An atheist friend of mine had the unfortune to run into a militant asshole. In their exchange the asshole told my friend he should go to one of the Islamic countries that murders atheists.
My friend took his tone, along with his suggestion that he ought to go die, as a threat.
Almost instantly more assholes crawled out of the woodwork to defend the rudeness of the first asshole, saying that his “suggestion” was not a threat per se, although they conceded to the fact that it was rather insensitive.
I took the opportunity to defend my friend and got called names, told I needed to educate myself, got read to from a dictionary, and was told that my contention to their insensitivity, which I felt added insult to injury, wasn’t a conversation worthy of the fifth grader.
I am going to illucidate exactly why it was a threat.
Here is why…
Because my friend took it as a threat! That’s why.
We don’t know his situation or circumstances. We don’t know any additional facts about the exchange. Just that in my friend’s mind there was more than the mere suggestion to go into harm’s way, something which made him feel threatened.
And really, that’s all we need to know.
Except, as the conversation progressed, more and more dictionary thumpers did their best to keep on informing him is wasn’t a threat, but just a suggestion. Ha! A suggestion? Right. I guess it could be a suggestion in the same way a Nazi sympathizer telling a Jew to go walk into a furnace would never be considered anything more than merely a harmless suggestion.
Allow me to inform as to why suggestions can also be classified as threats.
Because the law says so. That’s why.
In law a threat is anything that constitutes the menace of harm. It doesn’t need to be direct. It can be indirect, veiled, or even merely suggested.
A tactless man, for example, might call a girl he doesn’t like a whore and suggest she do what he tells her lest she get what’s coming to her, and this is a threat, plain and simple.
If this same man threatened to rape the girl, this would also be a threat. If he said he’d have his friends rape her too, still a threat.
Now this next part is where many people who abide by a strict dictionary definition of the word “threat” get hung up.
If, with the woman’s prior knowledge that the man wants to rape her, she receives a disconcerting message that suggests she come over to his place so she can be properly “taken care of,” let me ask you, would this not constitute a threat?
In legal terms, yes. It’s a threat. In this case there is
the menace of harm, existing from prior conditions, and the prior knowledge that this man will likely rape the woman.
Thus the law clearly states that even suggestions can be considered serious threats when there is even the slightest hint of the menace to do harm.
But if you are holding to a strict dictionary definition of the word “threat,” basically the admission that you desire to physically harm someone, then you could apologize on behalf of would be rapist everywhere and say they are all merely making suggestions.
As we all know, most social interactions among human beings aren’t so black and white. Nor is the way we communicate, express ourselves, or use language. Words and phrases can carry multiple meanings and subtexts and you can never be entirely certain how somebody else will take something that is said, especially when it might only be vaguely suggested. But herein lies the problem, if one possesses a prior knowledge that contained in the words is the suggestion that entails abuse, suffering, and harm — then that suggest comes with it the explicit intent to have harm done, which constitutes the menace of harm, which by law is a type of threat.
What you cannot do is say the woman in the example was over reacting when it was suggested she enter into harms way where there is a near certain chance she will be raped, because it was merely a suggestion.
No, it wasn’t. It was more than a suggestion, it was a threat. A threat against her safety, well being, and freedom not to be harassed or assaulted or have it suggested that she should endure these things because someone is sick in the head and finds pleasure from suggesting it.
The same goes for my atheist friend of whom it was suggested he enter into harm’s way where there is a near certain chance of his being murdered.
But, but, but it was only a suggestion!
No, it wasn’t. It was a threat.
Look, I have no tolerance for indirect, mealy-mouthed, fifty-shades of gray type of ways some callous jerk-wad can say they want someone to endure abuse and be harmed. If you intimidate, insinuate, use a condescending and abusive language, and/or hold fear over someone to menace them and cause them to fear for their safety and well-being by suggesting they place themselves in harm’s way, it’s a threat.
So we have every right to call these assholes out, and my atheist friend has every right to feel intimidated and threatened by someone like this.
And if you still think it was only a suggestion done in bad taste but not a genuine threat, well you are entitled to your opinion, but you’ll still be wrong. Not because I say so, or because the law says so, but because my friend… who was the one who feels threatened (not you), took it as though it was a threat.
I hope that instead of telling him he is overreacting to some rather terrible advice, we might be more mindful of his situation and take the time to try to consider what reasons he might have for taking it in a different way than we might have.