NEWS
Dieudonne is a racist. And he has a right to free speech

It's important to look ugly arguments in the eye

08 Jan 2014
BY PADRAIG REIDY

dieudonneIt’s coming up to the seventh anniversary of the death of Hrant Dink. Just today, two people have been arrested in connection with his assassination.

Dink, a Turkish-Armenian journalist, understood censorship and free speech more than most. In Turkey, the Armenian genocide of the early 20th century remains taboo, and discussion of it can result in charges under the infamous article 301 of the country’s criminal code – the crime of “insulting Turkishness”.

Recognition of the genocide is an important part of Armenian identity, and many Armenians in the the country itself, Turkey, and the wider diaspora were pleased when, in 2006, French politicians proposed a law making denial of the Armenian genocide illegal. But Dink, understanding that censorious laws hurt everyone, dissented, saying:

“As you know, I have been tried in Turkey for saying the Armenian genocide exists, and I have talked about how wrong this is. But at the same time, I cannot accept that in France you could possibly now be tried for denying the Armenian genocide. If this bill becomes law, I will be among the first to head for France and break the law. Then we can watch both the Turkish Republic and the French government race against each other to condemn me. We can watch to see which will throw me into jail first”

Dink was assassinated, and the bill was blocked, though it reared its head again in 2012, only to be deemed unconstitutional.

One wonders what Dink would have made of president Francois Hollande’s bid to ban public performances by comic and political activist Dieudonne, inventor of the “qeunelle” gesture – an inverted Nazi salute dressed up as an “anti-establishment” gesture. Dieudonne, who ran on an “anti-Zionist” platform in the last election, says there is nothing anti-Semitic about the quenelle, a claim undermined by the spread of pictures of smirking fans quenelling near synagogues, holocaust memorials and even outside the Marseilles Jewish school where three children and a religion teacher were shot down in cold blood in 2012.

It’s important to be clear on this: the quenelle is an anti-Semitic gesture. Dieudonne’s defenders, such illustrious figures as Diane Johnstone and Alain Soral (what we might call the Counterpunch Left), will claim that it is not.

But that is because they are defending Dieudonne’s views, rather than Dieudonne’s right to free speech. It’s an important distinction. Too often, we either attempt to defend free speech by downplaying what’s actually being said (“it’s not that bad”), or claiming it’s something that it’s not (“this isn’t actually racist; it’s, er…”)

Similarly we attempt to justify shutting down free speech by saying something is not a matter of free speech, or worse, resorting to the fact of an existing law or prevalent social mores rather than making a moral argument (as Bernard-Henri Lévy did while discussing the Dieudonne case on theBBC’s Today programme).

A genuine defence of free speech demands that we look what’s happening directly in the eye.

The quenelle is anti-semitic. Dieudonne is anti-semitic. Dieudonne has a right to free speech.

Hrant Dink would have understood that.

Padraig Reidy

Padraig Reidy

Padraig Reidy is the editor of Little Atoms and a columnist for Index on Censorship. He has also written for The Observer, The Guardian, and The Irish Times.
Padraig Reidy

7 responses to “Dieudonne is a racist. And he has a right to free speech”

  1. DANIEL says:

    Hi all.

    I’m french so i’ll try do do the best to be undestood.
    They are many things thez say about Dieudonné that must be corrected.

    1 : Saying Dieudonné is antisemite is a “too soon” jugement that
    shorts and reduces many many things.
    2 : I realize that british and generally international press is a bad copy of the french press strongly implicated, and not impartial at all in this story.

    And it’s this second point i’ll try to detail:
    For my own opinion Dieudonné is 1st of all an excellent humorist,
    second anti-system third antisionist then may be antisemite but i don’t think so.
    It is true that he is not clear himself at all on this point.

    I think he his such a very good humorist, a very bad politician and has some bad friends but i don’t think he has himself strong convinctions, antisionist for sure but no more.

    But his shows before all are very funy Often more very caustics accusations against the government and accusation of medias.

    In response, thez try to reduce him to the worse, avoiding
    the real questions but thez are not objectives at all on this point.

    For example , thez accuse Dieudonné insulted
    journalist patrick cohen, thez allway forget to mention that is was
    a RESPONSE (was it disproportionnal) of an anterior attack on
    a television show “C à vous” , treating him of “ill brain” with other people that he mentionned thez could not be invited at television.

    Many time thez lie on his public : saying his public is composed
    of black and musulmans antisemits is totally wrong: they are many
    whites and french, and many are socialists of example.

    Also Dieudonné plays on victimism and it is not difficult
    actually in France.
    Also laugh is the only things that stays tu us actually and
    i don’t think censoring him is the best idea.

    If it becommes nearly a kind de war in France.
    His ennemies forget the first rule in war:
    Know and respect your ennemi.

    And Dieudonné’s ennemies do exactly the opposite.
    Which is the reason why thez will loose.

  2. Mike Stanton says:

    All the ban on swastikas has achieved is to stimulate nazis to invent neo-swastikas that are just this side of the law. Banning a symbol does nothing to challenge the ideology and may make it appear more attractive to alienated social groups looking for a way to protest against the establishment. The question remains, “How are we best able to oppose racism and other ideologies based on hate while defending the freedoms those ideologies seek to subvert.

  3. René says:

    In a recent special supplement entitled ‘Les nouveaux réacs’, the French satirical magazine, Le canard enchainé (somewhat like Private Eye), published a profile of Dieudonné. The comedian’s anti-semitism tumbles out in a series of statements and acts, some of which are highlighted in the article.

    Allied with the various traditionalist and right-wing groups which marched under the banner of the ‘Manifestation pour tous’, against the government’s passing of the law allowing homosexuals to marry, Dieudonné gave his opnion that “This (law) is a Zionist project aimed at dividing people.” On another occasion, he warned his followers that “…Jerusalem is… the mother home of the French media and press…”. To cap it all, he has chosen as godfather to his daughter Jean-Marie Le Pen who, among other things, has downplayed the Shoah as an historical detail.

    Nevertheless, I agree with you that censoring Dieudonné is not the way to deal with him or his views. As you say, these should be confronted in debate. I heard Bernard Henri-Lévy’s interview on Radio 4 and wondered why a philosopher should be arguing against free speech.

    Some historical allowance should be made for the fact that France suffered an enemy occupation and we in the UK did not. That Occupation was particularly cruel for French Jews (although the majority were spared and even protected by other citizens). French people, like the Germans, have done their best to atone for the terrible misdeeds of those sombre years, placing great emphasis on stamping out Holocaust deniers.

    Hopefully, with the Second World War now well in the past, France will feel able to approach this issue in a more open-minded spirit. Dieudonné and his ilk, immured in their paranoia, are not hard to refute.

  4. thekey says:

    I’d like to point out an error in this article…

    “a claim undermined by the spread of pictures of smirking fans quenelling near synagogues, holocaust memorials and even outside the Marseilles Jewish school where three children and a religion teacher were shot down in cold blood in 2012.”

    The attack by Mohamed Merah on a Jewish school happened in Toulouse not Marseilles. So were these photos taken in Marseilles or Toulouse?
    And he wasn’t inspired by Dieudonné, he’d just spent too much time watching videos of dead Palestinian children.

    More importantly, should these photos be justification for banning a provacative and media hungry ‘comedian’? It seems to me that Dieudonné is getting exactly what he wants. And as always the French political class is blowing minor problems out of proportion to take attention off the longstanding sociale malaise of major unemployment.

    Another thing that might explain the frustration felt by his fans or sympathisers, and thus strenghtening him, is the double standards in what is allowed or not allowed in France. A few years ago there was widespread support in the political-media establishment (under the guise of freedom of speech) for cartoons of the prophet Mohamed published only to provoke Muslims.

    Dieudonné will now claim himself a victim and French politics will become even more populist.

  5. Drums says:

    Dieudonné its not raciste.

    This its lie !

  6. Daniel says:

    I must most strongly disagree.

    Freedom of speech is a fundamental freedom, but at times it does stand in contradiction to other fundamental freedoms and human rights; the balance is delicate, and only in specific and extreme cases should freedom of speech be limited- this is one of them. Freedom of speech cannot be an open breach to call for violation of human rights, incitement for violence and hatred, and support of illegal discrimination. This is the case of the “quenelle” and its widespread use, and this is why I think the use of it can and should be limited.

    Order has to be made among the gestures and opinions of Dieudonne, and we must clarify what remains within “the rules of the game” of democracy, and what already violates them. Dieudonne has the right to be anti-Zionist, and he has the right to run for public offices under an anti-Zionist agenda: this, because Zionism is a political ideology that can be challenged and opposed, and justifications for opposing to this ideology can be made also without breaking the law or inciting for race-based hatred, violence and discrimination.

    As well-pointed by the author, Dieudonne claims that the quenelle is not an anti-Semitic gesture but rather an anti-establishment one; this claim, if genuine, would have made Dieudonne’s appeal for freedom of speech legitimate- for there is nothing wrong with expressions of anti-establishment sentiments. The problem is, as pointed by the author, that the use of the gesture has exceeded the limits of being “anti-gesture”, as soon as it began to be closely connected with sites of genocide, murder and hatred. The use of the gesture in connection with acts of race-based hatred, such as the murder site in Marseilles, is read as a gesture of support to the act of the murder, and thus of incitement to further similar acts.

    In comparison: In large parts of Europe, the use of the Nazi salute or the swastika is banned, because they serve as expressions of support to a policy of discrimination, hatred, murder, genocide and violation of human rights. Meaning, that the use of these symbols cross the border of legitimacy of freedom of speech. Of course, we can say that we should not ban these symbols, because we don’t want to censor them and we should look the ugly truth in the eyes. But do we really want to allow that large amount of freedom to a policy that obviously had nothing in common with values of freedom and human rights, and whose horrible results we have already seen devastating Europe? My answer is no.

    The same is true, in my opinion, of the quenelle. The scales, of course, are different. But should we wait until someone, inspired by a picture of the quenelle being performed by a Holocaust memorial site, decides to go and murder, before we realise the impact that a gesture can have? Let us not wait until it is too late.

  7. Julien says:

    Unemployement, euro, secutity, buying power, debt, health, housing… But no, let’s speak about something else.