Bob Dylan had some major ennuis in France last month, based on an interview he gave Rolling Stone in 2012 in which he made remarks that are perfectly legal in the U.S., where freedom of speech is enshrined in the Constitution. The interview was subsequently published in the French edition of Rolling Stone and that's where the trouble started.
This country [i.e. the USA] is just too fucked up about color....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. 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.
An association of French Croatians had immediately filed a complaint against the singer for "insults" and "provoking hatred." Dylan's trip to France in November, to receive the Legion of Honor award and give some concerts, automatically set the legal process in motion. Dylan had to appear in court, and the case will be decided by a tribunal specializing in media affairs.
French laws are substantially different from American ones on this subject. Although I don't think Americans are one bit more racist than the French*, the French treat cultural and racial differences very differently from Americans. For example, the French government is legally forbidden to collect any statistics about the different racial, ethnic and religious groups in France, as the American census does by asking your race.
It's also illegal to insult or malign someone or "provoke hatred" of another group, even in private, which is why Brigitte Bardot, former sex symbol and now ardent animal-rights defender, has been convicted five times for "provocation of racial hatred" because she insulted traditional Muslims in France for slitting sheep's throats to celebrate their holiday Aïd el Kebir. (She has also insulted plenty of other people.)
"Freedom of expression is a right!" Hmm. Vous en êtes sûrs?
In American law, Nazis can freely march through a Jewish neighborhood claiming the Holocaust never happened and the Westboro Baptist Church is legally allowed to picket soldiers' funerals holding signs saying "Thank God for dead soldiers." These things are unimaginable in France, where a blogger was convicted in court and punished for posting that the company he used to work for was a bunch of crooks, and a French TV personality for saying "Most drug dealers are black or Arabs, it's a fact." A singer was condemned for hate speech against women for the kind of lyrics ("Women are whores") every American rapper uses, and Google was sued for auto-suggesting "Jewish" for certain searches.
And yet France forbids women to veil their faces in public, or to wear a veil to school at all-- a rule that has caused remarkably little stir. A Muslim woman recently lost her case in the second-highest court when she was fired from a private day-care center for wearing a hijab.
Which country is more reasonable?
*and you don't hear nearly as much about American racism from French people since Jean-Marie Le Pen came in second in the French presidential race in 2002.