Will 2014 Be the Year of the Quenelle ?

Pity the humble quenelle. Long a stalwart of Lyonnaise epicureans, today it stands hijacked, disgraced even and unwittingly at the heart of an escalating row about the alleged resurgence of European anti-Semitism.

2014 the year of the quenelle? Well Lyon surely hopes so … just not this kind. (Credit Screen capture YouTube)

Ever since Catherine de Medici, brought Florentine cooks into her court in the 16th century a move that later transformed Lyon into the capital of French gastronomy, this delicate dumpling comprised of durum wheat semolina, butter, eggs and milk, has graced French tables in a variety of guises.

Its modern incarnation, dating from the early 1900s, is claimed as the work of Louis Légroz of the Au Petit Vatel charcuterie in Lyon.

However this unassuming contribution to haute cuisine is, all of a sudden, down in the dumps and through no fault of its own. For quenelle, as in the flavoursome if innocuous national dumpling dish, has in the eyes of French political leaders and much of the world’s media, become a national horror, a slur, an object of approbation and a crime — the reference being of course to the word “quenelle” rather than the innocent plat de jour.

Quenelle de brochet in sauce Nantua. Credit Wikipedia

Quenelle de brochet in sauce Nantua. Credit Wikipedia

This is a worryingdevelopment also for the food business. Patrick Battendier MD of Giraudet, a Bourg-en-Bresse factory producing 1300 tonnes of quenelles a year, told Le Progress newspaper on Christmas Eve, the new-found and unwelcome notoriety attached to a product dear to the hearts of the Lyonnais had left him “shocked, scandalised and concerned about the image, trademark and brand name of the dish”. 

Indeed this latter issue — ownership of the trademark for the quenelle — is likely to become a further headache for the industry and for chefs and restaurateurs in Lyon. It has been disclosed that the word was recently trademarked … but not by anyone associated with the food and hospitality industry (see below).

Dieudonne's organisation has trademarked the word quenelle,. What will the chefs of Lyon have to say?

Dieudonne’s organisation has trademarked the word quenelle,. What will the chefs of Lyon have to say?

For behind the opprobrium now souring the taste of quenelles stands Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, a right-wing, Paris-born Franco-Cameroonian comedian who in 2009 hijacked the term and has since converted it into a rude and insulting gesture.

In October this year his wife acting on behalf of the comic who trades as Productions de la plume, applied to the French National Industrial Property Institute to register quenelle and quenelle1 as trademarks, clearly related to Dieudonné’s recently-launched range of quenelle-related merchandise. The application does not appear to make clear it is the gesture not the dumpling he is trade-marking.

His bras d’honneur for the new Millennium has now gone viral across French social media and is flashed around indiscriminately by — among others — footballers, soldiers, gendarmes, students and an ever-widening circle of President François Hollande’s political opponents.

The quenelle gesture gained global traction when it was used by West Bromwich Albion striker Nicolas Anelka to celebrate his second goal against West Ham at a football match in the United Kingdom recently. Reacting to the storm of outrage that followed, Anelka said the gesture was a sign of support for his friend Dieudonné and he insisted it was merely “anti-establishment” not “anti Semitic”.

His excuse has however convinced very few of those criticising the gesture and its users. Indeed so much out of official favour has the harassed quenelle fallen that the Socialist government in the shape of the tough Interior Minister Manuel Valls, is currently promising a ban on Dieudonné’s one-man comedy shows which play to packed houses in a Paris theatre he owns in the XIth arondissement, and are reportedly sold out wherever he goes on tour.

The quenelle is not officially considered an anti-Semitic gesture even though Alain Jakubowicz, chairman of CRIL the French League against Racism and Anti-Semitism calls it this “reverse Nazi salute signifying the sodomisation of the victims of the Shoah”.

Indeed its opponents suggest many that have had their pictures taken doing it have made it defacto anti-Semitic just by their choice of context and location for the photos.

The Dieudonné website was taken down by a hacker on 13 December 2013 and is still not restored. A newly-created Twitter account (which may or may not be genuine), claims that no internet provider will host his replacement site because it is too controversial. See https://twitter.com/QuenelPlus

 

Before that date however the site reportedly showed a man doing the quenelle in front of the Jewish school in Toulouse where an Islamic extremist gunned down three children and a rabbi in March 2012.

Here is the most recent available view of the hacked site (September 2 2013) from the Wayback machine.  The photos in question were behind a paywall but saved here for posterity by others: Pour ceux qui prétendent que la quenelle n’est pas un geste antisémite (published on 4 December 2013)

Some are reproduced in the gallery below so readers may judge for themselves the merits of arguments about the gesture now hotly debated by pro- and anti- Dieudonné camps. The images are not captioned but most are self explanatory, many were taken in France some elsewhere in Europe, in Israel and even Australia.

Developing the photographic evidence used to portray the comic as an anti-Semite FRANCE 24 and AFP reported: “French essayist and film-maker Alain Soral, a friend of Dieudonné who has been accused of Antisemitism and is a leading thinker of the French far-right, was photographed in front of the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin doing a quenelle. Other pictures circulating on the Internet include members of the public making the gesture at the Auschwitz extermination camp in Poland, the Anne Frank museum in the Netherlands, and in front of goods wagons used to transport Jews to their deaths during World War II. The quenelle got its first public outing in 2005 during a sketch by Dieudonné – who has been convicted seven times on anti-Semitism charges. Since then it has spread rapidly in France.”

An AP report meanwhile has voiced concerns about plans to ban Dieudonné and the implications for France’s cherished commitment to liberty and free speech: “France has issued bans in the past, directed toward Muslim women with veiled faces and head scarves in classrooms. But never has an entertainer been the object of a blanket ban, and such a move worries some. ‘One must act, but the method chosen by Manuel Valls does not appear to be well adjusted,’ the daily Le Monde quoted Malek Boutih, the former head of SOS-Racism, a leading anti-racism group, as saying. ‘In several days, he has given a lot of publicity to Dieudonné who is a worrisome pro-Nazi, but not influential.’ “

A 43-minute long mash-up of a Dieudonné video clip and recent red beret protests against the president at the November 11th Armistice day memorial in Paris is shown below.

It seeks to suggest that Dieudonné stands in the vanguard of the generalised ras le bol (fed-up anger) French voters are showing on the streets towards the country’s most unpopular president in the history of the Vth Republic. Watch the video clip here: Nov 2013. Dieudonné & Alain Soral – La Marche de la Quenelle  The popularity of the quenelle as a gesture of ‘up-yours’ to the powers that be has spread like wildfire in certain quarters and particularly among disaffected youth many of whom follow him avidly on social media outlets such as Twitter, Facebook and via his YouTube page. His videos are also reposted here.

Indeed one of Dieudonné’s keenest acolytes, Alain Soral, an iconoclastic former communist, now a far right commentator and founder of the Egalité et Réconciliation association, has launched a wine label to cash in on the spreading quenelle movement.

Alain Soral cashes in on the wine and quenelles  business

Alain Soral cashes in on the wine and quenelles business

In a deliberate double entendre Antonin Iommi-Amunategui the Rue 89 wine writer calls it “la «quenellisation» des esprits” the «quenellisation» of the spirits. It is marketed he says with an unusual pitch: “this drinkable Gamay (Beaujolais grape variety) will charm your guests and after a few glasses, will result in some hearty convivial dumpling demonstrations … “

The wine itself comes from the Beaujolais nouveau vineyards of Jean-Paul Décourd, a former member of the Air Force. He is said to play host on occasion to the l’Association des anciens de l’aviation légère de l’Armée de Terre, an air veterans association, and sells the wine through Alain Soral’s website. Décourd has so far disposed of 2,000 of the 5,000 bottles of this quenelle wine to Soral via the owner of a Parisian restaurant, itself a popular watering hole for members of Sorel’s Egalité & Réconciliation , and who is helping develop of the sale of the wine and the website itself.

“Reached by telephone and asked why he choose a quenelles label for his wine, Décourd said, without laughing: ‘Lyon’s quenelles are quite popular in the Paris region,’ adding that the restaurant offers ‘a menu based on quenelles and my Beaujolais Nouveau.’

As for the meaning of the drawing on the label? ‘We will leave that to the customer to guess,’ Décourd responded with a smile in his voice”. At the time of writing, adds the report, the winemaker had only 500 bottles of his dumpling-labelled Beaujolais Nouveau left.

While Dieudonné claims the gesture is not anti-Semitic but rather anti system — an anti-establishment sign meaning “stuff it” — he has not convinced Interior Minister Manuel Valls who has indicated that the quenelle violates France’s anti-hate laws.

Many of Dieudonne’s supporters have made similar excuses. According to a report on the shalomlife site: “The gesture is a gesture of hatred, it’s an anti-Semitic gesture and all those who perform it should know – they can’t deny the knowledge – that they are performing an anti-Semitic gesture,” Valls said at a news conference in Paris. Under French law, spreading hateful gestures with intent to offend is illegal. Meyer Habib, a French Jewish lawmaker, has indicated he will submit a bill to propose banning the quenelle.” (as in gesture rather than culinary speciality).

Manuel Valls told RTL that the quenelle was an antisemtic gesture , a hate gesture.

Manuel Valls told RTL that the quenelle was an antisemtic gesture , a hate gesture.

In a bid to explain the issues underlying the quenelle phenomenon Francetv Info spoke to historian Jean-Paul Gautier, author of La Galaxie Dieudonné (Ed. Syllepse, 2011).

How did the gesture come about? Some refer to a sketch from 2005, others say it was in 2009 when the campaign poster “Zionist list” led by Dieudonné first appeared: “I lean towards 2009″, says Jean-Paul Gautier. “To me, it was the poster that  gave the gesture visibility, it reached a large audience and became popular.”

What does it mean? Roger Cukierman calls it the Nazi salute in reverse. ” I do not fully agree there, says Jean-Paul Gautier,  “Dieudonné is not a Nazi. For me, the quenelle  is a updated version of the bras d’honneur and is an anti-Semitic act. Dieudonné claims a Jewish lobby has its hands on power in all spheres — political, financial, the media  the arts. When Dieudonné says the quenelle  is a ‘symbol of disobedience to the system’, he is referring to what he regards to be the Jewish-run system.”  Asked if all the comic’s supporters would be aware of the anti-Semite implications, Jean-Paul Gautier says: “Not all. Most of Dieudonné supporters are not very politicised. For them the quenelle is both a symbol of rebellion and a joke, just as Dieudonné talks about politics in a tone of derision. The other aspect is that the quenelle is a social transgression, an in-crowd code that offers a sign of recognition to other rebels. For many fans Dieudonné is a comedian and it is possible to separate his humor from his convictions … They do not see that Dieudonné is an heir to two forms of antisemitism– that of the Left: ‘the rich Jew who is always the boss’ —  and the other of the Right incarnated by people like Charles Maurras, who in the early twentieth century wrote: ‘Everything comes from the Jews, everything is owed to a Jew.’ “

How has the gesture become so popular? “Dieudonné’s communications are very effective and are mostly via the Internet and YouTube attracting a large, mainly young, fan base. Dieudonné has made the quenelle a running gag. He urges his fans to perform the gesture and it has become a game for some of them. A game he himself promotes by publishing their photos on his website.”

Who is his audience ? “To understand the core target  one needs to look at where his Zionist European list made its biggest impact in the 2009 elections. These were always in disadvantaged areas, such as Clichy-sous-Bois, Seine-Saint-Denis, or Trappes, Yvelines. It is primarily the young people in these suburbs that Dieudonné addresses. They are from immigrant families, they are not rich, they are not necessarily highly educated, they may have difficulty finding a job … These are people who feel wronged by society, who are struggling to get a place. In summary he tells them: ‘Look, while you are having a hard time the  Jews are coining it!’  And in this climate where politics is discredited, it works.  The more the economic situation deteriorates and makes their lives more difficult, the more Dieudonné will garner fans.”

diedonne as che guevara on his face book pageHis Wikipedia entry says of the comic (shown here left on his official Facebook page made up to look like Che Guevara):  “Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, generally known by his stage name Dieudonné, is a French comedian, actor, and political activist. Initially an anti-racist activist, he later became close to the far-right Front National.”

According to France 24: “He first began writing and performing in the 1990s with his childhood friend, Jewish comedian and actor Élie Semoun, and their sketches tackled such issues as everyday racism and discrimination in France. Twice he stood in elections as a left-wing candidate taking on the far-right National Front party, once in 1997 and again a year later. Both times he lost. Undeterred, he announced his intention to stand for the leftist “Utopistes” party in the 2002 presidential election, but ultimately failed to win the necessary sponsorships to run.

He went on to adopt the popular anti-Semitic claim of a Jewish conspiracy operating in the upper echelons of politics, business and the media, while at the same time portraying the Jewish people as claiming some sought of ‘monopoly’ on suffering at the expense of other minorities, particularly blacks.

‘The Zionists have perverted the values of the Republic so that only the suffering of the Jews is recognised officially, not, for instance, the suffering of blacks through the slave trade’ he told Britain’s Independent newspaper in 2006. Though Dieudonné has attempted to portray his position as anti-Zionist, rather than anti-Semitic, over the years his ‘comedy’ routines and political statements have become increasingly outrageous…

He has developed a close friendship with National Front party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen and is godfather to one of his children.”

Meanwhile a Jewish organisation in France began a pushback on Christmas Eve according to the Jewish news site JTA: “French police arrested six Jews they believe staged vigilante attacks against suspected anti-Semites. The attacks occurred on Dec. 21 in Lyon and Dec. 22 in nearby Villeurbanne and are believed to have been perpetrated by members of France’s Jewish Defense League, or Ligue de Defense Juive (LDJ), the local branch of the militant group associated with the late Rabbi Meir Kahane.

The victims were targeted on social networks and tracked down for performing the “quenelle,” a gesture conceived by the anti-Semitic comedian and Holocaust denier Dieudonne M’bala M’bala,the Le Progres daily reported.

On Tuesday, LDJ wrote on its Twitter account: “Two major punitive actions were carried out Saturday and Sunday in Lyon against people who performed the quenelle. The little Nazis are no longer at ease!”

Story: Ken Pottinger
editorial@french-news-online.com

Footnote Wikipedia’s description of the original quenelle:  A quenelle is a mixture of creamed fish, chicken, or meat, sometimes combined with breadcrumbs, with a light egg binding.  It is usually poached. Formerly, quenelles were often used as a garnish in haute cuisine; today, they are usually served on their own.

Sidebar: European Hate Speech Laws Since the end of World War II, many European countries have witnessed a proliferation of hate speech legislation designed to curb incitement to racial and religious hatred.

Though originally intended to guard against the kind of xenophobic and anti-Semitic propaganda that gave rise to the Holocaust, today, national hate speech laws have increasingly been invoked to criminalize speech that is merely deemed insulting to one’s race, ethnicity, religion, or nationality. Under the guise of tolerance and co-existence, Islamists have often manipulated such laws in a bid to monopolize debate and define what is beyond the pale of permissible public discussion.

France: France’s principal piece of hate speech legislation is the Press Law of 1881, in which Section 24 criminalizes incitement to racial discrimination, hatred, or violence on the basis of one’s origin or membership (or non-membership) in an ethic, national, racial, or religious group. A criminal code provision likewise makes it an offense to engage in similar conduct via private communication. Such laws have been deployed against individuals across a broad swath of society. In 2002, four Muslim organizations filed a complaint against author Michel Houellebecq for stating that Islam was “stupid” and “dangerous” in an interview. Although the court acquitted Houellebecq, it refrained from doing so on free speech grounds. In 2005, politician Jean Marie Le Pen, runner-up in the 2002 presidential election, was convicted of inciting racial hatred for comments made to Le Monde in 2003 about the consequences of Muslim immigration in France. And in 2008, actress Brigitte Bardot was hauled into court and convicted on charges of inciting racial hatred for her criticism concerning the ritual slaughter of sheep during a Muslim feast. Bardot was ordered to pay €15,000, the fifth time she was fined for inciting racial hatred against Muslims since 1997.

  • Not all agree with European hate laws, the associated politically correct curbs they have imposed on free speech and the abuse that minority group make in invoking them. 

Here is deputy editor Tim Black writing in the UK online leftwing magazine Spiked: “But if the quenelle has any significance at all, it is not to be found in Nazi-era anti-Semitism; rather, it’s to be found in the cynical conspiracy theory-laden Weltanschauung of the contemporary left, where the US and Israel are the up-to-no-good powers behind all that is wrong in the world.

Popular among the young-ish and left-ish in France, the quenelle is a product of widespread estrangement from politics and society more generally, a gesture that plays upon a broad Wikileaks-style sense that the powers-that-be really are against us. It is of a piece with contemporary protesters’ proclivity for wearing the Palestinian keffiyeh scarf – a sure-fire sign that you are a right-on supporter of the ultimate victims of America and Israel – rather than the Nazi fondness for brown shirts and goose-stepping.

This certainly was how Anelka himself saw matters: ‘The meaning of quenelle is anti-system. I do not know what religion has to do with this story.’ “But in many ways, the political hermeneutics of a gesture named after a phallic euphemism is a distraction from the real problem here.

Once again, a tediously trivial incident, up there with Liverpool’s Luis Suarez not shaking the hand of Manchester United’s Patrice Evra, or Chelsea’s John Terry using the word ‘black’ during a heat-of-match altercation with QPR’s Anton Ferdinand, has been seized upon by the official anti-racist industry and the media, and blown up into a national controversy.

Why does this happen so often today? Why does the glorious trivia of the back pages frequently become the morally troublesome stuff of the front pages? “The answer lies in the politicisation of football, its transformation from a largely working-class pleasure into a political pulpit. It’s not hard to see why: football, which enjoys unprecedented levels of popularity, is seen as the perfect means for isolated elites to connect with the masses, hence the absurd spectacle of the UK’s Old Etonian prime minister, David Cameron, proudly claiming to be an Aston Villa fan.

But football is not just a way for the deracinated political class to present itself as ‘just like the rest of us’, it is seen as a way into people’s hearts and minds, an instrument for the moral education of the masses. The result has not just been unprecedented political involvement in football, but the growth of an etiquette industry around football, from assorted official anti-racist groups to campaigns around homophobia. This is why football and those the fans worship – the players – have ceased to have a purely sporting significance. Footballers are seen as having a moral, political significance, too.

They are moral exemplars, or to use the deadening jargon of the moment, role models; they are seen as having a moral effect on those watching the game. The monkeys on the terraces will do what they see their spiritual guides doing on (and off) the pitch.

Hence a West Brom striker’s goal celebration can be transformed into an issue of pressing importance. So low it seems is campaigners’ and politicos’ opinion of fans, that they think they’ll turn anti-Semitic at the drop of a sulky French arm. “The problem then is not what it appears.

Society is not really under threat from far-right political movements currently being forged in football stadia across the country. Rather, it is football – that beautiful, seriously inconsequential game – that is under threat from an all-too-mainstream political tendency – the tendency to treat fans as imbeciles and football as a means to control them.”

And for the counterpoint to the indignation over the man, his gesture and his show read The Bête Noire of the French Establishment by DIANA JOHNSTONE.

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Reuters reported Tuesday January 7 government was intensifying its offensive against Dieudonné, by instructing officials to ban theatres around France from staging his one man show. However Dieudonné’s legal team, which has won all similar appeals, filed for an interim relief order seeking a annulment of the order. Meanwhile the Ministry of Justice is reported to be pursuing two investigations against the comedian, on suspicion of his having “organized an insolvency” and “laundered money”. A government source said in 2009 Dieudonné was reported for transferring more than 400,000 euros to the Cameroon. According to the satirical newspaper Le Canard Enchaîné Dieudonné is listed as head of Ewondos Corp. a company established in January 2013 in Yaoundé and registered there with the Ministry of Commerce.

Map showing where Dieudonné is no longer welcome in France

Map showing where Dieudonné shows are no longer welcome in France

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