Memory, Law, and Repair
NANCY L. ROSENBLUM
You ask me to renew
A grief so desperate that the very thought
Of speaking of it tears my heart in two.
But if my words may be a seed that bears
The fruit of infamy for him I gnaw,
I shall weep, but tell my story through my tears.
—COUNT UGOLINO IN DANTE,
The Inferno, Canto XXXIII
Every injustice arouses anger, or should. A capacity to understand and feel injustice is the mark of moral maturity; a taste for oppression is the mark of moral deformation. “To have no idea of what it means to be treated unjustly is to have no moral knowledge, no moral life.”1 But of the many faces of injustice, violent hatred stands out. These crimes betray exceptional viciousness and inflict exceptional pain. They evoke especially strong feelings because they exhibit none of the randomness or misfortune of many forms of injury. The intent to terrorize, injure, and degrade is intensely personal. The perpetrator believes the individual deserves to suffer, even though the reason for inflicting suffering is not always tied to the victim’s own acts but often to his or her group membership or some ascriptive trait. The deliberate cruelty of the attack is unmistakable. As a result, the injuries suffered on account of one’s color or ethnicity, sex or sexual orientation provoke enduring bitterness. The response of victims of hateful violence is a particularly deep resentment—a moral anger. Victims want more than to hold the perpetrators responsible; they want to cause them and their supporters suffering in turn. An unruly longing for revenge is validated by the vindictiveness of the crime. Certain crimes usher in that destructive dynamic: a cycle of hatred.