Ethnic violence in the Balkans is a sharp reminder that hate based on religion, race, or other personal characteristics is an evil to be resisted. In Kosovo, there have been reports of heroism as well as horror - Serbian Orthodox monks sheltering Muslim Albanian Kosovars, for example. In the United States, a history tainted by hateful violence is changing for the better as well.
This week marks the 35th anniversary of the murder of three young civil rights workers in Mississippi. Several of those responsible were convicted under federal civil rights law, but local prosecutors have never brought charges under state criminal statutes. Now, there is an indication that such charges may be filed. As with other Southern states that have recently pressed charges against Ku Klux Klan members and others responsible for racial violence decades ago, this is a welcome effort to finally seek justice - and to clear a dark spot on Mississippi's past.
There are other signs of community courage. In Billings, Mont., several years ago, neo-Nazis began threatening Jewish residents. In response, the predominantly Christian population joined their Jewish neighbors in putting menorahs in their windows and cleaning up graffiti. This "Not in My Town" movement not only brought an end to the anti-Semitic threats there, it has spread to other communities threatened with such hateful attacks.
Much more needs to be done. Last year's lynch-style murders of a black man in Jasper, Texas, and a gay college student in Laramie, Wyo., shocked the nation. The Justice Department reports that authorities around the country are recording some 8,000 hate crimes per year. While the number of "patriot" and militia groups have fallen in recent years, those espousing white supremacist and other hateful philosophies are on the rise - especially on the Internet, where so many impressionable young people hang out. Just last week, three synagogues in Sacramento, Calif., were attacked by arsonists who left leaflets blaming Jews for the war in Kosovo.
Proposed federal legislation would expand the Justice Department's criminal civil rights jurisdiction, and it would broaden current hate-crimes prevention law to include attacks based on gender, disability, and sexual orientation as well as race, religion, and national origin.
But as President Clinton said last week, "We cannot achieve true tolerance merely through legislation; we must change hearts and minds as well."