The French authorities are investigating Bob Dylan after some Croats were offended by something he said in an interview with Rolling Stone last year. The singer had said: ‘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.’
Dylan is the latest victim of Europe’s neo-blasphemy laws, in which offending someone’s group identity is treated in the same way that offending God once was. When Christianity stops being sacred, everything becomes sacred; did GK Chesterton say that? Well it’s the sort of thing he might have said.
I wonder how the great secular reformers of yesteryear would have felt about blasphemy being effortlessly replaced in this way. When in 2008 Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris introduced the repeal of our blasphemy laws I was opposed to it, basically for tribal and culture war reasons, because it would further undermine Christian England. But Harris was right and people like me were wrong; much as I don’t like tedious young artists insulting the Virgin Mary, it shouldn’t be a criminal matter, and there’s little justification in having a law as a statement of values.
But now that identity, whether of race, religion, class, sex or sexuality, is the new sacred, hate crime laws have become blasphemy laws in all but name. The things that will get someone arrested, investigated, shunned, boycotted, made unemployed or end their political career – all relate to the blasphemy of identity.
One of the first such laws, also in France, made Holocaust denial a crime, and some warned that other wacky historical interpretations would become illegal one day, but now you can’t even upset the Croats, whose wartime record was appalling (I seem to recall reading that some SS officers came to visit Jasenovac.