Comic Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala and the outlawed ‘quenelle’

How the French government is fueling the fire for a controversial comedian

Remy de la Mauviniere/AP

Extend your arm so that it’s pointing at the ground. Then place the hand of your opposite arm above the shoulder of the extended arm. You’ve just performed the quenelle. Hopefully you didn’t do it in polite company or on French television, because it’s currently France’s most verboten gesture. Doing it in public has become, in some cases, a firing offence.

The quenelle is the creation of Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala, a French comic who, over the course of his decades-long career, has gone from being the darling to the bête noire of France’s political and media establishment. Not coincidentally, this falling out of favour coincided with Dieudonné ever-growing obsession with the Jews and Zionism. His one-man shows, once uproariously funny, have essentially become weird digressions into the supposedly caustic effect of both on French society.

Jews, he opined in 2002, “are a sect, a fraud. They are among the worst because they were the first.”  He has called Holocaust commemorations “memorial pornography” and joked how Jews themselves are conveniently obsessed with reminding the world of their suffering. French courts have condemned him numerous times for his words, though he’s found a loophole to avoid paying the fines. A lefty by practically by birthright—his mother was a painter and sociologist—he is today in constant flirtation with France’s far right.

In short, comedian Dieudonné is a hateful little twit. Dieudonné the self-promoter, on the other hand, is a genius—a man who has grown rich, popular and powerful essentially by bottling and selling the near-constant outrage directed towards him. And whom does he have to thank the most for making him rich, popular and powerful? His supposed foil the French government, which in its ham-fisted attempts to silence him has time and again fallen victim to his shtick. The most recent demonstration of this is the quenelle.

Dieudonné first performed the quenelle—literally, “dumpling”—in 2005 during one of his shows. He did so offhandedly during a stream of consciousness bit about the great mammalian plot against humans. “Today, dolphins look down on human beings. They know they can shove their fins right up our asses,” he said, indicating on his right arm with his left hand exactly how far those dolphin fins could reach. The quenelle was born.

Dieudonné has since used the gesture in his campaign posters in 2009, when he ran unsuccessfully for European parliament. In the posters, which call for a “Liberated Europe,” the comic notably stands next to Alain Soral, a notorious anti-Zionist whose knack for self-promotion nearly rivals that of Dieudonné.

The quenelle has since taken on different meanings for different people: for some, it’s a show of solidarity for the oppressed. For others, it’s a cutesy way to demonstrate one’s displeasure with the political status quo, or a grab bag of apparent sacred cows (including, naturally, the Holocaust.) It’s this last bit that is most troubling: given Dieudonné’s obsession with all things Jewish and Zionist, many see it as a blatantly anti-Semitic gesture akin to the Nazi salute.

Regardless of the meaning, those who perform the gesture are likely all supporters of Dieudonné, which is perhaps the reason why the comic is so gleeful these days: many, many people are doing it. Superstar soccer players, politicians, military members, reality TV stars, and thousands upon thousands of regular Joes: in France, the quenelle is everywhere.

Given the origins of the gesture, you’d think the French government would give the quenelle the attention it deserves—that is to say, none. Yet the French government has long given up on ignoring Dieudonné, and has instead become one of his chief promoters.

Successive French Presidents from Jacques Chirac onwards have attempted to shut Dieudonné up, resulting in dozens of cancelled shows. In 2009, Nicolas Sarkozy’s government attempted to have him banned from running for European parliament. Dieudonné was giddy at the news, going so far as to call Sarkozy spokesperson Claude Guéant “my press attaché” when I interviewed the comic that year. “Attention, buzz, it’s not positive or negative. It just is. I’ll take either. I’ll play the bad guy if they want,” he said.

The current government of François Hollande has only ramped up the anti-Dieudonné offensive. It has put its military and civil service on notice: doing the quenelle is a potential firing offence. French interior minister Manuel Valls successfully urged the cities of Bordeaux, Tours, Orléans and Nantes to cancel his upcoming shows. “It’s a victory for the republic,” said French interior minister Manuel Valls.

Dieudonné’s longevity and burgeoning popularity would suggest, however, that it’s a victory only for Dieudonné. His career has only benefitted from these attempts to silence him. In 2005, the year he first quenelled, Dieudonné “was disappearing from the media spotlight,” as Le Figaro pointed out recently. “His shows were getting cancelled. He was forced to perform his shows on a bus. So he cultivated a counter-culture that bloomed on the Internet.”

It was here where the quenelle went from being a reference to perverse dolphin acts to… well, whatever people wanted it to be: soccer celebration, anti-authoritarian jab, a middle finger to the deeply unpopular Hollande government and, distressingly, ersatz Nazi salute. Absurdly, quenelle hysteria forced a Parisian store to temporarily close it doors. It seems staff received several death threats after one of its mannequins was left in the quenelle position. (The mannequin in question was actually modeling a purse someone forgot to install.)

Dieudonné, meanwhile, certainly isn’t performing in buses any longer. He owns his own theatre, where he regularly performs to guichet fermé. His Bal des Quenelles, a yearly festival celebrating the quenelle as well as the comic’s uber-offensive ditty about the holocaust known as “Shoananas,” draws legions of his fans from across Europe. “2014 will be the year of the quenelle,” he declared in a recent video. Indeed: as the thousands-strong pro-Dieudonné demonstration in Nantes demonstrates, the government’s role in canceling his shows has elevated him from hateful little man to free-speech martyr. By provoking the government into acting like the thuggish caricature he and his fans believe it to be, he’s made his idiocy matter.

Attacking Dieudonné shouldn’t be the job of government, but of his fellow comics. He is ripe for satire, and not only because his obsessive focus on the Holocaust has turned him into a one-note comic. The supposed populist actually trademarked the quenelle, and threatened legal action (against his friend Alain Soral!) when he thought it was being misused. The supposed free speech advocate called the publishing of the so-called Mohammed cartoons “spitting in the face of Muslims.” And the supposed humanist has expressed his support for Syria’s Bachar Al Assad.

In short, Dieudonné should be shown for the bumbling inconsequence that he is. That today he is anything but is the fault of those, the French government included, who try to silence him.




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Comic Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala and the outlawed ‘quenelle’

  1. Big money in ‘Outrage’ these days….assuming of course you don’t get killed.

  2. Must remember. Can’t criticise Israel ever. Can’t criticise Jews ever! Criticising ANYONE else is perfectly OK though, even for Israelis and Jews.

  3. “A lefty by practically by birthright—his mother was a painter and sociologist—he is today in constant flirtation with France’s far right.”

    First of all anti semitism isn’t far right, it is just run of the mill socialism. I am far right and one of the main reasons for me being so because left wing countries lead to much misery and death for their citizens. Sociologists are notorious for being extremely left wing so Dieudonnén proably learned his anti semitism at home.

    Pierre Trudeau wandered around Montreal during second world war in german regalia and no one claims trudeau was right wing, jewish people are most victimized group for hates crimes in Canada and no one thinks Canada is right wing, we have journo right now saying what’s the big deal if a mega comedian spews anti-semitism and makes nazi salutes. The better question is why are french people so comfortable with racism towards jews and immigrants?

    French government did ignore Dieudonnén for a while but now it has to react because the comedian is wildly popular in France and it is embarrassing. And now the french have to pretend not being extreme xenophobes for a while.

    • What left-wing countries have ‘misery and death’?? Sweden? Denmark? Norway?

      You aren’t ‘far right’….you don’t even know where that is.

    • Absolutely right.
      Outside of the communists, who to their credit abhorred it, anti-semitism was de rigueur in universities and leftist café society in the 20′s and 30′s. Himmler and Goebbels in particular were first hatched on the left and never abandoned it.

      • And you don’t know where the ‘left’ is.

  4. Dieudonne isn t the guy depicted by the media. The quenelle was first said to be an anti semitic gesture by the president of CRIF, to whom french government has to submit to ( Just look at what Francois Hollande said and behave in front of him, and you will understand that is not no sense). But what is actually the most dangerous part in this, is when you have a politician deciding that you or you can not talk about certain subjects, you can or cannot laugh about certain matters, and they actually take action agains one of the fundamentals of our constitution (freedom of speech), then its becoming very worrying. You shall see the fist stand up that created everything that sent this situation like this, and see by yourself if it was really worth being attacked, aggressed, dropped bomb in his theater and a little girl being injured.
    Dieudonné is not a politician, and actually, no one force his customers to go and pay and watch him perform. He doesn t have access to mass media. He is not allowed to talk and defend himself on TV shows or radio shows. He is the humorist selling the most tickets in france, but shops like FNAC, will always start their best selling one man show, with the second one. And even tough they sell dieudonne tickets, they not allowed to advertise it.
    Its suppose to be a left wing party but their actions remind me more of the fascist government of second world war.
    We may not appreciate his humor, or his visions, or his trends. But if people can fight in europe to the pseudo freedom of speech when it comes to criticize Christians or Muslims (Prophet Mahomet as a dog, and Femen holding spray can with written Jesus sperm !) I haven t seen any opposition like this from any french government.
    Manuel Valls who lead the war against Dieudonne said on radio judaica, that he is eternnally linked to israel ‘quand meme’.
    Patrick Cohen that the journalists said Dieudonné insulted, said on TV in the host show of TADEI that Dieudonné was a sick brain, and that he shouldn t be invited anywhere on TV and that the show was not moral and the host as well. That leads to the reaction of Dieudonné. Main media forget this part tough. They also forget to say that Mr COHEN is part of the border defense force of Israel.
    Its amazing, how it is in my country those days.
    I just give you an advise, please, inform yourself, we are really living a strange situation in the country of human rights, which is very scary.
    THank you all.

  5. And why does this comedian hate Jews? He is neither Muslim nor Arabic.

    • The Queen Mother was anti-semitic….so was our PM of the time…King.

      Being Muslim has nothing to do with it.

      • All the Royals are of german descent. sachs coburg gotha. Google that.

        • And Prince Philip is Greek, King a Canadian…..my point was that anti-semitism has been common and widespread….not restricted to Muslims.

    • He asked the french gouvernement to subsidise a movie about slavery, but the french gouvernement and Jewish lobbies refused because they believe that this subject is sensitive in France.
      He think that the we talk too much about the holocost, and Jews developped an industry of victimzaton from it, while nobody cares about the 400 years of slavery or the Algerian war (2 millions Algerians were killed, its the quarter of Algerian population at this time).

  6. Bill Maher, a Jew puts on antiMuslim and antiCatholic shows and is given Emmys in the us and his films are screened in France. Seems like France hates Muslims and Christians but has legislation protecting Jews. In the US it’s illegal for the the govt to play favorites. France always gets it wrong – from Waterloo to defeat by the Germans to censoring free speech thus popularizing antiSemitism. Getting fired for making a gesture? Really? It makes Bush Cheney seem normal. Sad France , just really sad. You don’t get it do you?

    • Absolutely, the french government is still subsidizing the FEMEN group even after they pissed inside the Church of Notre Dame de Paris, and they destroyed some seats. By the way, the lawyer of this group is Patrick Klugman. He’s the president of the Jewish lobby who filled a complain about this comic.

      • FEMEN is a Ukranian protest group…much like Pussy Riot. The charge was that they had damaged a bell in the church.

    • The comedian? He’s catholic. As is France.

  7. Thank you for your bit of courage trying to tell the truth but sorry you are either misinformed or too scared Dieudonne started this on a sketch on a Israeli colonel and never on the Hollocaust. Only the French politicians and zionnists would like.him to be perceived as anti-semitic even if he is IS NOT. Dieudonne is black and has realized that in the French system there is still a hierarchy of races…some are on the top with their elite friends others like him have zero importance. He asks why we are allowed on joking on Blacks and the slavery, on Christians and Muslims but not allowed to make fun on an Israeli military man? No no Ariel Sharon was a saint…you can joke on the prophet of Muslim but on on someone like Sharon. Please stop misinforming people.if you are ignorant of what is going on in France. Thanks.

  8. so in 7 years its a problem now? Why? Hollande (sar)cozying up to Israel?

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