[Marxism] Dieudonné

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Jun 24 09:17:39 MDT 2012

NY Times June 22, 2012
A French Jester Who Trades in Hate


THE stand-up comedian and actor Dieudonné used to draw thousands of 
ecstatic fans to his shows. Famous for his portrayal of an imposing, 
slightly boorish West African immigrant who spoke an old-fashioned, 
lilting French while gently mocking a shorter, agitated pal, he has 
played roles as varied as a nostalgic Vichy-era collaborator, a corrupt 
garage owner and a gay butcher.

But Dieudonné’s career has gone off the rails. After lashing out at 
Jews, playing down the importance of the Holocaust in shows and 
interviews, and becoming politically active in the name of what he calls 
anti-Zionism, he has become a pariah in France. Today he struggles to 
sell tickets to his stand-up appearances — held in cramped theaters, on 
a makeshift stage opposite a farm and even on a bus — and has broken off 
with the Jewish comic Élie Sémoun, who played his pal in a popular 
comedy team. Yet there was Dieudonné in the spotlight last month, his 
humor the focus of headlines worldwide when a screening of his 
directorial debut, “L’Antisémite” (“The Anti-Semite”), was canceled at 
the Marché du Film, the market held at the Cannes Film Festival. (There 
are no plans to release it in France or the United States.) Just weeks 
earlier four performances he was scheduled to give in Montreal were 
called off after Jewish groups protested.

“There are official versions of history which are indisputable in 
France,” Dieudonné told a young, mostly male audience in his last show 
here, “Rendez-nous Jésus,” or “Give Us Jesus Back.” “Take the gas 
chambers. Is someone going to ask, ‘Can we see the plans?’ ”

Dieudonné (pronounced DYUH-do-NAY), 47, argues that he is playing a 
vital role in a complacent and racist French society. “I’ve been able to 
laugh at everything except Jews,” he said in an interview this month. “I 
realized that it was forbidden to laugh about them.”

His appetite for what he describes as “humorous attacks” seems 
insatiable in a country where freedom of expression is a fundamental 
right but encouraging racial discrimination and denying an officially 
recognized genocide is a crime.

“I am the king’s jester,” Dieudonné said. “And the jester is the one who 
puts his finger on certain truths that the court doesn’t want to hear.”

France has a long history of comedians who test the boundaries of taste 
when it comes to race and religion. The well-known comic Pierre 
Desproges, who died in 1988, told an audience in 1986 that “Jews had a 
hostile behavior toward the Nazi regime during the Second World War,” 
and in the 1980s the popular Coluche, also now dead, said on television 
that Jesus was a Jew because “he had lived 33 years with his mother.”

Though Dieudonné once appeared on the air dressed as an Orthodox rabbi 
in a military uniform and sarcastically called on suburban youths to 
join the “American-Zionist axis” (setting off a wave of shock across the 
country), he is not a satirist à la Sacha Baron Cohen; he is delivering 
a more overt political message. He has befriended extremist leaders like 
Alain Soral and Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founder of the National Front 
party. And he ran for a seat in the French National Assembly, an effort 
ending with little more than 1 percent of the vote in a constituency 
near Paris.

For a time his theater here, La Main d’Or, home to posters of him and 
DVDs of his shows as well as a bar called the Hezbollah Club, served as 
the unofficial headquarters of a group close to the far right called 
Égalité et Réconciliation. (The theater features mostly Dieudonné’s 
performances but also young comedians, whose shows don’t necessarily 
target Jews.)

Richard Prasquier, president of the Crif, a major Jewish organization 
here, wrote online that Dieudonné was a “mercenary who promotes 
abjection” and the “first in Europe who made people laugh about the 
victims of the Shoah.”

Dieudonné has been put on trial many times, accused of making racist 
insults. On one occasion he invited Robert Faurisson, a historian and 
advocate of Holocaust denial, onstage and asked the audience to applaud. 
An assistant dressed as a concentration camp prisoner then presented Mr. 
Faurisson, with a fake prize (“the man no one wants to be associated 
with”). Another time Dieudonné described the Holocaust as “memorial 
pornography,” and a court convicted him of public defamation, fining him 
7,000 euros (about $8,800). (Neither Coluche nor Desproges faced legal 

The French-born son of a Cameroonian father and a white French painter 
and retired sociologist, Dieudonné — born Dieudonné M’bala M’bala; his 
first name means “God-given” — was raised in a modest Roman Catholic 
family near Paris and has seven children from two marriages. He once 
described himself as “non-Jewish, non-Muslim, not really black and not 
really white.” He lives part time in Cameroon and says he is an African 
who defends “the colonized against the colonizers.”

“When you are the son of a slave, you can laugh at everything,” he added.

He was working as a car salesman before he met Mr. Semoun and formed the 
team Élie et Dieudonné. His repeated provocations against Jews, his 
tributes to the “charisma” of Osama bin Laden and his praise for the 
“lack of pretension” of Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (whom he 
met during a 2010 trip to Iran) have upset many here. That list includes 
several mayors of French cities who have canceled his shows, fearing 
public disorder, and former supporters like Mr. Semoun. The two 
comedians worked together for about seven years until their breakup in 
1997, and his ex-partner says Dieudonné has stepped well beyond 
standards of morality, let alone good taste.

“Onstage, I used to forget that I was the Jew and he the black guy,” Mr. 
Semoun said in an interview. “We were profoundly anti-racist. We were 
the symbol of anti-racism.”

After their split Dieudonné went solo. He has written and performed in 
13 shows and appeared in more than 20 films, including the 2002 French 
blockbuster “Astérix and Obélix Meet Cleopatra.” His latest film, 
“L’Antisémite,” ridicules Auschwitz by showing black-and-white images of 
an American soldier inspecting a gas chamber and mocking tools, like 
shower heads, used by the Nazis to kill Jews.

The movie was deemed dreadful in an article in Le Nouvel Observateur, 
and the executive director of the film market in Cannes, Jérôme 
Paillard, said the screening was canceled because “we ban the presence 
of any movie which affects public order and religious convictions.”

But on a recent Thursday, Dieudonné, charismatic and imposing with big 
rings and full beard, said he didn’t care. His humor is imbued with a 
disenchantment of a society that lies and “protects its own interests.”

But he remained vague about the reasons for his views. “ ‘Dirty Jew’ is 
as intolerable as ‘dirty Arab,’ ” Dieudonné told the Swiss newspaper Le 
Temps in 2004. “But it is more difficult to be black than to be a Jew 
when you look for a job.”

He decries what he calls the “domination of Zionists” in Western 
societies and the overemphasis on the horrors of the Holocaust to the 
exclusion of other crimes, like slavery and racism. “Our submission to 
the Shoah has come to such degree that it became a new religion,” 
Dieudonné said in the interview. Compared with other suffering, like 
slavery, “it is not unprecedented on a human scale,” he said.

(He’s also not too fond of the United States, using an epithet to 
describe President Obama as a “servant who does more than he’s asked.”)

For some of his fans Dieudonné is just a professional provocateur, 
disconnected from realities. “He is funny above all,” said Jean-François 
Saqué, 31, a technician who saw his first Dieudonné show this month. 
“What worries me is when you start taking seriously what a comedian says.”

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