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Way back during the blustery days of December, West Bromwich Albion striker Nicolas Anelka, made a certain gesture after scoring a goal. To most of us here in England, we were oblivious to what Anelka had just done. The gesture is called a Quenelle, and is claimed to be an inverted Nazi salute that holds an anti-Semitic meaning. You may be wondering where the Quenelle came from. Quenelle has a bit of a French ring doesn’t it? Well, that is exactly where it came from, from a Black French comedian called Dieudonné M-bala M-bala. You may be taken aback by all of this, I know I was.
Dieudonné, currently being investigated for fraud by the French authorities, has been an acolyte of controversy throughout his comedic career. A self-proclaimed anti-Zionist, Dieudonné has tapped into a burgeoning sentiment of anti-Semitism within France. According to figures published by the SPCJ, The Service for the Protection of the Jewish Community, anti-Semitic acts have been rising since the 1990’s in France. Roger Cukierman, President of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France (CRIF), declared in a “Le Point” article that the environment towards the Jewish people in France had become “Putrid”.
Dieudonné once condemned the late head of the right-wing group, le Front National, Jean Marie le Pen, as a “big blind Marabout” (Holy Man). Ironically, similar accusations are now laid before himself, in particular for whipping up anti-Jewish feelings within the country. It is true that Dieudonné has repeatedly broken French law and denied the Holocaust on stage. The whole question of whether Dieudonné is an anti-Semite leads to the more contentious issue of French politics.
Since the King’s blood splattered upon the Guillotine, France has veered between the political left and right. From Dreyfus, to Vichy, to the Generals’ Putsch, this fight over France’s soul has never truly relented. Dieudonné and his supporters are a sign that France is becoming polarised once again.
Amongst the ranks of Dieudonné’s avid fans are those you would not expect to see clapping at his jokes. A large number are young men from ethnic backgrounds, who believe that Dieudonné’s words are the untold truth within France. Disaffected men who live in the Banlieues, the deprived suburbs of France. The sons and grandsons of immigrants, devoid of even meagre opportunities, they feel shunned by society. Many of them believe that Jews run France, and consequently blame the Jewish for their sorrows.
The miasma of disillusionment has dissipated beyond the Banlieues and across the country. 2014 may mark the Great War’s opening salvo one hundred years ago, but France’s political state is almost symmetrical to what it was once the war ended. Many Frenchmen are dissatisfied with the government, believing that it has not eased their economic woes. Some amongst them see in Dieudonné, with his gesture and insinuated rhetoric, a sympathetic figure standing up against the establishment. Brittany, a French province that voted for Francois Hollande in protest against Sarkozy in the 2012 elections, now condemns him. Despite Hollande’s electoral success, Brittany continues to suffer hardship and toil. It took the creation of an Ecotax for the predominantly rural province to become enraged with Hollande and the government. In their anger, Bretons have rekindled the red cap movement (les Bonnets Rouges), an anti-tax revolt across Brittany during the 17th century. This new revolt is more than taxes, it is a revolt against the centralised government of Paris, unaware of the average Breton’s needs and wants. Leader of the movement, Christain Trodac, ultimately wants devolution for the region.
In the winter of their discontent, many are turning to the Far Right, to the benefit of le Front National. The party, under the leadership of Marie le Pen, daughter of Jean Marie le Pen, has undergone a supposed metamorphosis. Support for the party has been inexorably rising as of late. In a French survey taken in November 2013, 42% of participants stated that they would not dismiss voting for the Front National.
If France is not already in troubled times, it may be very soon. Whether the centrist parties are able to regain the public mandate will be proven in the polls.
By Saul Shimmin
The UoB Linguist Magazine
Guild of Students,
University of Birmingham