CST Blog

Dieudonne: what you are missing

8 April 2010

The Jewish Chronicle reports that French comedian Dieudonné Mbala Mbala's show in London this Saturday has been cancelled, after complaints that he has a record of antisemitic statements in France. The show was advertised as "a return to his earlier apolitical comedic roots", which is perhaps a tacit acknowledgement that his more recent 'political' shows were in fact grossly offensive and bigoted.

An article in the Independent in 2006 (not the original link; scroll down for the full article) gave a taste of what these shows entailed:

All through the show, however, something else intrudes, something darker and more sinister. Dieudonné is obsessed with Jews. All races, even his own mixed black and white origins, get a gentle mickey-taking in his show. When Jews are mentioned - and they are mentioned over and over again - the tone becomes more aggressive, even violent.

In one skit, Bernard-Henri Lévy, the Jewish-French philosopher, haggles with a street potato seller. Dieudonné/Lévy says: "How can you ask me to pay so much when six million of us died in the Holocaust?" Roars of delight from the audience. There is also a Hitler-in-his-bunker sketch which is moderately funny until the closing line: "You will see, in the future, people will come to realise that I, Adolf Hitler, was really a moderate."

More recently, Dieudonné caused outrage in December 2008 when he invited the Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson onto stage during his show to receive an award, which was presented to him by one of Dieudonné's staff, dressed in pyjamas with a Holocaust-style yellow star stitched on. You can see the relevant 'sketch' here (Faurisson appears at about 2:50):

This led to Dieudonné being fined €20,000 for "public antisemitic insults". This was not the first time he had been fined for his antisemitic outbursts: he has previously suffered the same punishment for calling Jews "slave traders" and the Holocaust "memorial pornography".

Another article worth reading is this 2007 feature from The New Yorker, which analyses Dieudonné's comments about Jews and Zionism in the wider context of French antisemitism, and tries to explain why he developed this obsession with Jews in recent years:

Dieudonné signalled his “conversion” in early 2002, in two separate magazine interviews, in which he remarked that he preferred “the charisma of bin Laden to that of George Bush” and that Judaism is “a scam. It’s one of the worst, because it’s the first.” His comments were initially taken as bizarre satire, absurdist politics à la Stephen Colbert, but it gradually became clear that Dieudonné meant what he said. No one knows why he developed this obsession. Many of his critics speculate that he used anti-Semitism as a way to increase his wealth and fame, but this seems unlikely, since he was at the peak of his career before his political “coming out,” and his extreme positions seem to have cost him many mainstream film and television roles.

Pierre-André Taguieff, a French specialist on racism, told me that Dieudonné in some ways reminds him of Céline, who, in 1937, “sensed something in the air, coming partly from abroad, from Germany and other parts of Europe, and partly from France—a feeling that anti-Semitism was becoming a strong cause, with a broad resonance, across the political spectrum. I think Dieudonné sensed a similar thing in 2001 to 2002, after the second intifada.” He went on, “I think our Dieudonné has quite a keen intuition for the movements of public opinion, and he immediately sought to instrumentalize this creeping anti-Semitism in public opinion by bringing it into his sketches, as a popular provocation, as a means of connecting with people on a visceral level. Dieudonné is a provocateur; he exists through provocation.” Whatever the motivation, the charges of anti-Semitism moved him from the entertainment section to the front pages.

Dieudonné’s new stance coincided with the greatest increase in anti-Semitic violence in France since the Second World War. Since 2002, there has been a wave of attacks against Jewish “persons or property” in France, a great many of them committed by young men living outside Paris, in the vast ghettos called les banlieues. Dieudonné is a folk hero in these neighborhoods, which are populated largely by black and Arab immigrants—places where anti-Semitism is fed by secondhand Palestinian politics, Islamism, and alienation from French society. How much Dieudonné has done to ride (or to create) this wave has been a popular topic in France.

This shift from comedian to politician has led Dieudonné to some strange places. In November 2006 he turned up at the Front National's annual festival, where he "chatted amiably" with the FN leader Jean Marie Le Pen. Here he is the following year, with Le Pen during the French President elections:

In 2008, Le Pen confirmed that he had become godfather to one of Dieudonné’s children.

In the 2009 European Elections, Dieudonné formed the Liste Antisioniste, which stood candidates to “Keep Europe free from censorship, communalism, speculators and NATO”. It performed poorly, despite endorsement from convicted Venezuelan terrorist Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, better known as Carlos the Jackal.

The suggestion of a return to his apolitical roots is not necessarily a permanent change in Dieudonné's direction. Late last year he received funding from the Iranian government, "in order for him to wage a cultural struggle against Zionism":

"We have received a sizable grant that will enable us to produce films on a scale similar to Hollywood, who acts as a cultural arm of Zionism", declared Dieudonne M'bala M'bala during a press conference that he held at the "Golden Hand" Theatre in Paris. At the same press conference he confirmed his intention to produce two films that will deal with slavery and the Algerian war in order to "display an alternative view of the blacks other than that portrayed by Spielberg".

This is not the first time that Dieudonné has tried, and failed, to bring his show to the UK: it was cancelled by London's Leicester Square Theatre in October last year after similar complaints. According to the theatre director, Martin Witts, "He can’t have been that popular, we hadn’t sold any tickets." Let's hope that Dieudonné gets the message, and doesn't try to come back.

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