You Can Abso-puggin-lutely Na-zi That!
Until recently I sort of instinctively didn't engage with this whole Count Dankula story (in short, Mark Meechan, a self proclaimed 'shit-poster', put a video on Youtube, people got offended, now he's maybe going to prison). There were various elements of the story that put me off, not least the terms 'dank', 'nazi' and 'pug'. I hadn't really read any full articles about, just a few comments and headlines and was telling myself I didn't care about it (which is my default go to stance on most things on the internet). Then I saw people I know and generally have a lot of time for posting pretty passionately about it all. I wasn't really acknowledging how uneasy the whole thing was making me. Then yesterday I realised my discomfort was down to the fact I didn't know how I felt about the situation and, since I don't like not knowing what I think about stuff, I decided to do something about it.
So first I found the video (it is offensive, partly in how much I didn't laugh at it, but this is something I don't think you get to have an opinion on without watching it, so here it is). Then I tried to work out what Dankula was actually convicted of, what part of what he did actually constituted a hate crime? Was it making the video, teaching a dog the nazi salute, repeatedly saying 'gas the jews', the act of posting the video and making it public. It was actually pretty difficult to work this out, in fact I'm still not entirely sure, I even tried to find court records with no success (I didn't try that hard, I found out I'd have to contact Airdrie Sheriff Court directly and then gave up). I found out a few things from various articles (sadly they were from the Scottish Sun and some other nonsense publications, I don't enjoy promoting their sites but I feel obligated to provide sources for quotes, please only follow the links if you really, really, REALLY don't trust me). He was charged with 'posting a video on social media and YouTube which was grossly offensive because it was “anti-semitic and racist in nature” and the prosecution claim it was aggravated by religious prejudice'. They also allege 'Meechan communicated material that would cause fear and alarm and stir up hatred on religious grounds'. Another crucial aspect of the conviction is that 'the judge sided with the prosecution who said “context and intent are irrelevant”.' I think it's also worth noting that, being in a Sheriff Court, the judgement comes down to one person's opinion, a concept that I'm not a big fan of.
So Meechan has now been convicted of committing a hate crime, and I'll be honest I didn't fully know what that meant from a legal point of view. I've seen some people using this to promote the idea that there should be a Free Speech Act in the UK, similar to the First Amendment in the US, which would mean getting rid of the hate crime/speech laws that we have. I am a full supporter of people's right to express themselves and their opinions, and speak freely, without fear of persecution. In the case of the US and the First Amendment this is specifically in relation to persecution from Congress and the government, but obviously there are going to be cases where one private citizen expressing themselves IS persecution against another citizen exercising their right to free speech. I feel like there needs to be some sort of mediation in such cases. Cases where people's inherent human rights come into conflict with each other. And I think the hate crime laws we have are pretty clear about this, it's 'behaviour which is motivated by hatred, malice, ill-will or prejudice towards people because they form part of a specific group'. I don't feel like that's what's happened here. I think that Meechan is an inconsiderate dick, and that what he did and said isn't acceptable, but I don't think it displays any hatred, malice, ill-will or prejudice towards Jewish people. It does display a startling amount of idiocy!
Which means the bit that angers me in all of this is that it sets a legal precedent (which is a significant thing, according to my really shitty understanding of the legal system) in terms of how hate crime laws are interpreted. Despite the wording of the legislation the judge chose to agree that the context, which Meechan states at the start of the video, is irrelevant. Not that the stated context was a lie and the real intent was to incite violence and persecution of a certain group, but that it didn't matter. When you're talking about sending people to prison that's a really fucking big problem!