World News

01.14.14

The French Were Right to Ban Dieudonné’s Offensive ‘Performance Art’

Dieudonné, the ‘performance artist’ banned by the French high court, was not a satirist or comedian of any kind. He was an incendiary, anti-Semitic ideologue whose silencing poses no threat to real freedom of speech.

More about Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala? Yes, unfortunately. Too many stupidities have been uttered, too many untruths, not to try to set things straight at the end (one hopes) of this sequence of events.

1. The man banned by the French high court was not a political comedian, satirist, or any kind of humorist but rather—and this cannot be overemphasized—an ideologue whose credo, endlessly repeated over the course of long performances, is that the Jews control the world, that they have a monopoly on the media and political establishment, and that the duty of the enemies of that establishment is to shove the quenelle (as Dieudonné’s distinctive variant of the Nazi salute is known) “up the ass of Zionism.”

2. Dieudonné was not, as has been endlessly repeated on the news channels, merely an offensive individual whose excesses, however distasteful one might find them, deserve to be protected under the sacred principle of freedom of speech. He was a delinquent whose calls for the murder of a journalist whom he had described as deserving the gas chamber, and his appeals for the release of Fofana, the head of the Barbarians gang who went to prison for having tortured and killed young Ilan Halimi, have tied up the courts for much too long.

3. To assert, as many have done while stammering out Voltaire’s name, that the condemnation of Dieudonné sets a precedent that will eventually endanger all satirists is an insult to Voltaire (who has survived many insults and will survive this one), but also to satirists everywhere, who I am surprised have not risen up against this shameful conflation of two issues. Because, after all, what do the tedious monologues of a cretin claiming that he doesn’t know whether it was the Nazis or the Jews who “started it” have to do with the comic sketches of the heirs of Coluche and Desproges, or, in the United States, of Mark Russell, Bill Maher, Jon Stewart, or Stephen Colbert? Who could reasonably believe that some day a French judge might cite the arrest of a Nazi as precedent for banning a show skewering politicians, journalists, and the powerful?

4. On the subject of Voltaire and the café chatter to the effect that “at least Anglo-American justice allows complete freedom of speech and lets people say whatever they want,” these chatterboxes should actually read the works of the author of Letters on England, who, it turns out, never did utter the apocryphal phrase about not agreeing with what you say but defending to the death your right to say it. And they should try, if only just once, to exercise outside France—for example, in the United States—their much-touted right to say whatever they want—that is, to be clear, and because in the end it always comes down to this, to insult Jews, blacks, or gays. Outside France they will not face the French interior minister or the Conseil d’État, but they will have to fight off battalions of lawyers, the defenders of political correctness, who will not hesitate to censor them a priori and make them, no less than in France, eat their own idiotic words.

5. The argument (repeated, this one, too, ad nauseam) that we have accorded too much importance to this individual and, in targeting him, have made him a martyr and a celebrity misses the point: We live in the Internet age and every one of the performances that, according to the proponents of this argument, should be scrutinized, weighed calmly on the merits, and given due deliberation would in the meantime be viewed by hundreds of thousands of people, poisoning their minds. Moreover, the argument leaves out the thousands and thousands of “fans” who did not wait for the interior minister to take action before paying high prices to attend shows in Nantes, Tours, Orléans, and all over France where they could pig out on insane ravings about Jews, gays, and “monkeys.”

6. A last word that will not surprise regular readers of my work: Anti-Semitism has a history. Over the ages it has taken different forms, but on every occasion that form corresponded to what the spirit of the times could or would permit. And I believe that, for reasons that it would be impossible to get into here, the only form of anti-Semitism with legs today, the only form capable of taking in and galvanizing large numbers of people, is one that accomplishes the trifecta of anti-Zionism (Jews as supporters of an allegedly murderous state), Holocaust denial (an unscrupulous people who, in pursuit of their purposes, are capable of inventing or staging the slaughter of their own), and competitive victimhood (memory of the Holocaust as a screen to hide other massacres on the planet). Well, Dieudonné was in the process of tying these strands together. With his accomplice, French right-wing extremist Alain Soral, he was a sapper assembling his explosive device and preparing to set it off. And for that reason, too, because he was weaving together three themes that individually are incendiary enough but that, joined together in mutual reinforcement, would provoke a new wave of anti-Semitism, it was urgent to stop him.

Vigilance must be constant, naturally. The fight must now be taken to the file-sharing sites that host, in the United States as in France, the videos of the fascisphere. But the fact that, in France, the minister of the interior, the head of the largest opposition party, and the mayors of major cities (including national figures like Alain Juppé and Christian Estrosi) have spoken with one voice and shown the same republican mettle is an important piece of good news, demonstrating that coming down hard on Dieudonné was the right thing to do.