In the midst of this post-election moral panic, the FBI released its 2015 hate crime statistics this week. As you can imagine, newsfeeds were littered with headlines like “New hate crime statistics shows surge against Muslims” and “FBI: Hate crimes against Muslims in US surge 67 percent.” The key words, in case you missed them, were “Muslims” and “surge.”
Though the numbers are from 2015, the report comported neatly with the overwrought reaction that has followed Donald Trump’s surprising victory. We should remain skeptical about this supposed surge in violence by his supporters. Hundreds of stories launched into social media were based on nothing more than accusations. As Reason magazine points out, many have already turned out to be hoaxes.
Notwithstanding all its warts, the FBI’s hate crime report actually offers us a useful reminder: despite the presence of a number of idiotic and violent fellow humans — a plague on all cultures and races, regrettably —Americans are generally tolerant of others in the ways that matter most. When we consider the depth and sprawl of our diversity, it’s pretty clear we are unique to history. Look at any place in the world. When races, faiths, or ethnicities converge there is almost always strife and violence.
I wonder if the average American thinks about his country in that way anymore. I wonder if the average American understands how rare bias-motivated crimes are in his country. Since 9/11 we’ve been warned about an impending violent backlash against Muslims. Yet even with a number of horrific terrorist acts perpetrated by home-grown Islamists, it still hasn’t happened. Of all hate crimes, 19.7 percent were reported as religious bias. Among that group, 51.3 percent were reported as anti-Semitic and 22.2 percent were anti-Muslim. (Also, 17.7 percent were committed against one of the Christian faiths, which the FBI divides into multiple categories.)
A more factual headline might have read, “FBI finds Jews most often the victims of rare faith-based hate crimes in America.” But considering these numbers are pre-alt-right Twitter, that doesn’t fit neatly into the narrative we’re looking for right now.
If reporting bias-crime numbers in overall percentages seems unfair to you, fine. There are around 5 million Jews in the United States and probably around 3.5 million Muslims. It’s difficult to calculate these numbers with precision because, despite progressives’ hard work, Islam is still not a race nor a nationality. But even measured proportionally, Jews were more likely to be victims of hate crimes.
Speaking of percentages: To say there’s been a 67 percent surge in bias crimes against Muslims between 2014 and 2015 is factual but incomplete. To put the number in perspective, let’s remember that in a nation of around 330 million people there were a total of 257 criminal incidents — perpetrated by 228 offenders (not every police department reports hate crimes, but most do) — that officials determined were motivated by anti-Muslim sentiment.
Victims of a hate crime suffer in ways that most of us can’t comprehend. Some of these crimes were deadly serious. Most were misdemeanors, however. Among them were acts like vandalism, simple assault (assault that does involve physical contact), and intimidation. None of these crimes are tolerable, and the perpetrators should be fully prosecuted, shamed, and rejected by all decent Americans.
In any event, these numbers, flawed or not, hardly align with the hysterics we’ve been hearing from the Left these past few years. Hate crimes are a blip when we consider all criminal activity. Even if these numbers were quadrupled, they would still be a blip.
I already know what’s coming: But how about this incident! And how about this one! Look what this one said!
No rational person would deny that racists and bigots exist. Believe it or not, as a Jew myself, this election cycle isn’t the first time my background has been attacked. When you start likening contemporary political officials to Nazis, though, I tend to think you’re shortchanging the people who decimated my family back in the Old Country.
It’s also undeniable that over the past year some legitimately worrisome voices have found footing with Republicans. Maybe Steve Bannon is going to be bad news. I wasn’t too crazy about Obama nominating someone who claimed her favorite political philosopher was Mao, either. Still, there was no Great Leap Forward.
If you believe one side is normalizing extremism, think about this: Rep. Keith Ellison, a guy whose political career was launched as a member the anti-Semitic and racist Nation of Islam, and who is one of the most radically left-wing members of Congress, may soon be running the DNC. Just juxtapose the stories and rhetoric surrounding Bannon and Ellison. Only one is treated as if he’s outside the norm.
In the minds of many, the only reason someone could be critical of Ellison is that he’s an African-American Muslim. Democrats have become so fixated on race and identity that they’re unable to imagine anything else could matter. Hannah Arendt once wrote that Western intellectuals had adopted one of Communism’s most effective tactics: they made all debate about motive rather than the merits of the argument. This outlook has consumed the American Left.
Is there any contemporary political dispute today that doesn’t come down to accusing conservatives of harboring deep-seated motives about race or sex? Some (and I really, feel uncomfortable calling them “liberals” anymore) have convinced themselves Trump’s victory confirms that half the country is made up of white supremacists — as if voting and governance were that simple.
In truth, the reason racism is treated as a grievous social sin is because it is so rare and intolerable in everyday discourse. The Left compensates for this by constantly expanding the description of bigotry to include anyone opposing their policy preferences. When everyone is a racist, no one is.
For years, President Obama made it a habit to conflate criticism of Islam with hate speech. A majority of Americans harbor legitimate apprehensions about Islamic terrorism and immigration, which while it brings many good people to our country also brings a lot of illiberal ideas. Trump’s boorishness on the matter doesn’t mean his voters are all pining to burn down mosques or threaten their neighbors. It probably means most other politicians weren’t taking their concerns seriously enough.
Anyway, the FBI has yet to come up with a “thought crimes division,” although I’m sure the folks at Vox or Slate have some great ideas. There is no real way to gauge how much love Americans have for all their neighbors. Guess what? Even if some old-timer isn’t crazy about people who speak Spanish in public, it doesn’t make him a member of the Schutzstaffel. What we do know is that considering our sheer amount of religious, cultural, and racial diversity, we live in a peace unmatched in human history. This is worth remembering as we have an emotional breakdown over an election.