I smell French blood. Croat blood too. It smells like thuggery, cowardice, officiousness, and petty and insipid bureaucratic tyranny.
Okay. I can't actually smell anybody's blood. That's silly. But I see and hear French cretinism, leavened by Croat entitlement.
The occasion is French and Croat pestering of professional mumbler Bob Dylan. Dylan, interviewed by Rolling Stone, offered some thoughts about race in America:
This country is just too fucked up about color. It's a distraction. People at each other's throats just because they are of a different color. It's the height of insanity, and it will hold any nation back – or any neighborhood back. Or any anything back. Blacks know that some whites didn't want to give up slavery – that if they had their way, they would still be under the yoke, and they can't pretend they don't know that. 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.
Dylan is an American. He was talking about race and culture in America. He was speaking to an American publication. He was being interviewed in Santa Monica, California, which — notwithstanding some French elements — is in America.
Yet French magistrates — acting upon the demands of something called the Council of Croats — have brought "preliminary charges" against Dylan for "public insult and inciting hate" in France:
French magistrates have pressed preliminary charges against Bob Dylan, a poster child of the American civil-rights movement, for allegedly violating antidiscrimination laws in a 2012 magazine interview in which he appears to compare Croatians to Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan.
The probe is a turn of fortune for the iconic American singer in France, where just three weeks ago he was awarded the country's highest cultural award, the Légion d'honneur.
Preliminary charges of "public insult and inciting hate" were filed against Mr. Dylan on Nov. 11, a spokeswoman for the Paris prosecutor's office said Tuesday. That was two days before he was honored by France's culture minister, who called the singer "a hero for young people hungry for justice and independence."
Dylan probably faces a monetary fine, like other celebrities pestered by the French for Wrongthink. The Croats don't want Dylan jailed. They only want to use the French government to coerce a sign of submission from him:
If he apologies we will withdraw the suit,” Ivan Jurasinovic told the Telegraph. “The aim is not to hurt anyone but to hopefully have him say that he didn’t mean what he said and that he regrets it.”
This Croat organization is angry that Dylan associated all Croats with genocide and atrocities. But some Croats are undeniably guilty of atrocities. You can — and should — conclude that not all Croats are morally responsible for the attrocities of some Croats. But that's a rhetorical point, not — at least in a civilized society – a legal limit on speech. If Ivan Jurasinovic doesn't want Croats associated with atrocities and genocide, then he's a damn fool to abuse the mechanism of the state to charge critics with crimes to silence them, because that's how the perpetrators of historical atrocities act. Ivan Jurasinovic's message is "some of my people may have committed genocide but I'm going to have you prosecuted by the government if you talk about it in a way I don't like." Does that sentiment flatter the Croats?
This use of French hate-speech law to police historical and social commentary should not surprise us. "Hate speech" laws will generally be used as weapons in political infighting. They will generally be used to pursue ancient grievances and to punish others for pursuing them. They will generally be used to batter opposing sides in religious and ethnic disputes. That's why, as I've shown in my continuing series on blasphemy law, laws protecting group feelings are often used to persecute minorities and the powerless. Bob Dylan has money, and therefore freedom and power; he's not powerless. But in a system in which the state will use unprincipled force to protect the feelings of a vast array of squabbling interest groups, that power doesn't buy him much other than the ability to pay the arbitrary fine when the state imposes it. Moreover, his prosecution sends a powerful message to the powerless: shut up about grievance-mongering groups, because you might not be able to afford this.
Dylan's rhetorical conceit that people can smell tainted blood is silly and obnoxious. The remedy for that amongst civilized people is to call Bob Dylan silly and obnoxious, to write about it, to speak about it, and to buy some other mumbler's records. Civilized people shouldn't plead for the machinery of the state to grind their rhetorical enemies.
Bob Dylan could yield to French state-sponsored ethnic coercion and apologize to Croats for a rhetorical fillip. He could go to court and defend free speech and ultimately pay the fine when he loses because freedom of expression is not a defense in France. But he could also really impress me: he could tell the French, and the Croats, to fuck right off. He could return — postage due, please — the Légion d'honneur, and tell the French he doesn't want the recognition of thought-policing twits. He could stop traveling to France. He could encourage his artistic friends to stop traveling to France and performing there. He could inspire a new free speech movement amongst the artistic elite. Imagine the power of him telling actors and artists and musicians this: "why do you want to do business with a country that thinks it should be able to launch official proceedings against you for offering your opinion in an interview thousands of miles away in Santa Monica because a mouthpiece for an interest group didn't like what you said?"
After all, if the French want to start asserting aggressive extra-territorial jurisdiction, they should do it like Americans, by killing people with drones and kidnapping them, holding them without due process, and occasionally torturing them. Who would complain about that?
Last 5 posts by Ken White
- Free Speech Triumphant Or Free Speech In Retreat? - June 21st, 2017
- The Power To Generate Crimes Rather Than Merely Investigate Them - June 19th, 2017
- Free Speech, The Goose, And The Gander - June 17th, 2017
- Free Speech Tropes In The LA Times - June 8th, 2017
- I write letters - June 1st, 2017