New Castle News


December 4, 2013

Our Opinion: Famed musician faces hate speech charges in France

NEW CASTLE — Bob Dylan always has something interesting to say.

Even when it’s not particularly wise or insightful. But Dylan still can contribute something instructive regarding free expression in the process.

The legendary songwriter and balladeer is often the subject of interviews in Rolling Stone magazine. As a major force in popular music for the past 50 years, there’s no surprise to that.

But this week, Dylan found himself in hot water as the result of one Rolling Stone interview. In fact, controversy over some of his comments has led to criminal charges in France.

At issue are statements made by Dylan in the September 2012 Rolling Stone, where he was discussing race relations in the United States. Among other things, Dylan said the following:

“If you got a slave master or Klan in your blood, blacks can sense that. That stuff lingers to this day. Just like Jews can sense Nazi blood and the Serbs can sense Croatian blood.”

Now, Dylan obviously was trying to speak in support of historically oppressed people. But the above statement is at best inartful, and also more than a little absurd on a variety of levels. The notion that individuals can “sense” the blood of others is ridiculous. It also suggests that the sins of ancestors are passed down directly to future generations. We don’t buy that, either.

France, however, has hate crimes laws that allow for the filing of charges against people deemed to have made inflammatory statements. And a Croatian community group in France has asked authorities to pursue such charges against Dylan. Supposedly, what the group wants is an apology from the singer. Perhaps one will be forthcoming.

In an article about the matter produced by The Associated Press, a lawyer for the Croatian group said he did not know why Croatian organizations in the United States failed to pursue similar action. The answer is simple: They would have no legal leg to stand on.

Free speech — and that includes lots of foolish speech — receives the highest level of protection in the United States. Although other Western nations have similar traditions of free thought and expression, they sometimes come with tough restrictions in areas deemed to be hate speech.

One problem with such laws is they can be taken to extremes. In our view, Dylan’s statement to the Rolling Stone deserves to be challenged or even condemned. But we fail to see where anyone would benefit by having it labeled criminal.

We think America has chosen the better path on free expression — even if it is at times unpleasant. Let people express themselves, and let others challenge them if necessary.

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