The history of a provisional study
About one year ago we completed the first part of the study, which consisted of theoretical contributions by two great maestros on the theme of social and interpersonal hate: Enrique Baca and José Lázaro. We will never be able to thank them enough.
Only now, after an initial review of the information in the database and giving a profile −in the preceding pages− to real cases, will the reader find Enrique Baca’s recommendation useful: “One should be clear that the mechanisms of personal and social hate cannot be understood through serious study unless they are defined and studied specifically. Quite often, the rush to establish general mechanisms means that we lose a solid basis in in the desire to find more superficial approaches.”
José Lázaro points out that the contrary is also true: “Only sufficient attention to the general mechanisms of human behaviour allows us to go into greater detail on each specific case.”
In the report we present here, certain lines of research can be discerned to cast more light on the many grey areas around the incidents and crimes motivated by prejudice, intolerance and hate.
We believe that the next phase of the study will give us better clues to fine-tune elements for definition and standardisation to overcome the current under-representation of these phenomena, and so that the differences between the official data in one country and another, or the differences between official figures and those of civil society organisations can find more precise paradigms in the near future.
We trust that Enrique Baca and José Lázaro will guide us in this next and multidisciplinary phase, alongside new travelling companions.
Always an excellent analyst, last summer Irene Muñoz Escandell drafted the general part of her report, a legal approach to hate crimes in Europe. We are eagerly awaiting, pandemic-permitting, completion of specific work by legal practitioners in the six countries studied so that we can present a comparative approach to attention to victims of hate crimes in those countries.
For this and other updates, we will shortly have an interactive website in Spanish and English.
Javier Lesaca offered us an interesting study titled “The internet: the new platforms of hate”, about conscious and malicious industrial manipulation in the social media, and about content that can generate or increase prejudice, intolerance and hate and −very importantly− may be a risk for the very practice of democracy. The activation of intolerance and hate speech can act as an instrument to polarise and weaken the handling of legitimate disagreements in democratic systems that constitute plural societies.
Guillaume Denoix de Saint Marc, a victim of terrorism and a long-standing figure in attention to victims of terrorism in France, added his accurate, authentic testimony of a recent experience of manipulation of macabre images of victims of terrorism in social media to polarise and generate hate and anger.
Researcher María Jiménez headed the methodological work on the creation of the database. We should point out that she used the official data compiled by the OSCE as the basis for her work. After an initial review of the report, we decided to go into greater detail on the nature of the most serious cases, i.e. those resulting in death, among other elements already familiar to the reader. This is what we have worked on this year.
Given the general phenomenon of under-representation, we seek to enrich the information in qualitative terms with civil society sources, as we consider that they are antennae of social change and can teach us a lot.
We will never be able to thank María Jiménez enough for her patience, and also Alvaro Herrero de Béthencourt and Yago de Andrés, who made Excel workable for us.
Esteban Ibarra, a veteran of the Movement against Intolerance in Spain, recently sent us some essential impressions in these confusing times, lost between wishful thinking and reality, between data and perceptions, emphasising that it is a crime that needs to be considered from a universal perspective.
Carolina Pérez San Gregorio, a multi-tasking parliamentary chief of staff, and I are facing up to the need to translate the initial utilisation of the data into something comprehensible. This has not been easy, as the work seemed endless −and nobody is sufficiently prepared for the Hell we explored− but we were well assisted in this task by graphic designer Maribel Cerrato.
We hope that the result will be of use to other authors, and to give a high profile and raise awareness around discourses and crimes that cause serious harm to every person harassed, mistreated, slandered, humiliated or beaten… and the irreversible loss of people so cruelly killed. Indeed, cruelty is a regular feature in the real and terrible cases that society needs to know about. The ethical impact could help to drive measures that minimise the horror.
Andrea Mochnác Tejera and María Márquez de la Plata have recently joined the team, and they will play a greater role in the next stages.
If the EU takes a step forward so that our countries can protect us with more harmonised standards on hate crimes, and particularly protect the victims, the definition of norms does not necessarily mean restricting our citizens’ freedom of expression. Not everything repulsive −according to beliefs and ideological bias− is illegal, and case law helps us to determine the limits of what is tolerable, which helps legislators in their work. There is another element of ‘ecosystem toxicity’ that depends on each person’s opinions, although it seems advisable to create awareness about what can be generated by blindly following certain cognitive or ideological biases.
Then there is the pending issue of understanding that democracy is the organization and management of disagreement and wide-ranging consensuses on harmonious coexistence and the solving of both old and new problems, understanding ideological pluralism as our common political heritage.
This means that other people should be recognised as having their own dignity, not as enemies. Polarisation and the naturalisation of hostility to people who think differently is not innocuous; it weakens democracy, which is our main inspiration.
Understanding ideology as a political theology is one of the risks faced by democracy nowadays, because dogmatism is used in hybrid strategies of interference that exploit ideological susceptibilities, which are increasingly pronounced. Furthermore, this is replicated by influential mainstream figures in society and politics.
European institutions need to evaluate our changing times and convey a message and a debate −convincing and not paternalistic− to channel what freedom of expression might be (or not).
All institutions should avoid being won over by ever-present essentialism and maintain a rigorous legal basis for their work.
We are adapting to a new political ecosystem, and public opinion demands clear political will when addressing crimes motivated by prejudice, intolerance and hate, but this effort should be based on reason. Indeed, more on reason than wishful thinking. From empathy, but not from sentimentalism. That is what we have tried to do.
Brussels, 14 October 2021