Quick quiz — When you think about racist hate speech what are the first five names you come up with?
Was one of them Bob Dylan? I’ll bet not, however, you would be wrong.
Earlier this week, Dylan was charged by the French Government with “hate speech.” French authorities have filed preliminary charges against Bob Dylan over a 2012 magazine interview in which he is quoted comparing Croatians to Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan. The charges of “public insult and inciting hate” were filed against the musician in mid-November.
Excuse me? The real Bob Dylan or is this some Orwellian pun off the Onion’s website. Sadly, it is true.
Holy 1984, Batman, could it be true that a man whose music served as the soundtrack for the Civil Rights movement and whose guitar was inscribed with the slogan “This machine kills fascism” could actually be a “hater.”
Probably not, but it does represent an alarming European trend that scares me to death.
It is punitive political correctness, a case of the PC police being armed and dangerous and ready to kick down your door with “non-hateful” jackboots. One doesn’t have to BE a racist, they just have to TALK about it.
Dylan, one of the biggest proponents of free speech in the 1960s, is now learning that even when one is trying to have an adult conversation about race relations, every word one speaks will be examined, analyzed and eventually handed over to Big Brother to be used as political ammunition by which ever side is shooting.
I think there are several factors at play here and “hate speak” is not one of them.
Dylan was giving an opinion that was backed with generalities — he never once specified “all Croatians” or “all Serbians.” Secondly, both the offended Croatians and the French prosecutors seem to have a case of selective memory. During World War II, there WAS a group of Nazi-backed Croatians who did engage in genocide against the Serbs, however during the more recent struggles in the Balkans, there was enough ethnic cleansing going on to elect Mr. Clean as prime minister of Yugoslavia. There were war criminals from Croatia, Slovenia and Serbia and blame to share across the globe.
Thirdly and most importantly, Bob Dylan is not an AUTHORITY on race, history, world affairs, law or journalism (and if you heard his 1979 Slow Train Coming album, one might even include songwriting). He is an entertainer and that’s OK.
Although Dylan will always be remembered for his political and social activism throughout the 60s, he has not been relevant as activist for more than four decades. In other words, his opinion doesn’t matter. Ask him a question and he will mumble you an answer, after that, people can do what they want with whatever it was he said — after all, it is just his opinion.
The problem comes when governments try to tell us what thought and speech is correct and what speech should be prohibited because it is “offensive.” Dear Lord, I try to offend someone every four to six hours, just to stay in practice.
In France, 88 people have been convicted under the law Dylan has been charged with. People have served up to two months for “offensive” language. One conviction included actress Brigitte Bardot, also an animal rights activist, who publicly stated her opposition to the slaughter of sheep in a Muslim religious ritual. Talk about an ACLU nightmare.
I hope that Dylan goes back to France and challenges this law in a public courtroom. The absurdity of this case needs to be championed by someone like Bob Dylan. Dylan sang at the Freedom March in 1963 and one would have an difficult time painting him as any type of racist either through his words or action.
He is now a 72-year-old man with a golden opportunity available to him — a chance to be relevant again with his words.
Todd Lancaster is an award-winning columnist hoping to find an oversized “Free Bob Dylan” t-shirt to wear to the trial. If this column offended anyone, a link to the French prosecutor is available online.