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Should Dieudonné's shows be banned?

Joshua Melvin · 8 Jan 2014, 14:20

Published: 08 Jan 2014 14:20 GMT+01:00

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As French towns and cities have queued up this week to ban provocative French comic Dieudonné from performing, the issue has prompted reaction from all corners.

The controversy centres on whether his act is just controversial and potentially offensive, but should be protected under  freedom of speech, or if he is a simple anti-Semite using the uproar to preach hatred, sell tickets and generate publicity, and should therefore be banned.

The issue will likely continue to be a fiery one as Dieudonné has begun to fight the bans in court. Here, The Local talks to two opposing voices in the argument.

Laura-Maï Gaveriaux, a philosopher at the Sorbonne University in Paris, supports the ban because of the inherent danger of Dieudonné’s bigoted attacks on people of Jewish ancestry. She noted he’s part of a new breed of indirect or subtle anti-Semites.

“It’s not the anti-Semite of old, who has a swastika hanging on his wall,” she said. “What’s dangerous is that he spreads anti-Semitism while claiming to be something else.”

Dieudonné has called his act anti-authoritarian, including the white-hot controversy around the “quenelle”. It’s an arm gesture he created and uses, that critics say is an inverted Nazi salute.

 “[The bans] are strategic, not moral. I don’t think freedom in France is in danger. We have come to a point where we must cut off his funding.

“He claims to be anti-establishment but he makes an enormous amount of money. It’s a Machiavellian tactic.

“Banning his shows will not cast him as a martyr. It's not going to prevent him from spreading his anti-Semitic ideas.

“The best means to expose him is to bring him under media scrutiny…We must not be afraid of this attention. If we stop talking about it, that is ultimately worse…This is democratically healthy.

“Dieudonné’s anti-Semitism is dangerous for young people. They might think it’s a joke or repeat it without knowing what it means.

“There is a fear that Dieudonné’s words will awaken and aggravate racial tension that already exists in this country.”

However, for Lille-based historian Giuseppe Di Bella, the bans, if they are upheld in court, only serve to promote Dieudonné. He believes if the government really wants to shut down the polemicist they need to get creative.

“Before this controversy, most French people didn’t know who this guy was. But there is a part if the population that knows him as a person who is being attacked over his freedom of expression.

“What he does is not humour. It ceased being funny long ago.

“The state cannot be responsible for stopping Dieudonné. People must organize. It’s up to the people to say ‘no’.

“If anti-Semitism groups go to every one of his shows and report every example of anti-Semitism to authorities, one day or another he will have to stop.

Story continues below…

“We will see if the Administrative Court will allow the bans. If it does not, that is going to put the government in a really weak position.

“I live in a working class neighbourhood in Lille and most people didn't know who he was. They barely had enough money to make ends meet, let alone €40 for a ticket to his show.

“Now the young people in the neighbourhood are starting to know who he is. But they only thing they know about him is that the government is trying to ban him.

“FNAC (a large retailer) has said it will stop advertising the sale of Dieudonné show tickets. But in Nantes, where the authorities have already banned the show, they continue to sell tickets. It’s just about money.

“It’s been ten years of accepting Dieudonné’s anti-Semitism. That’s enough.”

Let us know what you think. Is banning Dieudonné the right thing to do?

Joshua Melvin (joshua.melvin@thelocal.com)

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