Was the Burning of the SAS Wall a Hate Crime?

This year sadly has been a bad year for free speech at UCI. We have seen multiple attempts to vandalize demonstrations of free speech on campus often by cowardly individuals. The torching of the anti-Zionist wall made by the Society of Arab Students is only the latest in problems. While I sympathize for the group, I think we must be careful to avoid pointing fingers. Both the Southern California office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Society of Arab Students have requested that the vandalism to be labeled as a ‘hate crime’ with very thin evidence. Unfortunately, I find that this finger pointing creates more unnecessary tension on campus.
As the recent case of a ‘hate crime’ at the Claremont Colleges proved to us even what appears to be an obvious ‘hate crime’ can turn out to be a hoax. While I don’t want to believe that this is a hoax created by someone involved in organizing anti-Zionist week I think that until there is a suspect in custody I think that we should not discount the possibility. If this was a hoax the perpetrator(s) succeeded in getting the attention that they sought. The incident has appeared in newspapers nationwide and even internationally.
Yet another possibility that we shouldn’t discount is that the arsonist had no political motive at all. UCI is barely a mile from University High School and anyone who has been to high school would find it plausible for a rebellious high school student to see an opportunity to just burn something. Unless the police are hiding evidence that the crime was politically motivated I think that calling this incident a hate crime is an unsubstantiated claim. Since there was a sign that burned that was unrelated to the wall approximately the same time near the Student Center there is at least some reason to believe that the arsonist could have had non-political motives.
In this scenario Osama Abuljebain’s claim that ‘it’s obvious someone who’s afraid of the truth,’ would inaccurately point fingers at students with diametrically opposed opinions on the situation in Israel when the perpetrator’s motives weren’t even political. If the evidence of anti-Arab motives exist SAS should be mentioning this to the media so the accusation appears more credible.
In addition, contrary to the claims of CAIR ‘the ethnic and religious nature of the display and its sponsors,’ should NOT be a reason to attempt to label this crime as a hate crime. Investigators should let the evidence determine whether this is a hate crime, not merely because CAIR thinks it might be a hate crime due to the content of the display alone. Members of the UCI police have even noted that this is NOT a clear case of a hate crime.
In the rally on Thursday SAS and other groups that labeled this as a ‘hate crime’ have ignored plausible answers to this incident that wouldn’t be a ‘hate crime’ in order to attempt to advance their political agenda.

Shawn Augsburger is a fourth-year history major.