February 9, 2005

Anti-Gay Reggae

Why banning homophobic music would deal a setback to gay-rights advocates.

David Goldenberg

Reggae artists will no longer be able to release music or put on concerts if their songs contain homophobic lyrics, according to an agreement reached between the reggae industry and gay-rights groups. An article in BBC News states that the ban was initiated after gay-rights groups were successful in shutting down tours and television appearances by artists who sang about violence against homosexuals.

Hate speech should be condemned, of course. And I admire the tenacity of the gay-rights groups in fighting for what they believe in. But it's a mistake to force this music underground by denying free-speech rights to those who produce it. By doing so, the reggae industry will no longer be able to keep tabs on the extremists within it.

This idea seems very similar to the one proposed by German legislators, who have called for a ban on Nazi symbols throughout Europe (see this BBC article). In response to Prince Harry’s costume idiocy and the 60th anniversary of the taking of Auschwitz, the Liberal group of the European parliament has misguidedly argued for a continent-wide ban on the use of the swastika.

Banning unpleasant talk and symbols is a Pyrrhic victory for liberal advocates, who let the fight distract them from fighting bigotry itself while erasing the public face of their enemy—removing a crucial rallying point for their supporters.

I'm no free-speech absolutist. For example, I believe the radio and newspaper men who fanned the flames of the Rwandan genocide got what they deserved from the International Criminal Tribunal (here's the New York Times story). Defendants, including ‘Kangura’ Editor-in-Chief Hassan Ngeze (check out his personal website), argued that their speech was protected, as did several unbiased lawyers (including this Penn professor). But these media men were judged on specific incitement for specific acts—such as reporting the positions of groups of Tutsis and encouraging Hutu youth groups to attack them.

Speech that directly causes violence should be punished. Other hate speech—including the general homophobia spouted by some musical acts—should be left out in the open to sully those who say it and to motivate those who loathe it.

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Article by David Goldenberg

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