Murder music and the limits of free speech
Many of the newspapers are today leading with the Oxford Union free speech debate. We examined the issues involved on Sunday morning with the president of the Oxford Union and the co-chair of Oxford's Jewish Society. It is absolutely right that the story should receive so much coverage, because the moral questions raised are extremely important.
Into the mix of questions about what limits we should place on public speech, let's add this: “Hang chi chi gal wid a long piece of rope”. That's part of a lyric from the song "Hang ‘em High" by the Jamaican Reggae artist Beenie Man, which was until recently available in many highstreet music shops. Roughly translated, this reads: "Hang lesbians with a long piece of rope.”
Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, has been raising this issue with Westminster politicians. Amnesty International reports that gay men and women in Jamaica have been "beaten, cut, burned, raped and shot on account of their sexuality", so this debate is not merely about lyricism. The connection between hate-speech and violent action has prompted some Reggae artists (including Beenie Man) to repudiate some of their own songs and campaign against homophobia, but other performers in the Reggae community continue to perform songs laced with anti-gay sentiments (along with attacks based on a other people's religion, ethnicity and gender).
Until that degree of self-censorship is universal, we are entitled to ask why songs celebrating the murder of lesbians or gay men should even be available in shops.
Pictured: This man was beaten with sticks and cut with machetes by assailants who perceived that he was gay.