Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Government in category error shock

The response to the petition for 'the definition of 'hate crime' be widened to include crimes committed on the basis of a person's appearance or interests' has had a response from the Government, as follows:

"The Government's current definition of 'hate crime' is as follows:

* A 'hate incident' is any incident which is perceived by the victim or any other person as being motivated by hate or prejudice.
* A 'hate crime' is any incident which contributes to a criminal offence, perceived by the victim or any other person as being motivated by prejudice or hate.

Within this broad definition, legislation focuses on hate crimes on the basis of race, faith, sexual orientation, disability and gender identity - and it is these categories which are currently monitored. We do not plan to extend this to include hatred against people on the basis of their appearance or sub-cultural interests. These are not intrinsic characteristics of a person and could be potentially be very wide ranging, including for example allegiance to football teams - which makes this a very difficult category to legislate for."

This is interesting. Following the logic of the statements, they're saying 'faith' is an intrinsic characteristic of a person, therefore deserving the 'focus', 'legislation' and 'monitoring' provided for a subset of hate crimes. Although I don't fully subscribe to the opinions of the secularist lobby (replete as it is with spoilsports, sneaks, blowhards and men with bad haircuts), I think this implicit privileging of faith is going the game a bit. After all, people can change or lose 'faith' just as much as their 'sub-cultural interests'. Conversely, culture (sub or otherwise) can be deeply felt, central to identity, and (as Sophie Lancaster might attest were she able) as dangerous to present to the world as faith (or gender, race etc.)

It would be interesting to see a definition of faith that is genuinely intrinsic to a human being, exists outside of culture and is different from race.

Perhaps it is the whole process of defining exceptional hate crimes that is flawed, leading as it does to perceived inequalities. In this case, it appears that the Government values some types of identity over others - indicating that crimes against some identity-groups are worse than crimes against others - and constructs its legislation accordingly.

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