France, formerly the nation of Balzac and Voltaire, is today best represented by Dieudonné, an anti-Semite and self-styled "comic."
Dieudonné M'Bala M'Bala (his full name) is the French son of a British mother and a Cameroonian father. (You can see his poster here.) Beloved by many on the French Left, Dieudonné is so popular in modern France that he is planning to run for President in 2007.
Not the least significant reason for Dieudonné’s appeal is his eagerness to pander to the anti-Israel prejudices of French audiences. In one of his more notorious acts, he dressed up as a uniformed Israeli settler in the Palestinian occupied territories, gave Nazi salutes, and called upon young people to “join the American-Zionist axis.”
He also likes to dress up as a rabbi on stage and cry "Isra-heil!" During an anti-Israel sketch in which he portrays Hitler in his bunker, Dieudonné closes with the line: "You will see, in the future, people will come to realize that I, Adolf Hitler, was really a moderate."
As such punch lines suggest, Dieudonné has a fairly extensive repertoire of anti-Jewish "humor." He frequently attacks Jews for "whining" about the Holocaust even as they are "mistreating" the Palestinians.
It has been reported that Dieudonné described the Holocaust as a “memorial pornography.” In his standup sketches, Dieudonné does an impression of Bernard-Henri Lévy, the Jewish-French philosopher, haggling with a street potato seller. Dieudonné-as-Lévy says: "How can you ask me to pay so much when 6 million of us died in the Holocaust?"
Dieudonné also insists that Jews were behind the slave trade that brought Africans in chains to the Western Hemisphere. He also says Jews played a “central role” in the 15th-century slave trade. (In fact, they did, but as slaves; in the 15th century, virutally all European slaves were from Europe.)
And Dieudonné does not limit himself to verbal attacks on Jews. This April, for instance, he was walking down a Parisian avenue with his two kids when two Jewish passersby, one aged 19 and the other 25, recognized Dieudonné and walked up to him to express their dislike of some of his more openly anti-Jewish remarks. They told him that they believed that his bigotry lay behind the recent torture and murder of a Jewish teenager in Paris, Ilan Halimi.
Dieudonné did not take their criticism well. After walking his two kids home, he took out a tear gas canister and went back out to the boulevard, searched out his two Jewish critics, and sprayed them with the tear gas. It was obviously a pre-meditated assault; the victims reported the attack to the gendarmerie and Dieudonné was arrested. But his publicist told the French media that Dieudonné had himself been attacked by "two right-wing Zionists from the Extremist Right," adding that their verbal "attack on him" proved how "extremist Jews and Zionists are."
This was not Dieudonné's first run-in with the law. He has been sued at least 20 times. Dieudonné is also slated to stand trial again under French anti-racism laws, for comments made in 2003, when he declared that Jews were “a sect, a rip-off.” He has repeatedly asserted that Jews spread the AIDS virus in Africa. (For the record, Jewish doctors were the first to diagnose AIDS and identify it as a virus.) The Algerian L'Expression recently published the following remarks from the comic: “Zionists are exempt from punishment. If someone calls a child in front of a Jewish school ‘dirty Jew,' it's enough to create a global uproar. Zionism is the AIDS of Judaism.” These statements shocked the French media, leading French Minister of Justice Dominique Perben to launch his own investigation of Dieudonné. The "comic" earlier insulted the representative of the Conseil Representatif des Institutions Juives de France, a Jewish umbrella organization, describing it as “a group of criminals” and “a mafia.” Meanwhile, Paris police have blamed Dieudonné for inspiring several violent attacks on Jews by Paris banlieue hooligans.
Dieudonné has faced criminal charges following a 2002 interview he gave to French magazine, L'Echo des Savanes, in which he said bin Laden had changed the way force could be used in the world, and that bin Laden "is alone against the biggest power in the world, so naturally he inspires respect." He has also praised bin Laden's "charisma." Paris prosecutors had demanded an apology from the comic, tying his remarks to the events of September 11, 2001, and started legal proceedings against him, saying he was trying to justify terrorism. The charges were later dropped. Dieudonné was convicted, however, and fined more than $6,000 in the southern city of Avignon for comments published in Le Monde, in which he accused Jews of "organizing a very strong lobby and taking control of the media."
Although many on the French Left continue to admire his hate-filled routines, Dieudonné’s more outrageous remarks have prompted a backlash. About a dozen theaters all over France, and one in Geneva have canceled Dieudonné's shows. Several television and radio networks have also ordered Dieudonné off the air. He has been barred from the Olympia theater in Paris, although hundreds of his supporters protested the ban. Dieudonné said he regarded the ban by the Olympia as "an infringement on his freedom of expression." Several of his performances have been disrupted by members of the audience, triggering anguished protests by the French "intelligentsia," demanding that his "free speech" be respected.
Harlem Désir, a member of the European parliament, has called for a boycott of Dieudonné's shows, saying, “He's one of the biggest anti-Semites in France.” Alain Finkielkraut, a Jewish professor of philosophy, agrees. "
I wish I could ignore Dieudonné," he told a French radio show.
Yet Dieudonné certainly has his fans. His antics have earned him a reputation as a "left-wing Le Pen," a reference to the leader of the far-Right “Front National” party, which many Frenchmen see as a compliment. He is celebrated by Western neo-Nazis who also despise blacks, and has performed for French audiences in Montreal. In the United States, he has been championed by the far-Left web magazine Counterpunch. Last year, for instance, the magazine published an article titled “Censorship and the Empire: Dieudonné and the Uses of Anti-Semitism," by regular columnist Diane Johnstone. Johnstone's goal was to denounce those who make charges of anti-Semitism -- as if the epithet were inappropriate for someone who, like Dieudonné, has a long record of contempt for Jews.
Despite applause from the political fringe, Dieudonné’s biggest base of support remains his native country. Perhaps nothing better illustrates France’s decline than the rise of Dieudonné’s celebrity.
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