Bob Dylan, you may have heard, is under investigation in France for inciting racial hatred against Croatians for comments he made a year ago in Rolling Stone.
The quote causing the kerfuffle has Dylan asserting, “If you got a slave master or [Ku Klux] 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.”
That’ll teach Dylan to say something comprehensible.
His larger point, in the full quote, was that festering resentments keep folks from moving on, to the detriment of society. Go figure.
The suit was possible because France has very strict laws against hate speech. Which explains why the French have mastered the art of displaying total disdain with but a gesture.
The investigation was launched by the Paris Prosecutor’s Office, which said that the rock iconoclast was under judicial investigation for “public insult and inciting hate,” just a few short weeks after France bestowed upon Bob its highest award, the Legion of Honor, under the mistaken impression that all these years Dylan was actually singing in French.
It also comes almost 50 years to the day of the famous class-action suit against Dylan by thousands of “Mr. Jones,” who claimed that their reputations were maligned by the folk-singer singing that “something is happening here but (they) don’t know what it is.”
Ironically, the group lost the suit, but didn’t know why.
The Croatian community filing the current-day action felt Dylan was besmirching the whole race for the past actions of a few bad ravaging, murdering and pillaging apples, and they may well have a point, but if I were their legal advisor, I would’ve counseled them to let it just blow over (which, considering that the quote is a year old and apparently hasn’t incited anyone or anything, it had), rather than drawing attention to the whole… unfortunate situation again.
So far, the Croatians are the only one of the three groups mentioned by Dylan to initiate legal action. In America, even progeny of hate groups seem to understand that you don’t go to the mat against someone on account of name-calling. You wait until that group does something really painful, like calling for reparations, which hurts you in the wallet, before galvanizing into action.
Also in the U.S., we place a high value on freedom of expression. You are free to spout your ignorant, hateful, Neanderthal views, no matter how heinous, as long as your ratings stay high.
Plus we have other constitutional protections which act as inhibitors against hateful speech. Namely, half the population is packing heat. Very often one party will be shot dead before the altercation escalates into a court case.
In some ways, the Croat complaint is kind of charming. They’re not seeking damages (clearly demonstrating their unfamiliarity with the American legal system), but rather an apology from “a singer who is liked and respected in Croatia.”
Although what eliciting an apology from Bob Dylan has to do with Lady Gaga is beyond me…
Insofar as Dylan’s made a career out of spewing, mewling and raging, it’s pretty likely that he’ll speak out on this matter before too long.
Then someone will translate his remarks, and we’ll know where he stands.