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Prosecuting Terror Attacks as Hate Crimes
An Essay by Frank Wu

audio Listen to Wu's essay.

Oct. 16, 2001 -- Because of the horrific attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, I've decided to apply for commission in the United States Army JAG Corps reserves, to be an Army lawyer. My friends, who know me as an advocate for progressive causes, are surprised. But the defense of our nation and the protection of civil rights are not only compatible, they are connected.

The suicide hijackings were motivated by hatred. I believe our society should initiate aggressive prosecution of hate crimes that occur on an individual basis. I'm equally convinced that we must take aggressive action, even military action, against hate crimes on a massive scale. In my view, this is a progressive cause.

"We enter battle to protect the pacifist in the minority, not out of hatred. If we will take up arms for our principles, we must live up to them. When war comes, I am ready to do my duty. "

Frank Wu

For Americans who want to hit back and hit hard, I understand how mourning and shock give way to anger. But that cannot turn into the commission of more hate crimes. Some Americans are lashing out at Arab-Americans and Muslims -- even at people who are neither Arab nor Muslim, but merely happen to look like they are. Vigilante actions not only violate our shared ideals against racial discrimination, they do worse. They dishonor the dead.

Even as Americans wave the flag, too many want to deport all people of Arab background or Muslim faith. Too many people, even a few former liberals, now are calling for racial profiling. They say they want only a few modest measures, such as selective searches at airports. They do not recognize that a so-called light touch can seem like an awfully heavy hand to those who are singled out.

President Bush is talking about defending our homeland. Our homeland is different than any other homeland. Ours is a nation where citizenship is based on consent. Anybody who subscribes to democratic principles can become an American, at least in theory. We should ensure that we're open in reality as well.

What distinguishes the jingoism of wanton violence from the calls for genuine justice is our vigilance on the home front. We must temper rage and prevent backlash. Ours is the side of good, not because we say it is, but because we show it is.

We must fight militarily against terrorism fueled by hate. We fight to protect freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom from discrimination. We enter battle to protect the pacifist in the minority, not out of hatred. If we will take up arms for our principles, we must live up to them. When war comes, I am ready to do my duty.

Frank Wu is a law professor at Howard University in Washington, D.C.