Friday, 25 May 2012

Dieudonné, France's wannabe Antisemite hero

Dieudonné, showing off his well-aligned bottom teeth
Notorious French antisemite, 'comedian' and activist Dieudonné is not well known outside of France, but he is quite the star in countries such as Iran, which share his view that Israel should be destroyed. His latest attention-grabbing stunt was intended to get an antisemitic film to which he had contributed shown at the ongoing Cannes Film Festival, but the screening has been refused by the festival's organising bodies.

The film, Yahod Setiz, or 'Antisemite', as Shafi Agha Mohammadian, President of the Iranian production company DEFC (Documentary and Experimental Film Centre) put it, features a central character who plays a violent alcoholic who wears a Nazi uniform and hates every Jew alive. Shot in Iran, 'Antisemite' begins with a sequence which attempts to ridiculise the events which took place at Auschwitz.

All this explains why Dieudonné was so keen to offer production and marketing help to the DEFC. The decision to select him to help with the film's promotion was surely facilitated by an old French friend of his, the conspiracy theorist Thierry Meyssan, who has already co-produced two films for the DEFC and who runs the viciously antisemitic clearing house Réseau Voltaire.

And, of course, the film's content also explains why it was refused at Cannes, with a spokesman declaring that "Our general conditions forbid the presence of any film which may constitute a risk to public order or offend the public or those with religious convictions, as well as any film containing pornography or which is an incitation to violence." 'Antisemite' has also been banned from French cinemas.

Dieudonné (real name Dieudonné M'Bala M'Bala) used to work in a a stage duo with the Jewish comedian Elie Semoun, but they separated in 1997 because of their increasingly divergent views. After this split Dieudonné began a prolific career as an antisemitic satirist which has continued to this day, and his latest stage production, Mahmoud (for Ahmadinejad), is a revisionist and antisemitic requisitory aimed at Jews, slavery, and the 'official' version of historical events. Violence is common both inside and outside those few venues which continue to accept him, and his theatre dates are often cancelled by local authorities due to the risk of violence, antisemitic content, or both. Many venues and towns refuse to accept his presence on stage.

Originally a left-wing antiracist, Dieudonné's political stance has radically changed over the years and he is now an avid supporter of the far-right National Front party, whose president in 2008, Jean-Marie le Pen, accepted to be named as the godfather of Dieudonné's third child in 2008.

His activities have not gone unnoticed however, and he has been physically attacked in public on several occasions. Also, he has been condemned in French courts on numerous occasions for defamation, the public insult of people of Jewish faith or origin, revisionism, and accusations that the Jews are slave traders.

But, in the name of free speech, should his film have been banned and, more widely, should he be banned from expressing his antisemitic views in French theatres and elsewhere? The answer is yes. France has laws which proscribe cultural events which may lead to public disorder, and it also has laws which condemn holocaust denial and racial insult. In other words, Dieudonné has given the authorities no choice.

So why does he continue to plan tours and public appearances which fall foul of the law and complain bitterly afterwards about 'censorship' after every banning? Is he really as indignant as that or is this the only way that he can continue to get funding for his propaganda efforts and productions in order to subsidise his rather privileged lifestyle, even though they are refused a wide audience?

I suspect the latter. After all, he may hog the limelight every now and again with his sad antics, but the fact is that he has an extremely limited following, even amongst France's Muslim population.

Dieudonné will go down in the infamous history book of destructive antisemitic thought as a two-bit rabble-rouser who made a lot of noise but achieved nothing, and that is exactly how it should be.

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