Nothing about that headline makes sense, and I’m sorry to say that the actual details won’t really illuminate the issue. But what’s happening is that “French authorities” are filing preliminary charges against Bob Dylan from comments that were made in the September 2012 issue of Rolling Stone, according to the Associated Press. The actual language accuses the legendary singer of “public insult and inciting hate.” The quote in question came during a discussion of race in America:
“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, in terms of actual history, he’s right that the Croatians have been guilty of murder on a mass scale against Serbs in both World War II and the Croatian War for Independence in the early ‘90s, the latter of which introduced the phrase “ethnic cleansing” in the English lexicon. Like all historical conflicts, there’s a certain degree of complication that prevents anyone from painting in broad strokes, and the Serb-Croat conflict was more two-sided than Dylan’s other examples, but really, the comparison wasn’t completely off the wall. And even if they were, since when does being historically misinformed constitute hate speech?
But forget history. Rolling Stone is an American magazine, and Bob Dylan is an American citizen who lives in America. I’m no expert in international politics, but I’m pretty sure France is going to run into some jurisdiction issues if they try to enforce the charges. Could this be a prelude to a full-scale invasion?
The charges are the result of a lawsuit filed by a Croatian community group in France, a country that has strict laws against racist speech. A spokesman for the group said that they only want a public apology, which seems far more reasonable. No similar groups in Croatia or the U.S. have filed suit.
Lastly, in a twist that I’m probably a bad person for finding funny, Dylan received a government honor from the French Culture Ministry two days after the charges were originally filed, but before they became public.