I think so-called "hate crime" laws are stupid. A murderer/rapist/thief shouldn't be punished any more or less severely because he was a racist or sexist. It's not illegal to be racist or sexist, so it doesn't make any sense to punish people more severely for criminal actions that stem from those motivations. Further, aren't all crimes "hate crimes" in a sense? If the offender doesn't hate the victim because of his race or gender, then there's generally some other reason. And if not, are crimes with randomly selected victims somehow less horrible?
And that's why I'm not a fan of genocide charges, such as are likely to be brought against Saddam Hussein. I don't care if most of his victims were of one ethnicity or religion, and I don't see why that's relevant. What's important is that he murdered hundreds of thousands -- even millions -- of people, all of whom have worth as individuals, not merely because they fit into some group or another. Would Saddam's crimes have been less atrocious if he had murdered without regard for race, religion, or gender? Not at all.
His motivation may have been to kill Shi'ites, Kurds, women, Jews, and so forth, but the actual crimes of which he is guilty are simple: countless individual acts of murder, rape, and torture. If he needs to be charged with some large over-arching crime, call it mass-murder, not genocide. But they should name as many specific victims as possible and create an accurate record of his offenses against real live human beings, not ethnic groups.
Commenter Cob writes:
After all if someone spray paints a building, what's the big deal? Is there no difference in degree if someone draws a swastika on a synagogue or write's 'kilroy was here' on a subway train?No, there should be no legal difference. Don't use "of course" to try to score rhetorical points by assuming we're in agreement when we're not. The only difference may be that a synagogue is likely private property, whereas a subway train is likely public property. (There may be a moral difference, but we're not talking about morality here, we're talking about what types of laws are good policy. All laws should be viewpoint-neutral.)
Of course there is a difference and the difference is real and significant.
Eugene Volokh on hate crime laws.