Though nationalist and reactionary forces have consolidated strong gains all across Europe in the wake of five years of economic woes, the discharge of racism and xenophobia that has erupted in the French Republic is particularly acute. As the navire of the French economy, the man-o-war of state continues to float listlessly under the compass of seemingly hapless President Hollande, racial antagonisms and prejudices have boiled over. Though some might argue that the response has been feeble, the French state has counterattacked and taken concrete measures against the rising tides of intolerance. Sometimes these measures take unexpectected forms: a few weeks ago, proceedings against Bob Dylan were initiated after he made some murky and ill-advised comments about Croatians in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine.
In other instances the proceedings have been entirely predictable. As the waves lap against the beach and the seasons wax and wane, so has a French court found the Cameroonian actor, comedian, and recidivist bigot Dieudonné M’bala M’bala guilty of defamation, libel, and incitement to hatred and racial discrimination. Dieudonné, whose grotesque directorial debut L’Antisémite I wrote about for Tablet last year, has recently added yet another perverse accomplishment to his overlong list: he may or may not have invented the ‘Quenelle’—a reverse body Hitler salute now becoming all the rage amongst French youth—but he is certainly the man most responsible for popularizing the gesture. (The French army is now in the midst of the unseemly business of disciplining soldiers who flashed the gesture to worshippers at synagogues they had been stationed to guard.)
For his statement during an interview that “Les gros escrocs de la planète, ce sont des juifs“—”The biggest crooks in the world, that’s the Jews”—the Paris Criminal Court levied a fine of 20,000 euro. Another 8,000 euro was levied for his public performance of his signature theme song, “Shoah Ananas” (“Shoah Pineapple”), as well as for a music video of the song posted online, which splices together film footage of Jews dancing with staged clips of Hasidic-looking men groping each other in the back of a limo. The song is a parody of the 1970s French children’s song by Annie Cordy, “Chaud kakao,” or “Hot Cocoa,” whose own video imagery would be considered cavalierly racist by modern standards.
Upon learning of his latest conviction, the eminently stubborn Dieudonné remarked that he was disappointed that he wouldn’t be receiving jail time, “because I was prepared for it, and it was part of my promotional campaign.” Whether the statement was meant ironically or not remains a mystery as of press time.
The only popular member of the socialist government, the law-and-order-obsessed Interior Minister Manuel Valls, responded with a typically vigorous and impressively demagogic speech (strangely reminiscent in style to the speeches a young Nicolas Sarkozy used to serve up as a brash interior minister): “When, after the Holocaust, we come to write a ‘good Jew is a dead Jew’ (on Twitter), we have here a problem! We can no longer keep our eyes shut!”
One of the prosecutors also noted that Dieudonné has already accrued six prior convictions for the same crimes—and that he still owes the court 36,000 euro. Being a professional anti-Semite in France turns out to be a far more luxe hobby then either fencing, collecting truffles, or racing horses. As Dieudonné believes in the mystical financial prowess of the Jews, and on the off-chance that he is reading this, I would like to offer him some friendly advice for a less-expensive musical pastime: premiere box seats at the Opera Garnier cost 185 euro. If you could restrain yourself from singing “Shoah Ananas” just once, you’ll save enough money to sit in the front row every week all year.