Dieudonne's QUENELLE: STRONGARM TACTICS FROM FRANCE'S MOST CONTROVERSIAL COMEDIAN

Article published on Jan. 26, 2014
Article published on Jan. 26, 2014

The crass and controversial humour of French comedian Dieudonné, who has multiple convictions for hate speech and incitement to hatred, is still stirring up trouble in France. Manuel Valls, the Interior Minister, recently announced his determination to ban Dieudonné's shows. But the gesture known as the 'quenelle' has spread like wildfire among his fans online

WHAT IS THE QUENELLE? 

Of­fi­cially, it's a ges­ture made fa­mous about ten years ago by Dieudonné's shows, and which in­volves point­ing your arm out and down, palm fac­ing be­hind you, and putting your other hand on your shoul­der. A sign of be­long­ing to the Dieu­dos­phere. Un­of­fi­cially, at best it's an anti-es­tab­lish­ment bras d'hon­neur (sim­i­lar in mean­ing to the mid­dle fin­ger), but with a slightly dif­fer­ent mean­ing: 'Up yours with a quenelle' (a French dish com­pris­ing a roughly cylin­dri­cal blob of creamed fish or meat). At worst, it's a kind of Nazi salute. And when you take into ac­count his fans' favourite game, tak­ing self­ies in front of sym­bols of Jew­ish cul­ture, such as syn­a­gogues, it can only be seen as ha­tred.

French news­pa­per Le Monde, in an ar­ti­cle called 'the quenelle: how an anti-Se­mitic ges­ture be­came an em­blem', dis­cusses the ori­gins of this move­ment: 'Al­though it is dif­fi­cult to put a date on the pre­cise ori­gins of the quenelle, its first use goes back to the Eu­ro­pean elec­tions in 2009. He ex­plained what it meant at a press con­fer­ence at the Main d'Or the­atre: 'Shov­ing a quenelle right up the arse of Zion­ism.' This is em­bla­zoned on a cam­paign poster, where he posed with the ex­treme-right ide­ol­o­gist Alain Soral. Le Fi­garo also talks about his story: 'Ten years ago, in 2003, was one of Dieudonné's first anti-Se­mitic scan­dals. On France 3 [a major TV chan­nel – Ed.], he ap­peared in cam­ou­flage, with a bal­a­clava, his hair in payot, and an or­tho­dox Jew­ish kip­pah on his head. At the end of the sketch, he raised his arms, cry­ing: 'Is­ra­Heil!' .The co­me­dian him­self doesn't hide his true in­ten­tions: it's 'a sym­bol of not sub­mit­ting to the sys­tem' which 'will sweep away the lying elite' and which will lead to 'rev­o­lu­tion', or even 'a coup d'état'. A pow­er­ful con­spir­acy the­ory, which can be seen in this Youtube video.

QUENELLE MUGS AND T-SHIRTS

The ges­ture, deemed anti-Se­mitic, has swept through the army, the sport­ing world, and tele­vi­sion. Many celebri­ties have copied this 'fash­ion­able gim­mick' with­out even know­ing what it means. Take the ex­am­ple of the French bas­ket­ball player Tony Parker,or Yann Barthès (a fa­mous French tele­vi­sion pre­sen­ter), who has since apol­o­gised pro­fusely, claim­ing on his Twit­ter ac­count that at the time he had no idea what the ges­ture meant. Less fa­mous peo­ple are also jump­ing on the quenelle band­wagon. And then find­ing it's got square wheels. Did Nabil shoot him­self in the foot? The for­mer kids' club em­ployee, in­ter­viewed by French web­site Rue89, who by his own ad­mis­sion agrees with Dieudonné, lost his job after hav­ing struck the pose in front of the chil­dren he was look­ing after. He saw the quenelle 'as a joke'.  

A per­sona non grata in the media for sev­eral years now, Dieudonné and his con­tro­ver­sies have built quite the faith­ful fol­low­ing online.​ The quenelle, as well as the of­fi­cial page which col­lects the 'best' pho­tos, is being trans­formed into t-shirts and edited logos, and stamped all over every­day ob­jects. 'It has be­come a unit of lan­guage. Here it is as a par­ody of the Face­book logo, 'a Zion­ist so­cial net­work', says la Toile. With a weak­ness for culi­nary ref­er­ences, Dieudonné hasn't stopped at the quenelle. In his anti-Zion­ist frenzy, he made the pineap­ple into an­other sym­bol, one which the lay­man wouldn't un­der­stand at first glance. Take this re­port by Slate, on the 'Quenelle Ball', yet an­other way for the co­me­dian to keep tabs on his sheep, as an ex­am­ple: 'As for the pineap­ple, ap­pear­ing through­out the evening in var­i­ous forms (fresh pineap­ple at the buf­fet, a huge pineap­ple fresco out­side, sou­venir t-shirts, cos­tumes, etc), it is om­nipresent to re­mind peo­ple of why Dieudonné was con­victed of in­cite­ment to ha­tred: the song Shoananas [from the He­brew word for the Holo­caust, Shoah, and the French word for 'pineap­ple', ananas], which he sings along with his au­di­ence at each show, based on Annie Cordy's song 'Chaud Cacao' ('Hot Cocoa). Dieudonné has ap­pealed against the judge­ment.

STILL NOT CON­VINCED?

Then you only have to read this ar­ti­cle by an AFP jour­nal­ist who had the bright idea of going to the Main d'Or the­atre, owned by Dieudonné and the only place he can still per­form, to judge for him­self with his own eyes. Some ex­tracts from his ar­ti­cle: 'In the the­atre, a wall of 'quenelles' greets the au­di­ence. Anony­mous au­di­ence mem­bers sneak a quick photo of the ges­ture in front of a 'Holo­caust' sign...' Or 'Stop with all this anti-Semi­tism... You're just giv­ing me pub­lic­ity. I'm not say­ing I never will be . I'm giv­ing my­self time to think.' The jour­nal­ist's ver­dict, sec­onded by sev­eral media out­lets, was unan­i­mous: 'In the 75-minute show, there's not five min­utes with­out a jibe at 'the Jews', 'the Jewry', 'kip­pah city', or 'slave-dri­ving bankers''.