime” drawn from? If all of the “older media” is saying one thing, and all the “socialized media” is saying something different, isn’t that worthy of pause? Doesn’t the truth lie somewhere in the middle?

        The vandal used the same material that was in the artwork… the vandal stained the wall with the same materials the artist was using. I think this person was trying to contribute something to this artists work, or else why would the defacer use the same material as the artist?

        The difference between an art critic that defaces anothers work, and one that does not, is an issue of respect. And while the vandal did not respect Adina as an artist (they defaced her work), they respected her enough to use the same materials she was using.

        How did you interpret the vandalism? I thought it meant all people that blindly want to kill all Muslims are robots. If I think the vandal was trying to be ironic, I would say they were conjuring up Bender from Futurama, when he says “Kill All Humans”.

        As for acts of vandalism being works of art, just look at Banksy, and the flourishing street art scene in every major city. Whether they are leaving behind street art, graffiti, or gang signs, vandalism is the new “thing” in the art world.

      • Ms. Eorgodh,

        The evidence that this might be crime motivated by hatred of Arabs (not Muslims) are immediately two fold:

        1) The vandal had many choices of art work to attack, he or she chose the work of an Arab American.

        2) The art work in question was large and had many elements to it yet the vandal chose one element, the phrase “kill all arabs” to underline and emphasize.

        These were choices which betray the state of mind of the vandal, a state of mind of hostility toward Arabs.

        “Respect” or “irony” are not the issues at hand, the only question is; were the laws of the state of Illinois violated? Clearly an act of vandalism was committed. The only remaining question is the intent of the perpetrator. In criminal law the motive, state of mind of the criminal is key. One cannot be convicted of a crime until it is shown that the there was intent to commit that crime (the criminal does not need to know that the act was a crime, only that he or she intended to execute the act).

        The difference between first and second degree murder is whether the murder had “malice aforethought” or acted in the “heat of passion”, i.e. a difference in state of mind. The same is true for manslaughter (voluntary vs. involuntary) or assault (simple vs. aggravated). Any artistic intent by the vandal is entirely beside the point. There are only three germane questions:

        1) Did someone (assuming that only one person committed the act)deface the art work of Ms. Ali?

        2) Did that individual deface the art intentionally (as opposed to by accident)?

        3) Was the motive of the individual motivated by a political or cultural disdain for Arabs?

        The currently available evidence would definitely answer 1 & 2 “yes” quite reasonably. Question 3 is leaning toward “yes”.

        The standards for this issue are those of a criminal investigation.

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Dominic Victor and Mike Seaford, tom serona. tom serona said: Hate crimes against Muslims, or just trolls? – Fruzsina Eordogh …: Recently in the Chicago art world, a Muslim a… http://bit.ly/9SC0rN […]

  3. sagharbormo says:

    What is strange in this entire debate is the assumption on both sides that one must determine the motivation of the predator for a hate crime to have occurred.

    It is in many, if not most, cases an impossible task to “prove” motivation as it would be ascertain if a criminal thought of bread that morning or on the first Tuesday before the crime.

    In England, among other European countries, the preponderance of evidence must be perceived to be a hate crime by the victim, not the impossible task of fixing motivation without reasonable doubt. Unless the predator acknowledges the motivation to be a hate crime there is no accounting for a hate crime to exist under this implausible and impossible criterion.

    The evidence of injury or defacement and the context of the crime must take precedence over what the criminal admits or doesn’t admit. It is much more important to give the victim perception of a hate crime more crediability over the truthfullness of the predator. A jury can decide who they believe from the presentation of the case, not the police or the prosecutor.

    • Hello sagharbormo,

      In both the United States and the UK (and many other countries), there are two elements necessary to convict any criminal, the actus reus and the mens rea, i.e. the criminal act (in this case vandalism) and criminal intent (the intent to vandalize the art work). Without proof of intent, there can be no conviction. In the case of a “hate crime”, the state of mind of the criminal defendant has to be demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt. For example in California, in a murder case, one of the “special circumstances” which allows for the death penalty, is the victim was “intentionally killed because of their race, religion, nationality, or country of origin”. Intent and state of mind, which usually includes “motive”, is absolutely essential to demonstrate a “hate crime”.

      Motive and state of mind can be demonstrated from the evidence, the context of the actus reus. In this case, the vandal had many choices of art work to vandalize yet chose the work of an Arab-American. The art work itself was quite large with many diverse elements, yet the vandal chose to write-over to emphasize the phrase “kill all arabs”. These series of choices reflect (or betray) the mens rea of the perpetrator. A criminal’s minds can leave “fingerprints” as well as his or her hands.

  4. sagharbormo says:

    this email is from David Losangeles. I was waiting for him to post it before further reply, but he might not post it so I will presume he soesn’t mind as there is probably more than one David or two in LA; –mo

    By davidlosangeles on Hate crimes against Muslims, or just trolls?
    ” Ms. Eorgodh, The evidence that this might be crime motivated by hatred of Arabs (not Muslims) are immediately two fold: 1) The vandal had many choices of art work to attack, he or she chose the work of an Arab American. 2) The art work in question was large and had many elements to it yet the vandal chose one element, the phrase “kill all arabs” to underline and emphasize. These were choices which betray the state of mind of the vandal, a state of mind of hostility toward Arabs. “Respect” or “irony” are not the issues at hand, the only question is; were the laws of the state of Illinois violated? Clearly an act of vandalism was committed. The only remaining question is the intent of the perpetrator. In criminal law the motive, state of mind of the criminal is key. One cannot be convicted of a crime until it is shown that the there was intent to commit that crime (the criminal does not need to know that the act was a crime, only that he or she intended to execute the act). The difference between first and second degree murder is whether the murder had “malice aforethought” or acted in the “heat of passion”, i.e. a difference in state of mind. The same is true for manslaughter (voluntary vs. involuntary) or assault (simple vs. aggravated). Any artistic intent by the vandal is entirely beside the point. There are only three germane questions: 1) Did someone (assuming that only one person committed the act)deface the art work of Ms. Ali? 2) Did that individual deface the art intentionally (as opposed to by accident)? 3) Was the motive of the individual motivated by a political or cultural disdain for Arabs? The currently available evidence would definitely answer 1 & 2 “yes” quite reasonably. Question 3 is leaning toward “yes”. The standards for this issue are those of a criminal investigation. “

  5. sagharbormo says:

    Dear Daviedlosangeles,
    It is quite evident from the the tale of 2 places, one in Liverpool, England and the other in Suffolk Co., NY, there exists a wide discrepancy between standards of hate crime interpretation/criteria in both its recording volumne, prosecution and in the court dispositions of cases between the two.

    While the English locale is urban and the LI, NY County is suburban the sociological differences hardly account for the discrepancy of stats or the official policies towards hate crime in the two places. The two locales have similar populations, 600,000 and wide diversity of population. 63 languages are spoken daily in Liverpool. If less in Suffolk Co. it still is widely recognized as being a diverse county, with a higher than usual immigrant population.

    Yet Liverpool records more hate crime in one week than Suffolk (which is typical of any U.S. municipality or any town, county, city, state goverance for which stats are kept) County reports in one year. Are people more criminally biased in Liverpool than in anyplace, U.S.A.? While England have a somewhat higher crime rate than does the U.S., except for murder and rape, I strongly doubt it. The difference in reporting attests to several factors, most all leading to the fact that hate crime is taken much more seriously in England than here, mens rhea or actus rheus combined and not withstanding.

    There are two contrasts with other elements of criminal liability that help to clarify the nature of actus reus. The first is the contrast with mens rea. Mens rea literally translated from the Latin means guilty mind. The technical legal use of the phrase denotes that prerequisite of criminal liability having to do with the state of mind of the accused when he committed the actus reus of some offense.

    Thus, one of the mens reas sufficient for murder is general intent: such requirement is often stated as a prohibition on “intentionally killing another human being.” The word “intentionally” tells us what kind of mental state an accused must have to be guilty of this kind of murder (either an intent or a belief, as it turns out). The phrase “killing another human being” tells us two things: first, what must be done by way of action to be guilty of murder; and second, what object an accused’s intention or belief must take in order to be guilty of murder (Moore, 1993). The first is the actus reus requirement, whereas the second is part of the mens rea requirement. The accused must both actually kill someone, and intend (or believe) that he is killing someone, in order to be guilty of this kind of murder.

    The relationship between actus reus and mens rea is not always this close in all offenses. In what are often called specific intent offenses, for example, the object of the prohibited mens rea will not coincide with the act prohibited by law. Thus, the actus reus of common law burglary is the breaking and entering of the dwelling house of another at night, whereas the mens rea includes the requirement that the accused do such breaking and entering with the intent to commit a felony once inside.

    The commission of such a further felony is no part of the actus reus of burglary, but the intent to commit such a further felony is part of the mens rea of burglary.In its actus reus/mens rea distinction the criminal law has mirrored a deep divide in morality. This is the divide between wrongdoing and culpability. Although it is disputed, morality is most often thought to contain certain prohibitions and requirements, such as “Do not kill” and “Help others in distress.” Morality generally permits us either to do or to refrain from doing most acts, but morality forbids certain actions and requires others. To do an act morality forbids, or to refrain from doing an act morality requires, is to breach one’s moral obligations. This is moral wrongdoing.

    Morality likewise concerns itself with the culpability with which a wrongful act is done. Overall moral blameworthiness includes culpability as well as wrongdoing. One is free from moral blame for causing a harm to another if one neither intended to cause such a harm, believed one’s act could result in such a harm, or unreasonably risked such a harm coming about because of one’s actions.

    The legal distinction between actus reus and mens rea is best seen as a reflection of this underlying moral distinction. The parallel is one of form, with criminal law and morality dividing criminal liability and moral responsibility (respectively) into these two elements. The difference, of course, lies in the content of legal versus moral norms; in many legal systems much that morality prohibits or requires the law does not, and vice versa.

    The consequences are very telling in the U.S, with its much higher tolerance of repugnant speech, i.e. free speech. Also, Europeans law has had much longer time to make philosophic refinements of law than has been the case in the U.S. as well as the now loud political divide over hate crime between, generally speaking, liberals and conservatives with its much higher degree of contention over the nature or definition of hate crime.The traditions of mens rea interpretation that has grown around up around our perceptions of hate crime has led to a very different and much more stringent criteria of proof here.

    This might partially explains the extremes of interpretation among the police on the front line and the abdication of any hate crime accountability in most institutions in the U.S. such as schools, hospitals, social services, etc. We must ask the philosophers of jurisprudence to help in eludicating the nature of intent, culpability and interpretation that has made nearly all hate crime in the U.S. an impossible and quirky arena in our justice system. –mo

  6. Fruzsina Eordogh says:

    sagharbormo and davidlosangeles,

    while I appreciate you two duking it out over terminology I don’t understand, if you read the links posted in this article you would have seen that the vandal didn’t even highlight the words “Kill all arabs”.

    In hindsight, if I were to go back and write this piece, I would have explicitly written:

    The artist told the media the vandal wrote/highlighted ‘kill all arabs’ but if you look at the pictures I link to, the vandal highlighted ‘kill all with these words’.

    You cannot leave materials out at an art exhibit and not expect someone to pick them up and interact with the art work, especially if the art exhibit is “interactive”.

    If you read the Chicago Art Magazine link, you will find that not just the muslim artists work that was defaced, but other artists too. the other artists are not calling their defacement a hate crime.

    I was attempting to defuse the dangerous hate crime claim the artist was making by injecting humor, probably the same sense of humor the vandal had.

    It appears though, that my efforts were misguided, as everyone is so keen nowadays to go on hating each other, taking arbitrary sides, and not looking at the information given and coming up with their own thoughts or ideas. Next time I will write out what exactly I want the reader to think.

  7. […] Hate crimes against Muslims, or just trolls? – Fruzsina Eordogh … […]


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