France: Mes amis, Dieudonné did not invent le bras d’honneur

For days now, France has been abuzz with the cancellation of French ‘comedian’ (I use the term advisedly) Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala’s shows.

This is because he uses a form of le bras d’honneur — aka ‘the arm’, or ‘the umbrella gesture’ — in some of his sketches which relate to the Jewish people.

At least four more cities have cancelled upcoming performances of Dieudonné — ‘God given’. (Hmm.)

Nantes, Tours, Bordeaux and Marseille have all said ‘Non, merci to the man who has been making money off his questionable comedy for over a decade.

Dieudonné has revamped le bras d’honneur; he calls it la quenelle.

This could well upset cooks around the world who serve quenelles — precise, spoon-shaped ovals — of cream, mash or mousseline dishes (e.g. fish or chicken). Every aspiring home cook and trainee chef practices making quenelles — and it is difficult working with spoons in this manner.

Some cooks — housewives and chefs — in the Rhône-Alpes region are particularly upset because the cities of Lyon (regional capital) and Nantua serve pike quenelles, which have been famous for centuries. La Confrérie de la Quenelle are among those who are, rightly, disgusted.

For this abomination alone, Dieudonné’s shows should be strongly resisted. He has taken a noble, ancient dish and amplified its association with an obscene gesture onto which he has heaped more insult by directing it towards certain Jews, allegedly.

His supporters say he is not anti-Jewish, just anti-Zionist. His detractors accuse him of being an anti-Semite.

Whatever the case may be, le bras d’honneur has been around for centuries in various countries.

The only difference with Dieudonné’s is that his does not require an L-shaped arm. Yet, the meaning is the same — apparently:

the phrase “mettre une quenelle” (“to put a quenelle to someone”), with a gesture simulating fisting practice, came to have a strong scatological meaning, similar to the English “up yours”.

A similar gesture was previously performed by French comedian Coluche in the 1980s.[2] While Dieudonné says the quenelle is an anti-establishment gesture, critics describe it as an inverted Nazi salute and as an expression of antisemitism.

Of course, once France’s current favourite anti-establishment comedian began making this gesture, it fascinated many others:

The quenelle has become viral, with many photos posted to the internet showing individuals posing while performing quenelles at wedding parties or in front of Astérix theme park.[9] The location of some photographed quenelle salutes in front of prominent Holocaust landmarks and Jewish institutions was seen by critics as a proof of the prejudicial nature of the gesture. Individuals have been photographed performing the gesture at the Auschwitz extermination camp, and Alain Soral, performed a quenelle in front of the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin.[1]

In September 2013, two French soldiers on duty had their picture taken in front of a Paris synagogue doing a quenelle.[1] One man performed the quenelle at three locales connected to the murder of Jews: two at sites related to the March 2012 Toulouse shootings and the other near the Paris monument commemorating the Holocaust. The French police are now searching for this individual.[10][11]

Various public figures such as Tony Parker, Nicolas Anelka and National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen were pictured making the gesture.[1] A new trend has emerged, consisting of performing quenelles beside public figures identified as members of the establishment (such as Bernard-Henri Lévy, Pierre Bergé or Manuel Valls[12]) or in front of the mainstream medias’ cameras.

The list goes on.

Oddly, in everything I’ve read and heard about this gesture, no one has mentioned — outside of one person commenting on a Le Monde article — that this is, for all intents and purposes, the same as le bras d’honneur, so why should Dieudonné get credit for it?

It’s hard to determine where Dieudonné really is politically. Below are excerpts from his lengthy Wikipedia entry. Emphases mine below:

Dieudonné M’bala M’bala was born in Fontenay-aux-Roses, Hauts-de-Seine, the son of a white French painter and retired sociologist from Brittany who exhibits as a painter under the name Josiane Grué, and a black accountant from Ekoudendi, Cameroon.[11][12] His parents divorced when he was one, and he was brought up by his mother. He attended Catholic school, though his mother was a New Age Buddhist.[13]

After getting his baccalaureate in computer science, Dieudonné began writing and practicing routines with his childhood friend Jewish comedian and actor Élie Semoun. They performed in local cafés and bars, while Dieudonné worked as a salesman, selling cars, telephones, and photocopy machines. In 1992, a Paris comedian spotted them and helped them stage their first professional show.[13]

Dieudonné’s successful one-man shows include Pardon Judas (2000), Le divorce de Patrick (2003), and 1905 (2005). Other one-man shows were Mes Excuses (2004), Dépôt de bilan (2006) and J’ai fait l’con (2008), all understood as attacks on political and social opponents and defences of his own positions. Anti-Zionist statements made within and around these productions led to intense controversy and numerous lawsuits.[17]

In 2012 Dieudonné made his directorial debut in a film called “L’Antisémite” (“The Anti-Semite”),[21] which stars him as a violent and alcoholic character who dresses as a Nazi officer at a party, and also features the Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson, as well as imagery that mocks the Auschwitz concentration camp.[22] The movie, which was produced by the Iranian Documentary and Experimental Film Center and is also known by the title “Yahod Setiz,” was canceled at the Cannes Film Festival’s Marché du Film, where it was to be screened.[23] The film is to be commercialized on the internet and sold to subscribers of Dieudonné’s activities.[24]

Dieudonné was initially active on the anti-racist left. In the 1997 legislative election, he fought with his party “Les Utopistes” in Dreux against National Front candidate Marie-France Stirbois and received 8 percent of the vote.[25] Verbally and in demonstrations, he also supported migrants without a residence permit (the so-called “sans papiers”) and the Palestinians.

Since 2002, Dieudonné has attracted attention by increasingly polemical statements. In an interview for the magazine Lyon Capitale in January 2002, he described “the Jews” as “a sect, a fraud, which is the worst of all, because it was the first” and said he preferred “the charisma of bin Laden to that of Bush“.[26] He subsequently failed to maintain his bid for running for the 2002 presidential election.[27]

Throughout 2005 and 2006, Dieudonné was often in the company of the senior Front National members Bruno Gollnisch,[38] Frédéric Châtillon,[39] and Marc George (also known as Marc Robert), the man who would conduct his electoral campaigns in 2007 and 2009.[40] Dieudonné also frequently appeared together with the conspiracy theorist Thierry Meyssan and the former Marxist and current right-wing radical Alain Soral, a confidant of Marine and Jean-Marie Le Pen.[41] Under the influence of Soral’s writings and polemics, Dieudonné was acquainted with his militant antisemitism of French nationalist inspiration.[42] In May 2006, he gave a lengthy interview to the far-right monthly Le Choc du mois.[43] Demonstrating shoulder to shoulder with Islamists, he also marched on 11 February 2006 in the Parisian demonstration against the Muhammad cartoons and traveled at the end of August 2006 with Châtillon, Meyssan and Soral in Lebanon, to meet MPs and fighters of the Hezbollah.[39] Some Jews reacted angrily to his comments on this tour. In April 2005, Dieudonné went to Auschwitz.[44] In May 2006 he was involved in a fight with two teenage Jews in Paris, one of whom he sprayed with tear gas. Dieudonné claimed that the teenagers attacked him first; both parties pressed charges,[45] but the lawsuits were not pursued. In France and abroad, Dieudonné became increasingly perceived as an extremist of a type until then uncommon in Europe: in the introduction to a March 2006 interview, The Independent called him a “French Louis Farrakhan… obsessed with Jews”.[46]

In December [2013], while performing onstage, Dieudonné was recorded saying about prominent French Jewish radio journalist Patrick Cohen: “Me, you see, when I hear Patrick Cohen speak, I think to myself: ‘Gas chambers…too bad.”[71]

It’s hard to imagine being so wrapped up in one topic and against one people, that, when both foci are combined, they appear to many as vitriolic.

Indeed, that is how the French government views it. On Monday, January 6, 2014, The Guardian reported:

France’s interior minister, Manuel Valls, advised local authorities they were within their rights to cancel his performances as a potential threat to public order.

Valls sent a circular to municipal chiefs across the country entitled: The fight against racism and antisemitism – demonstrations and public meetings – Mr Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala’s shows.

In it, he wrote : “The fight against racism and antisemitism is a main concern for the government and demands energetic action.”

He cited the comedian’s show entitled Le Mur (the Wall), which begins a national tour from Thursday and which Valls said contained “antisemitic and defamatory” material that targeted “several celebrities of the Jewish confession” as well as “virulent and shocking attacks on the memory of Holocaust victims”.

He added: “Respect for freedom of expression does not prevent, in exceptional circumstances … the banning of an activity if the measure is aimed only at preventing a breach of public order.”

France’s constitution supports freedom of speech, and Dieudonné’s lawyer said he would

contest in court any attempt to stop the performances.

The best thing for people to do would be to just not buy tickets. Yet, the daily media discussions surrounding this tour makes the French all the more curious about the show’s content.

This won’t be the last the French will hear from or about Dieudonné. But this will be my one and only post on the man.

It is somewhat surprising that a man who campaigned against racism found allies in the Front National.

It is also interesting that a member of the Front National went to visit Hezbollah members.

Neither the comedian nor the political party is worth any further oxygen of publicity.

And let us continue to use quenelle as it was originally intended. Bon appétit.

4 comments for “France: Mes amis, Dieudonné did not invent le bras d’honneur

  1. January 9, 2014 at 3:47 am

    Meanwhile more ‘wholesome’, ‘hilarious’, ‘provocative’, ‘liberating’ performances by all-women repertories based around the Eve Ensler ‘Vagina Monologues’, extend their disgusting diatribes to half the human race, not just the tiny Jewish portion. They are not the subject of ‘banning’ nor lengthy criticism, artistic or moral, in any country that I know of. Not content with simply denigrating all men, the ‘play’ extols the ‘liberation’ of a teenage girl’s sexuality by being raped by an adult woman and getting the audiences to chant ‘C*unt, C*nt, C*unt as the girl, deliberately fed alcohol, is sexually violated in front of them. It is performed in France in impeccable ‘street-French’.

    • January 11, 2014 at 12:35 am

      Thanks, Amfortas.

      Frankly, I don’t see much difference in disgust quotient between Dieudonne, the Front National and the women you mention.

      The only reason I didn’t mention the women in my post is that they were not relevant to the subject.

      • January 11, 2014 at 1:15 am

        ‘Tis handy to have points of comparison though.


        • January 11, 2014 at 1:29 am

          There are many more points of comparison, believe me, too long to list here. 😉

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