French comic branded 'trader of hate' for anti-Jewish humour



PARIS, Abhik Chanda- A high profile French comic, who could be slapped with a rare ban from the national stage, ironically began his career fighting racism before falling from grace as a "trader of hate".
Dieudonne, the burly and bearded comedian known by one name, is no stranger to controversy. But in the last month, his increasingly vitriolic brand of humour targeting Jews has set him at odds with the French interior minister himself.



Fed up after the 47-year-old joked about "gas chambers" while talking about a Jewish journalist, Interior Minister Manuel Valls said he is examining options to try and legally ban performances by a man he brands as a "little trader of hate."
On Friday Valls vowed to ensure that Dieudonne would have to pay some 65,000 euros ($88,500) he has run up in fines.
Since 2000, Dieudonne has been fined seven times for defamation, insult, hate speech and racial discrimination.
"All the services of the state must be mobilised so that Dieudonne, who is trying to organise his bankruptcy to avoid paying fines, is obliged to pay them," Valls said.
Officials in at least two cities where Dieudonne is set to perform during a January tour, Metz and Nancy, have also said they are trying to ban his show.
The threats are a far cry from the 47-year-old comic's early career when he teamed up with Jewish comic Elie Semoun in sketches that mocked racism and slavery.
The controversy comes at a sensitive time for Paris.
In a New Year's address, President Francois Hollande pledged to be "intransigent" on racism after a provocative salute popularised by Dieudonne shot into the news again, along with debate on the acceptable limits of free speech.
This came after racial jibes earlier this year against the country's black justice minister and the 2012 killing of Jewish children and a rabbi by an Islamist gunman in Toulouse.
The French-born son of a Cameroonian father and a white mother, Dieudonne M'Bala M'Bala fell out with Semoun in 1997 after a very successful partnership. Semoun now accuses Dieudonne of stealing his ideas and transgressing all borders of decency and good taste.
In a public letter, Semoun said his childhood friend was now "living in a world of hatred".
As Dieudonne veered to the far right, he cosied up to National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen and became politically active in what he calls anti-Zionism, even standing for European elections in 2009 on an anti-Zionist platform though he won little over one percent of the vote.
He visited Iran and professed admiration for its leaders, described Holocaust celebrations as "memorial pornography" and made "Heil"-like signs in televised sketches.
'He says things others want to say'
Dieudonne regularly decries what he calls the "domination of Zionists" in Western societies, saying the horrors of the Holocaust are given too much focus to the exclusion of other crimes, like slavery and racism.
Yet his shows at a small theatre he owns in Paris attract packed audiences. His fans include youths of Arab and African origin as well as members of the far right.
"Dieudonne is clearly very popular," said Jean-Yves Camus, an expert on the far-right who tracks videos and social media. "It's difficult to give numbers but he has thousands of followers in the country."
Dieudonne "says things which some people want to say but cannot because of legislation banning the denial of Holocaust and anti-Semitic speech," Camus told AFP.
"The more he says things that break the law, the more popular he gets," he added. "It seems that with the economic crisis and the political problems in France there are some people who blame Jews for everything that is going wrong and see a worldwide Jewish plot."
Dieudonne's comment in December aimed at Jewish radio journalist Patrick Cohen at a show in his Paris theatre created a furore.
"When I hear Patrick Cohen speak, I tell myself, you know, the gas chambers... Shame," he said in comments filmed secretly then aired on French television.
Other videos show him saying, "The biggest crooks in this world are all Jews". He also directed a film entitled "L'Antisemite" whose screening at the film market in Cannes was cancelled by organisers at the last minute.
It was Dieudonne's trademark gesture, an inverted down-arm salute seen as Nazi-style, that again shot into the limelight after his friend French football striker Nicolas Anelka used it to celebrate a goal in Britain.
Dieudonne insists the gesture is not anti-Jewish and merely reflects his anti-establishment views. But the on-field gesture sparked a media storm and Anelka agreed not to perform it again.
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Saturday, January 4th 2014
Abhik Chanda
           


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