The difference between hate and yob violence

Last month I wrote a review of Richard Littlejohn’s documentary “The War on Britain’s Jews?”, in which he presented as evidence of an upsurge of anti-Semitism an attack on a rabbi without mentioning that the attack had any of the distinguishing features of a racist attack or even that it was carried out by the sort of people who might carry such an attack on a Jew out. I didn’t think it was evidence of such, but just an attack by yobs on someone who was weak and different. I got a comment from Katy Newton who asked, in not so many words, if I’d say the same if the victim was Muslim.

Today, in the Society supplement to the Guardian, there was a letter (second down, under “Disability hate crime”) regarding the shocking story of Raymond Atherton, a mentally disabled man who was tortured and then murdered by a group of local thugs. Atherton had allowed the thugs into his home, it seems, because he was lonely. Earlier this month, two teenagers were jailed for the murder of another mentally disabled “friend”, Steven Hoskin. The letter was from Ruth Scott, the head of policy at Scope, the charity for disabled people formerly known as the Spastics’ Society, whose executive director Andy Rickell wrote this article with the same import for the Guardian in July.

The letter and article from Scope claimed that these murders are “disablist” and often hate crimes and that 47% of the disabled people polled by Scope had either experienced physical abuse or witnessed it happening to other disabled people. While the law recognises hostility to someone on account of their disability is recognised as an aggravating factor, Rickell complains that people’s attitudes don’t reflect this as “such crimes attract little public outcry”.

However, Rickell ignores the context, in which the media have been full of stories about young people being shot dead for trivial reasons or none. If it had not been for these murders, what happened to Hoskin and Atherton might well have made more headlines. I remember the appalling case of a girl who was kept prisoner in a house, tortured, mutilated and then burned, and although she escaped, she died shortly afterwards; this happened around 1989 in Liverpool, as I remember, and it really was headline news. It was instrumental in launching the “video nasties” debate of that era, as a clip from the film “Child’s Play III” was played to her over and over again. This type of cruelty is not new, and unlike the shootings of young men, ordinary people do not fear falling victim to it (and both these incidents happened in provincial towns; the mainstream British media is based in London).

What this shows, for me, is that not all violence against minorities is hate violence; some of it is simply thuggery and cruelty, carried out just for fun. My suspicion was that the attack on the rabbi in Littlejohn’s “documentary” was of the latter kind. It’s not to say that it’s a non-issue - far from it - just that it was a quite separate issue from the one Littlejohn was making of it.

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