When Did Insults Become Illegal?

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Patrick Syring, a Virginia resident and outspoken Arab hater, is being charged with sending threatening e-mail messages and leaving threatening phone messages at the offices of the Arab American Institute last summer.

Apparently free speech in the United States has hit another new low, at least as it applies to speech directed toward minorities — in this case, Arab-Americans.

According to news accounts, Syring has been indicted by the Federal Government (the office of the Attorney General of the United States) for “threatening” and for “violating civil rights laws.” Those charges are, in this case, sheer nonsense. Syring reportedly said and wrote things like “The only good Arab is a dead Arab” and wrote in an email: “You wicked evil Hezbollah-supporting Arabs should burn in the fires of hell for eternity and beyond, the United States would be safer without you.” The backdrop of these phone and email messages was the period of time when Israel was bombing Lebanon. One thing to note is that Syring reportedly identified himself by name in one phone message and sent all the emails from his personal email account — he obviously wasn’t ashamed of what he was saying and didn’t believe he could possibly be in trouble with the law for saying it.

Unless there is an enormous amount of incriminating evidence that is not being reported, Patrick Syring should indeed not be in trouble for saying what he said or doing what he did. There are no threats stated or implied in the statements that were released by the federal prosecutor, Assistant Attorney General Wan J. Kim. All Mr. Syring did was express his personal opinion. If insulting opinions have become illegal (as they apparently have), no matter who the insulted party is, there is trouble in this land.

What we are apparently dealing with here is a “hate crime” which, IMO, is one of the stupidest pieces of legislation ever to have been considered by our Congress. Hate crime are those things that bend and contort the law (as well as common sense) making it a worse crime, for example, to physically harm a gay person if you knew he was gay and it can be proven you dislike gays. That type of logic has never made any sense to me — if you physically harm someone you should be punished for it — it should make no difference WHY you harmed that person unless you were acting in self defense. Otherwise, what you are doing is punishing thoughts and not just actions; which is exactly what is happening in the Patrick Syring case. He, for whatever reason, hates Arabs and Arab-Americans are a “protected minority;” but Syring did nothing to harm any Arab-Americans, he simply told them what he thinks of them and for that he faces fines and Federal prison time if convicted.

Yes, Patrick Syring is a mental midget and is in no way an attribute to our society but even that is not yet illegal.

News Links:

International Herald Tribune: U.S. prosecutors say Arab political organization threatened

San Francisco Chronicle: Va. Man Indicted for Threatening Arabs

From the Blogosphere (On Hate Crimes):

No Compromise When It Comes to Being Right!: The Fascism of Hate Crimes

PrideDEPOT.com: Uncertainty shrouds fate of Hate Crimes Bill

News and commentary by: Whymrhymer can also be found at the Blogger News Network and at The American Chronicle Family of Journals

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18 thoughts on “When Did Insults Become Illegal?

  1. Ig

    I think you’re right about this but then I’m far from a hate speech expert.

    I have a hunch that if this guy was just some “nobody” that this would have been handled differently. Foreign service officers are supposed to represent the values of the United States, including cultural tolerance. I wonder how this raging bigot got through a supposedly ultra-selective screening process.

  2. Ig: Good question!

    pk: I’m white, I’m an atheist and my sexual preference is my own business — as it should be for everyone else. But that’s another subject.

    In spite of what I am or what you are, you apparently feel that if, for example, your house was burned down, its not good enough to catch the people who burned it down and punish them to the full extent of the law you want to punish them for their motives.

    It makes no sense to me — that makes you (as a presumed minority) more powerful (more important) than some white Christian who has had their house burned down just because they made someone mad at them.

    Should that be the rule? Should minorities be MORE equal under the law than anyone else?

  3. fred

    This guy is described elsewhere as a “career diplomat”… it’s a little bit beyond naive to describe him as “a Virginia resident”. From the CBS site:

    Federal prosecutors charged in an indictment that Syring had left multiple expletive-laced messages with the Arab American Institute whose founder, James Zogby, had criticized the government for not doing enough to protect U.S. citizens visiting family members in Lebanon.

    “The only good Lebanese is a dead Lebanese. The only good Arab is a dead Arab,” Syring is alleged to have said, accusing Zogby of being anti-Semitic, prosecutors said.

    “You wicked evil Hezbollah-supporting Arabs should burn in the fires of hell for eternity and beyond,” Syring wrote in one e-mail, according to the prosecutors. “The United States would be safer without you.”

    Syring, whose tenure in the foreign service was not immediately available, also praised Israeli forces for “bombing Lebanon back to the Stone Age where it belongs” and said “Arabs are dogs,” according to an e-mail cited in the indictment.

    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/08/16/national/main3174732.shtml

  4. mark

    You don’t have the foggiest idea what you’re talking about. The “hate crime legislation” under which Syring was charged includes the federal interstate threat statute, 18 USC 875(c). You can read it here:

    http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/html/uscode18/usc_sec_18_00000875—-000-.html

    Notice that the statute prohibits “any threat to injure the person of another” made in interstate commerce (e.g., via telephone). It applies equally to everyone, including one white male making death threats against another white male.

    Now read the indictment in this case, and tell me that Syring’s late-night email messages (3 of them) and voicemails (4 of them) about “dead Arabs” and “dead Lebanese” are just opinion.

    http://www.usatoday.com/news/pdf/2007%2008%2016%20syring%20indictment.pdf

    I guarantee that if somebody left you several ranting, obscenity-laced wee-hour voicemail messages saying “the only good blogger is a dead blogger,” you’d report it to the police.

  5. Dan

    It would help understand this better were you to see the Indictment and some of the juicier details of his messages…

    http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/docs/zogby-indictment/

    If accurate, they do rise to the level of criminal harassment, and therefore, since the communications cross state lines, they can also fall under federal scrutiny.

    Remember, this is just the grand jury indictment, piling on of charges is the norm these days

  6. Thank you all for responding and airing your views — I really appreciate your feedback.

    First of all let me say I certainly don’t approve of or agree with Syring or what he said in those multiple, lunatic correspondences. He’s very angry and may be classified as mentally unstable. But all that is quite beside the point. The indictment is, based on what it says that Syring said and wrote. Paragraph 12 of the indictment concludes by saying that “PATRICK SYRING ‘THREATENED TO INJURE’ (emphasis mine) Arab American Institute employees.” Paragraph’s 4 through 10, where Syring’s rants are documented proves that conclusion to be a lie! He threatened to injure no one!

    Perhaps, j_m, I need my head examined but I did not read one direct threat in the indictment. It’s possible we have different definitions of the word threat but if I were to tell you that I wished you to burn in Hell, it would mean that I despised you and wished you were dead it would NOT mean that I was ready to kill you or to, in any other way, personally dispatch you to Hell.

    In conclusion, I don’t know what should be done about Syring, certainly his harassment tactics broke some law but let’s see him charged for something he did, not something he didn’t do! What I said about free speech and his freedom to insult someone still goes, but Syring has admittedly reached that point where he is abusing that freedom.

  7. Rami Salman

    I’m surprised it took the State Department a whole year to “get rid” of this guy. If I were in his position and told a jewish guy that his tie is ugly, i’d be fired, labeled an anti-semite and sued by the anti-defamation league, and all this within 24 hours of my statement.
    I’m a Lebanese American, I love both my countries, and it’s insulting to see people who find this kind of talk as not illegal.
    FYI, all Arabs are semite, and hence can never be “anti-semite”. Most if not all are proud anti-zionists, and we believe that zionism is racism, terrorism and racial cleansing. I have no problem with Arab Jews, but I can’t take some Russian Jew who wants to take over my land, because god gave it to him thousands of years ago. Judaism is not a race, it’s a damn religion!!!

  8. pk

    I’ll be sure to keep my sexual “preference” to myself, for example, when I get married. By the way, how old were you when you made the decision to live a straight lifestyle?

    Glad you appreciate the feedback!

  9. Rami,

    I’m also surprised it took the State Department that much time to get rid of Syring — unless perhaps he had just recently gone off the deep end.

    The whole point of my post was to point out that harassment and name calling such as Syring engaged in should not be elevated to a Federal indictment that accuses him of “threats.” I can see him being fined and jailed for harassment or whatever civil law covers his actions but this indictment “stinks” of political correctness and doesn’t even begin to provide evidence of the charge.

    As for your anti-zionism, if that’s your thing I think either you or I have some serious misconceptions about zionism. As I understand Zionism the only thing it advocates is a Jewish homeland — a right to exist; it obviously means something much more ominous to you.

  10. PK,

    You seem obsessed with sexual preferences!

    Personally, I have absolutely no problems with straight marriage or with gay marriage. I believe sexual preferences are developed very early in life, like before you know what to do with them, and are based on all of your experiences and observations during your youth. There might possibly be a genetic element in sexual preference but I kinda doubt it!

    Hope that sorta, kinda answers your question.

  11. pk

    You mentioned sexual orientation first, actually, in your post…

    Nevermind, my intention was simply to point out that people who aren’t minorities are usually unaware of the hostile environments that breed crimes motivated by hate. It’s simply a perspective that you’re not going to have. If you’ve never been harassed or intimidated in this way it’s not likely to occur to you.

    I understand the academic argument against hate crimes, but it ignores a great deal of…reality. I think the law should protect people equally, and minorities are more likely to need this protection than others. Hope that’s a little more clear.

  12. pk,

    You state your case very well and I understand perfectly what you are saying.

    Consider, however, the nature of hate — its like a disease that takes over your mind. Do you really believe that the threat of extra punishment is going to stop a racist or a bigot from attacking his or her target? I seriously doubt it. Crimes of passion, such as hate crimes, are committed by people so thoroughly invested in their “passion” that the consequences are not even an element in the equation.

    That’s my analysis anyway — I’ll admit that I may be totally wrong.

    Whymrhymer

  13. Scarlett

    If Iran’s president were to say that the only good American was a dead American — do you think Bush would have a right to view that as an implied threat? Don’t you think we’d be nuking Iran as a “pre-emptive” strike? After all — we couldn’t take any chances that he wasn’t just angry and blowing off some steam, now could we? (At least the Bush Admin would see it as a justification for bombing Iran)

    As someone who had a family member on vacation in Lebanon when the bombing began, I can tell you that I had a lot of criticism for Israel. You tend to get critical when you think they are about to kill your family. Additionally, the IDF forces that were “kidnapped” were IN LEBANON when they were taken. They weren’t in Israel as the media later tried to say. But, most everyone still thought that the IDF had a right to target Hezbollah to get the soldiers back. What they did NOT have the right to do was bomb the entire country in what can only be called COLLECTIVE PUNISHMENT which is still a war crime. But, if you criticize them, then apparently you are fair game for the label “anti-semitic” and deserve to rot in hell for “supporting” Hezbollah (as if criticism of collective punishment equals support for Hezbollah).

    I can’t believe you would even try to condone such behavior. By your reasoning — law enforcement shouldn’t take any threats seriously and should just wait until someone follows through on the threats before it takes action. The fact that this was a 20 year career diplomat makes it worse — because someone in the state department advocating the death of all Arabs carries with it more threat than say some taxi driver or store clerk threatening the same thing. One has access to those who control foreign policy to influence them. The other has no power whatsoever. Hmmm — wonder why Zogby got a little spooked by that?

    Another hypothetical — suppose I, being upset that Israel nearly killed my family members — decided to call the Israeli embassy and left a message that the only good Jew was a dead Jew. Hmmm — don’t you think they’d take that pretty seriously? Don’t you think I’d be rounded up by the FBI/Homeland Security pretty quickly? After all, I’d be advocating another holocaust. But I guess when you kill Arabs en masse it isn’t nearly as important as the mass killing of Jews. After all, they are God’s “chosen people” — the rest of us don’t count as much as they do (ie, 10,000 Arabs are not equal to one Jewish fingernail is the correct ratio, no?)

    There is no defense for what this man did. Anyone who thought that destroying a country and killing innocent citizens in retailiation for the kidnapping of 3 soldiers who were illegally on Lebanese terrority to begin with and who hadn’t even been killed — just captured — is wrong now deserves to die and rot in hell? What kind of twisted world are living in when we think that genocide of the Arabs is allowed to prevent another genocide of the Jews? Shouldn’t our goal be NO MORE GENOCIDE at all?

    I suppose you think it is perfectly okay for “Christians” to protest at military funerals saying that the soldier is dead because God is punishing us for the gays and feminists in the country? Or that 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina were punishment for allowing gays and feminists to ruin America? Is it also okay to protest at funerals of homosexuals with signs that say “God hates fags”? Guess we should tolerate anything in the name of free speech. Maybe I can finally buy that “the only good neo-con is a dead neo-con” shirt I’ve had my eye on 🙂

  14. Scarlett,

    To start with, let me say that I can certainly understand your bitterness toward Israel but you have taken my post (which attempted to provide my perspective on what IS and what is NOT a threat) and turned it into a defense, not only of Patrick Syring but a defense of war, genocide, Zionist overreactions and the murder of innocent civilians. I do not, and have no desire to, defend any of these things.

    Some specific reactions to your comment:

    You ask, if Iran’s president were to say that the only good American was a dead American, should Bush take that as an “implied” threat? Yes he should, exactly that, an IMPLIED threat! Ahmadinejad has, by the way, made that very implication about Americans as well as Jews, many, many times. Ahmadinejad has also made many serious threats (actual threats) against America — well, we have not bombed him yet and we probably will not until he actually makes a threatening move. But that’s international politics and has very little relation to one deranged diplomat telling an Arab organization what he thinks of them. He never once, according to the indictment, threatened to DO anything.

    I agree with you that Israel’s attack on Lebanon was a major overreaction. They had no right to attack anyone except Hezbollah in their camps and hideouts. There would have still been some civilian casualties but that’s what happens in a war. Now you’ll notice that I just criticized Israel but have no fear of being labeled anti-semitic — not at least by anyone who can be considered rational; and frankly, I don’t care what irrational people say or think.

    Near the end of your response you make the statement (in reference to Syring): “Anyone who thought that destroying a country and killing innocent citizens in retaliation for the kidnapping of 3 soldiers who were illegally on Lebanese territory to begin with . . . is wrong (and) now deserves to die and rot in Hell.” Sounds familiar, isn’t that what Syring said about Arabs?

    First of all, everyone has the right to THINK what they want which means Syring had that right to condemn Arabs to hell because of what he thinks and you have the right to condemn HIM to hell (as you just did) without fear of the federal government indicting you. So what if Syring was a career diplomat — there are thousands of them and the great majority are as insignificant as ants on a picnic table. What Syring did is wrong in the sense that he took the leap from expressing his opinion to actually harassing the people in the Arab organization — that’s probably against the law and that is what he should be charged with: harassment.

    No More Genocide is a wonderful thought and I hope we all see that day — but I doubt it! There is too much hate in too many minds and we ARE humans and humans tend to overreact. God and Allah (and all the other Gods) made us that way — perhaps they did so intentionally.

    On your last point about “Christian attitudes” toward gays and feminists — you have only to read more of my posts to see that I am 100% on your side in the condemnation of the radical “Christian” Right’s tactics and their condemnation of gays.

    Go out now and buy that tee-shirt, all you are likely to get are smiles and chuckles!

  15. ok, your missing the thing that’s right in your face. how would you like being called racist remarks and someone telling you that the world would be better if you and all Americans would die this very second? think of that for a second before saying anything about lessening the severity of the threats that Mr. Syring made towards these Arabic people, who are totally innocent of any acts perpetrated by extremist Muslims. Osama Bin Laden hated the US and many of his country men do or did too and he used that hate to drive suicide bombers to attack the towers on 9/11. is it fair that Americans allow a clear symbol of hate to terrorize innocent people when “the war on terror” is fighting exactly that? no, hate crime is hate crime, simple as that, and everyone should be accountable for what they do, be it kill and torture people or threaten and wish for genocide upon other races. Mr. Syring has the right of free speech, but that does not mean he is not accountable for the words he says. it’s like me insulting you to the lowest and you beating me to hell for it, yes I have the right to speak, you can’t legally stop me from talking, but I’m accountable for what I say and am open to punishment for anything wrongful I say.

  16. Casey,

    I don’t disagree that people are accountable for what comes out of their mouths but the subject of this post is hate crimes, crimes that are committed against “protected minorities” and ONLY against protected minorities. A crime committed against me, a white, straight male, and a crime committed against a gay person or an Arab-American or anyone else should not have different sets of rules when it comes to the trial or the punishment — that, at least, is what i believed when i posted this and is what I believe now, four years later. This crap they call hate crimes legislation distorts the American Judicial System.

    All that is actually beside the point! Mr. Syring may be crazy as a ‘bed-bug’ and may be (is) a totally objectionable human being but HE MADE NO DIRECT THREATS AGAINST ANYONE!! He may be guilty, as I said before, of harassment and stupidity but not guilty of what he is charged with.

    Incidentally, according to Wikipedia: Syring was, in the end, convicted of threatening and violating the civil rights of James Zogby, the president and founder, and other senior employees of the Arab American Institute during the 2006 Lebanon War. Syring pleaded guilty to the charges June 12, 2008, was sentenced to prison July 11, 2008, and was released January 2009. Apparently hate crime charges were dropped.

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