On Tuesday last week, I wrote a piece disagreeing with Crawley’s suggestion that it should be illegal for record stores to sell music containing lyrics which call for violence against gay people. The idea that this constitutes clear, direct incitement to violence is, as far as I can see, unsubstantiated. I later went on Tommy Boyd to talk about it, and what I see as a disregard for freedom of speech (the brief segment is podcasted here).

In today’s Guardian, Brendan O’Neill comes through in a compelling piece – far moreso than my own – in which he asserts that a lack of trust in people to write and hear music which contains hateful lyrics without committing murder afterwards amounts to bigotry:

“The campaign to criminalise anti-gay Jamaican music, spearheaded by gay rights groups and enforced by the police and now Brighton council, is underpinned by some pretty poisonous prejudices. It is based on what we might call “homophobia-phobia” – an irrational fear and loathing of straight males, especially black ones.

“The argument that Jamaican dancehall may provoke violence or public disorder is specious. It rests on the assumption that dancehall fans are a mob of ignorant bigots who could be stirred to commit acts of homophobic violence by listening to Buju Banton or some other moron singing about ‘batty boys.'”

This is strikingly similar to the sentiments in a question asked by our own commenter here, Quinney, who wrote: “So the argument is that it incites violence. What, so we’re a society of lemmings without brains? Blank slates, upon which any asshole can write “KILL” and we’ll do it like robotic numbskulls?” I have to say, the question is a valid one.

And Brendan echoes my own question about the validity of seeing incitement happen so easily:

“The anti-dancehall campaign also shows how flabby the category of incitement has become. Traditionally, in the eyes of the law, incitement involved a close relationship between two parties where one party encouraged, implored or cajoled the other into doing something criminal. Now it seems we can be incited by the music playing over a loudspeaker in a dingy club.

“The old legal definition of incitement viewed individuals as rational and reasonable, and in need of intense coaxing before they could be said to have been incited; in the current view of incitement, individuals are seen as unthinking automatons who can be provoked into violence by hearing a song, seeing an image or listening to a provocative speech.

“The nonsense notion that dancehall fans can be ‘incited to violence’ by listening to music calls into question their rationality, and free will itself. They are reduced to little more than attacks dogs who hear Buju Banton’s orders and then carry them out.”

See the rest of this great article here.


UPDATE: 12/13/2007

After chatting with Will about this, it appears that where he wishes to draw the line (and where I think I’d agree) is at direct incitement to violence. I’ve argued that I don’t believe Beenie Man lyrics constitute incitement, and Will thinks there’s a chance a court of law may have the opportunity to rule on such a question in the near future.