By Hugh Ash
FANCY a quenelle? Then take your pick from a choice of finely minced fish or meat, packaged in neat dumplings, or a gesture viewed by many to be a pseudo-Nazi salute, going viral with morons everywhere.
I’ve no idea who conceived the tit-bit, a long-time French delicacy. And, no doubt someone with a greater insight in the cuisine that popularised grilled gastropods and pan-friend amphibian limbs will enlighten me.
However, I have some knowledge of the gesture and the rumpus it’s causing in France, where President Francois Hollande wants it banned, along with its creator, one M’Bala M’Bala Dieudonné, who affects to be a comedian.
Once, about a decade ago, he was hailed as a Gallic Lenny Henry. His stand-up was acidly satirical, teasingly provocative and would have been a rave on French TV versions of Mock The Week and Have I Got News For You.
Dieudonné even began to carve a reputation as a comedic actor, appearing in mostly flop movies, except box-office hit, Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra in 2002.
Meantime, his political credentials were impeccably Leftward, so righteous he stood twice – unsuccessfully – in elections against the National Front, a party he derided as racist.
But somehow, sometime, that mysteriously changed and nice Doctor Heckle metamorphosed into repellent Monsieur Snide. Some say this scion of a white, Breton mother and black, Cameroonian father seized on the virulent strain of anti-Semitism that cuts through certain stratas of French psyche with the stench of a rotten Camembert, and he couldn’t resist the avalanche of euros tumbling before his avaricious eyes if he exploited it.
Others in the black militant, maniacal Muslim and white, jackboot communities – the unholiest and most improbable of alliances – claim Dieudonné merely reflects the sentiment of the underdog in a petit-bourgeois society and should be free to express opinions that are essentially anti-Establishment. This travesty is backed by Jean-Marie Le Pen, re-inventor of French neo-fascism – and godfather to one of the performer’s five children – plus motley, Holocaust-denying dregs, one of whom was allowed relatively free rein on BBC2 Newsnight last week, without Jeremy Paxman informing viewers of his interviewee’s abhorrent credo.
The problem is Dieudonné ruse of using what passes for humour, however tainted, has lit a fuse in a constituency consumed by bigotry and hungry for racist fantasies crazier than even those propagated by Nazi spinmeister, Josef Goebbels.
Jews are the perennial target and Dieudonné, 48 next month, has been prosecuted six times in France and fined a total of €40,000 for peddling anti-Semitism bile (plus 75,000 dollars in Montreal for racially abusing Canadian-Jewish actor, Patrick Bruel).
The loathsome unfunny man’s felonies, however, aren’t limited to broadcasting vitriol, because the French authorities fined him nearly €900,000 for tax evasion in 2012, which provides a useful insight into how much his anti-Semitic incitement has netted him. But it is his corruption of the quenelle – the gesture, not the gastronomic delight – that’s propelled Dieudonné to international fame or infamy, depending on your viewpoint. His fans claim it is the equivalent of two-fingers to the state, not a contortion of the Nazi salute and France’s ethos of ‘Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité’ should make it an acceptable form of protest.
In isolation, minus the baggage of Dieudonné’s long rap sheet for stirring up hatred, Holocaust denial and religious mockery, it might pass muster.
But it misses that far-fetched target by a proverbial country mile, since lame-brain copycats have been snapped performing the gesture at – amongst other sensitive sites – the Auschwitz death camp, outside a school in Toulouse, where three infants and a rabbi were slaughtered by an Islamic fanatic, and Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall, Judaism’s holiest of holy shrines.
Veteran soccer star, Nicolas Anelka, even imported it into Britain, when he made sure it was captured on TV, after scoring a goal for West Bromwich Albion.
With an FA inquest into his antics pending, the black French Muslim – not for nothing nicknamed ‘Le Sulk’ – is unrepentant, claiming he was just ‘supporting a friend.’ If we are judged by the mates we keep, unsurprisingly critics are questioning whether a brain lurks within the footballer’s shaven cranium or whether any wisdom he packs is solely confined to his feet.
So, no, let’s not pretend Dieudonné’s creation is a) cocking a snook at officialdom; or b) that vilifying Jews – even if cloaked in thinly-veiled, detestably-trendy anti-Zionism, a neat excuse for many Lefties to hide their true sentiments – can somehow be an expression of free speech.
As I’ve said before, the right to express opinions openly comes with caveats and responsibilities.
Quite rightly, laws – criminal and civil – exist. Though, frankly the snot of holier-than-thou posers who comprise Britain’s liberal chatterati often turn commonsense on its head by allowing purveyors of hatred to spew their anti-Western, anti-Semitic and anti-gay poison unchallenged.
We witnessed that when a surprising number of the far Left’s best cavilled at a succession of Home Secretaries’ attempts to boot out that repugnant duo of Islamic nasties, Abu Qatada and hook-clawed Abu Hamza.
Again the addled, self-proclaimed elite perverted the ‘free speech’ argument to support a cause celebre no more than a sham.
At least the French government is doing its best to shut Dieudonné’s foul mouth.
Interior Minister, Manuel Valls, said that in mocking the Holocaust and painting a stereotypical trope of Jews, the performer is no longer artistic or comic but the ‘mechanic of hate’.
Backed by President Hollande, Valls called on regional mayors to ban local theatres from hosting Dieudonné’s 22-city tour on the grounds the act is an incitement to violence.
However, in Nantes, a local judge opposed any prohibition, forcing government lawyers to appeal to France’s highest court, where their plea to reinstate the mayor’s ruling was met with an emphatic ‘Oui!’
Undoubtedly, legal shenanigans will play out like an X-rated soap opera. And the world’s vilest performer will milk every minute from the limelight and snatch every grubby euro such notoriety brings. However, that this vile farce is happening today in an EU state says much about how far our society has travelled in the past 70 years.
To read more of Hugh Ash’s comments, follow his prize-winning online blog – Views From The Mallorca Pier – at hughash.wordpress.com