My beloved friend and colleague Anupam spotlights a dreadful encounter where a young man—surely deluded, though just how may remain unknown—stabbed a “Santa Clara grandfather” while [the victim] was in his own garage with a two-year granddaughter (the victim apparently survived, at least so far). Per the original newspaper account, the victim evidently “wears both a turban and a beard,” and was on his way to a service at a Sikh house of worship.
By any measure, as reported this is a lose-lose situation. “There are indications,” the report said, that the assailiant “believed Singh was a member of the Taliban,” In fact, it appears, he was a Sikh. We’ll set aside the question of how it helps to stab a Talibani in his carport, even if he is one. We will note the irony that Sikhism is, in the context of politics, one of the most pacific of religions--founded “in an attempt to reconcile Muslim and Hindu” (I had to go to my old one-volume Columbia Encyclopaedia for this one—Wiki was no help at all). Indeed, that may have been the newspaper was trying to make when it added this bit of explanatory incoherence:
“The religion, like others, promotes peace and understanding.”
Um, I guess. But it's a distraction. Anupam uses the cases as a vehicle to explore the nature of “hate crimes” law, and he comes up with an elegant riff: “If one hates group A and attacks someone who is not a member of group A, but on the mistaken belief that the person is a member of that group, is that a hate crime?”
But this is inside baseball. Anupam, here is a better suggestion: use this case as an occasion to denounce hate crime legislation, root and branch. Politics, says Michael Oakeshott (somewhere, I think) is the organization of hatreds. Hate crime laws are a mischief that do more to aggravate than to ameliorate the offense they seek to punish. Anupam, you are a superb dialectician, and no slouch at rhetoric. Law professors who favor hate crime laws are a dime a dozen. Get on the right side of this one and you will astonish your friends and confuse your enemies.