Bob Dylan to Stand Trial for Inciting Racism?

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Bob Dylan Trial Inciting Racism

Well, he’s always been aware that everybody must get stoned.

A group of Croat immigrants living in France have apparently gotten a court in Paris to accept a case against Bob Dylan, under France’s hate speech laws, in order to prosecute him for inciting racism against, naturally, Croatian people. You may not have been aware of Bob Dylan’s long-standing animus against the Croats, but it seems the Croats are very much aware of it. Dylan’s music was reportedly banned from Croatian radio station “Split” after an interview he did with Rolling Stone magazine last year which included the following quote:

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.

Some Croats were apparently extremely upset at being associated, by implication, with KKK members and Nazis.

It’s really kind of fascinating. And it’s also a matter of interest that non-French citizens can be tried in France for “hate speech” that occurred somewhere else. There’s kind of a lot of hate in the world, isn’t there? It would seem to me that the French courts ought be overflowing with such prosecutions, and they would need to reopen the Bastille, and build a few more, to house all the convicted offenders.

Regarding the Bob Dylan prosecution, Vlatko Maric is quoted as saying that, “[t]he court in Paris has accepted the case and we still wait for the date of the trial to be confirmed. We still don’t know whether Bob Dylan will appear in person or will send a lawyer to represent him.” Hmm, what do you think? If I were Bob, I think I’d send a banana to represent me. Let them ponder that.

I personally know nothing of Serb/Croat interrelations. Apparently Bob Dylan knew at least a little bit about the history when he threw that reference into his remarks. According to Wikipedia, “During World War II, present-day Croatia was governed by the pro-Axis Ustasa government, which sought to ethnically cleanse Serbs from all territories controlled by the Independent State of Croatia.” Maybe that’s the source of the beef that Bob had in mind, the one that might cause Serbs to be distrustful of Croats. Or maybe it also goes back further in history. I have to despair of understanding the Balkans. (I mourn for Tito’s Yugoslavia, when things were so much simpler.)

Laws against hate speech are not my cup of tea. I think people should be free to speak and others should be free to contend with them. But putting that aside, maybe it’s possible to save time for the court by better contextualizing Bob Dylan’s remarks. The interviewer for Rolling Stone, Mikal Gilmore, was, in my view, repeatedly trying to get Dylan to comment on contemporary political matters (e.g. Barack Obama) and Dylan was persistently parrying the attempts by speaking in broader terms, or not speaking at all. In this case the interviewer asked Dylan if he saw any parallels between the 1860s (civil-war-era America) and the present day. Dylan responded:

Mmm, I don’t know how to put it. It’s like . . . the United States burned and destroyed itself for the sake of slavery. The USA wouldn’t give it up. It had to be grinded out. The whole system had to be ripped out with force. A lot of killing. What, like, 500,000 people? A lot of destruction to end slavery. And that’s what it really was all about.

This country is just too f*!*!d 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.

So, to me Dylan seems to be saying that the problem America has is that resentments and suspicions based on injustices that happened generations ago haven’t died out and fuel hatreds today. The notion that black people can “sense” if someone had slave-master or KKK ancestors might seem a little fanciful, but then what would Dylan be if he had no flights of fancy? Not much of a songwriter, anyway. And he extends the notion to Jews sensing someone with Nazi blood and then comes the offending remark about Serbs sensing Croatian blood. What he’s not doing, however, is actually blaming the people who have that aromatic blood for committing any crimes. He’s saying that the crimes of previous generations can be sniffed out by the descendants of the victims of those crimes. If the concerned Croats maintain that Croatians never actually committed any crimes against Serbs, then I guess they could consider this a defamation. Otherwise it’s just an odd notion of a sixth sense that formerly-persecuted peoples have.

Let the court decide. Actually, although lacking any special knowledge of how the French justice system works, I for one seriously doubt that a real trial will actually take place. It’s an absurdity. Mind you, laws against “hate speech” will naturally tend to produce absurdities such as this.

Who knows? Maybe that final scene from Bob Dylan’s 2003 film Masked and Anonymous will soon be playing out for real.