Wednesday, December 09, 2015

The Natural Interpretation, Part II

Last year, I reported on Ismo, a Dutch rapper whose lyrics included the lines "I hate those fucking Jews more than the Nazis” and “don’t shake hands with faggots.” His story was notable less for the specific lyrics than for his amazing defense that "By ‘faggots’ I didn’t mean homosexuals and by ‘Jews’ I didn’t mean all Jews" (the Jews he had in mind were the "Zionist" ones, naturally). In any event, Ismo complained bitterly about people "twisting his words" so that "I hate those fucking Jews" and "don't shake hands with faggots" somehow got misinterpreted as something prejudiced.

Anyway, apparently Ismo just was acquitted of charges of hate speech in a Dutch court, which found the lyrics to be offensive but protected as artistic expression. Anti-discrimination advocates are urging the prosecution to appeal the verdict.

Since I'm an American lawyer with the usual set of free speech commitments that identity entails, my thoughts are the following:

  • Under American rules regulating free speech, this is obviously the right outcome, as American constitutional jurisprudence does not allow the proscription of "hate speech" per se.
  • The Netherlands, like most European countries, has a considerably less speech-protective legal regime that does permit hate speech bans.
  • As a matter of policy, I generally support the American free speech position over its European competitors.
  • That said, where a country does have a legal regime akin to that of the Dutch, I want it to be enforced evenly; Jews and gays should be able to claim its protections to the same degree as anybody else.
  • I have no knowledge of the general contours of Dutch hate speech jurisprudence so as to speak to whether this case deviates from the norm.
  • Regardless of the proper legal resolution of the case, there is no question that Ismo's lyrics were homophobic and anti-Semitic and his protestations to the contrary are laughable.

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