By now, perhaps, you have heard of the bizarre saga of Mark Meechan, aka “Count Dankula,” a Scottish YouTuber who was recently convicted of a crime for making a video in which he taught his girlfriend’s pug to give Nazi salutes.
Meechan’s conviction occurred the United Kingdom’s 2003 Communications Act, which prohibits “grossly offensive” and “indecent” conduct.
The video in question, originally posted in 2016 and intended for a small audience, is entitled “M8 Yer Dugs a Nazi” (which I assume is Gaelic for something). I encourage everyone to watch the video and make up their own minds about it.
In the video, Meechan says that he is trying to annoy his girlfriend by turning her beloved pug (and perhaps there was a hint of jealousy here) into “the least cute thing I could think of, which is a Nazi.” No reasonable viewer would interpret this as anything other than an attempt at puerile humor.
Meechan is hardly the first to engage in such shocking humor. Many comedians, some of them Jewish, have done the exact same thing. (Or was everyone but me sleeping through The Producers?)
Such humor is a well-established comedic tradition; in fact, one could argue that the entire purpose of a joke is to break established social scripts in some way or other. In the face of horrors such as the Holocaust, macabre humor can even have therapeutic value, by taking something horrible and making it smaller and more manageable.
This is why soldiers, among others, are known for their rough and merciless sense of humor. And although his video was tasteless and not particularly sophisticated (even if I still laughed), this was the comedic tradition in which Mark Meechan was attempting to operate.
Indeed, since the video has gone viral and attracted controversy, Meechan has explicitly apologized to the Jewish community and clarified that his intention was not to spread hatred.
Of course, humor is a complex thing, and it is perfectly understandable why many Jews would find Meechan’s video offensive rather than amusing… but they are under no obligation to watch the video, and have no right to impose their will on others whose sensibilities differ from theirs.
It is also worth mentioning that a true Nazi would hardly appreciate being compared to a dog; in fact, the Nazi Party took great offense in 1941 when Finnish businessman Tor Borg did exactly what Meechan did, and trained his dog to give Nazi salutes as a joke.
Perhaps the fundamental division in play here is not between Nazis and anti-Nazis, but between people who have a healthy sense of proportionality, and those who lack it.
However, my central purpose in writing this piece is not solely to defend dark humor. Because the fact is that even if Meechan were a true Nazi, his conviction in this case would be no less outrageous.
I have no particular wish to regurgitate ad nauseam the arguments in favor of free speech; I have already done so on many occasions, and so have other thinkers, much brighter than myself. (For the ultimate defense of free speech, I can only refer you to John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty.)
However, I would like to raise a few points.
First of all, it is worth considering the totality of the plight that Mark Meechan now faces.
Meechan’s conviction carries with it the possibility of jail time. Although he is unlikely to spend a serious length of time behind bars, even a relatively minor criminal sanction can totally upend a person’s life, to an extent that few who have not directly experienced the full weight of the justice system can imagine.
The justice system is designed to punish wrongdoers and uphold the rights of the innocent, and it is difficult to imagine a more obtuse and flagrant reversal of such basic principles than this case.
There is only one party with a legitimate grievance here, and that is Mark Meechan. No one has been hurt by Meechan’s childish video, and yet he himself is being hurt by the British court system. He has victimized no one, and yet he himself is being made a victim.
Mark Meechan may not be a character naturally eliciting of sympathy. But in this case, he is deserving of it, because he has suffered a genuine wrong at the hands of a system overwhelmingly more powerful than himself.
And this brings me to my second point: the silence of the Jewish community on this matter does not reflect well on us.
Some individual Jews, including comedian David Baddiel, have spoken out against Meechan’s conviction – but they not been the majority, or even a particularly loud minority.
Overall, the major institutions of the Jewish community, many of which are so quick to raise a storm at the slightest hint of anti-Semitism, have said nary a word in Meechan’s defense.
Even worse, some Jews have actively supported this conviction. One of these was Ephraim Borowski, director of the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, who spoke against Meechan at his trial.
Whether we like it or not, Meechan’s conviction is an act which has been done, at least to some degree, in our name. This imputes us with a moral duty to repudiate the conviction in the harshest terms.
That is why I, as an American Jew, wish to publicly register my protest at this miscarriage of justice. I believe that Mark Meechan’s conviction, and the entire provision of the 2003 Communications Act under which he was convicted, should be overturned.
This is not being done in my name, and I hope that other Jews will come forward and make it clear that it is not being done in their name, either.
If you have private misgivings about the case, but have chosen to stay silent out of a reluctance to give any moral quarter to potential Nazis… then I would only remind you of the awful consequences of staying silent in the face of blatant immorality.
There is an irony here which is also worth considering, which is that Meechan’s position is a singularly Jewish one. He is not Goliath. He is David, albeit an unlikely David, and his position at the receiving end of such legal and public opprobrium is one in which all too many Jews have found themselves over the years.
One such Jew, and perhaps the most famous in the past couple of centuries, was Dreyfus. Although Dreyfus was hardly the only Jew to suffer unjust prosecution, his name may act as a stand-in for countless others similarly condemned.
Perhaps no other people have had the yoke of public opprobrium come down on their necks as routinely as the Jews have, and this is why Jews across the world have become some of the staunchest defenders of individual and minority rights, for even the most reviled members of society.
It is my earnest and sincere hope that the Jewish community will recognize that Mark Meechan, whatever his foibles or human shortcomings, has far more in common with Alfred Dreyfus than he does with Adolf Hitler.
Once this realization has been made, it will be clear what steps we must take regarding this case.