Tangled Up in Thought Crime: The Persecution of Bob Dylan

A defense of the icon in three verses

Bob Dylan is in legal trouble in France because of a year-old interview he gave to Rolling Stone. "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," he said. "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."

In the 1990s, Croatians and Serbs were involved in bloody ethnic warfare... During WWII, the Independent State of Croatia was a Nazi puppet regime responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Jews, Serbs and other ethnic groups." – USA Today


Early one morning the sun was shining; 

Bob Dylan was laying in bed,

Wondering if liberalism had changed for all

If the France he knew was dead.

The Council of Croats complained about him.

Speech laws in France are tough.

For a speaker to earn a hefty fine

A stray remark is now enough.

And he was speaking off the cuff in a magazine interview:

Analyzing racism, an arena where he paid some dues

While breaking through 

Back in '62


Once upon a time he sang so fine

When Hurricane was framed for that crime

Didn't he?

He opened on the mall when MLK called

Now incitement accusations fall

I'm not kidding you.

We used to laugh about

PC bullshit breaking out.

But now we don't joke so loud

Because we can't well be proud

About slowly surrendering a core ideal.

How does it feel?


Though crimes are prosecuted more

But it's never hit this close before:

I've never been so queasy or opposed.

We've been sliding down this slope too long

Criminalizing speech is wrong

And Dylan is clearly a racism foe.

Presented by

Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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