Anyway, the article was a good read, and it complemented a piece in The New Yorker last month about a French demagogue, the anti-Semitic comedian Dieudonné.
The beginning of l’affaire Dieudonné came in December, 2003, when he appeared on “You Can’t Please Everyone,” a popular political talk show, in which celebrities discussed issues in a civil roundtable atmosphere. To the surprise of everyone there, he arrived on the set wearing a camo jacket, a black ski mask, and an Orthodox Jewish hat with fake sidelocks. He launched into a speech that called on the audience to join “the Americano-Zionist Axis—the only one . . . that offers you happiness, and the only one to give you a chance of living a little bit longer.” While the panel of comedians invited for the show (it included Jamel Debbouze, France’s most popular Muslim comic) laughed, the show’s host, Marc-Olivier Fogiel, looked on nervously. Dieudonné finished his polemic by raising his arm and crying, “Isra-heil.” He then took off his mask and joined the panel, to a standing ovation.The most troubling part of the profile, though, is not so much Dieudonné, but the new France that he represents:
On February 13, 2006, Ilan Halimi, a twenty-three-year-old cell-phone salesman, was found—naked, gagged, and handcuffed—near a train station south of Paris. He had burns and traces of torture on eighty per cent of his body, and died on the way to the hospital. Halimi had been kidnapped and held for three weeks in a cellar in the suburb of Bagneux. The police traced the crime to a group that became known as “the gang of Barbarians,” allegedly led by Youssouf Fofana, the twenty-five-year-old son of African immigrants, and determined that Halimi had been abducted because he was Jewish. Eighteen people were arrested in France, and after a manhunt that led to the Ivory Coast, Fofana was taken into custody. Fofana denied killing Halimi, and that his actions were motivated by race, but other detainees told the police that “Jews have money,” and that they believed that Halimi’s parents, a working-class couple, or “the rabbi” would pay half a million dollars for Halimi’s release.(Photo: Time)
Sammy Ghozlan, the head of a French group that monitors anti-Semitism, said that the words of an “alleged comedian” influenced the killers, and Julien Dray, the spokesman for the Socialist Party and a founder of S.O.S. Racisme, declared that Halimi’s death was a result of “the Dieudonné effect.” Dieudonné denounced Dray for throwing around murder accusations lightly. In a statement he released at the time, Dieudonné attributed the torture-abduction to the neo-liberalism that “has established the cult of profit as the central value of society” and to the “American drift in French society.” On February 26, 2006, pamphlets depicting Dieudonné and Fofana above the words “Thinker. Murderer” were distributed during a March in Paris to protest Halimi’s murder.While French politicians were holding vigils for Halimi, Dieudonné invited to his theatre the family of another victim of a kidnap-murder and called for an end to the “discrimination among victims” that allegedly favored Jews. A few days later, Dieudonné held a rally on the theme of “Republican equality against discrimination among victims,” adding an Algerian and an Armenian to the list of those whose killings had gotten scant notice. At about this time, Dieudonné added to his show impersonations of Hitler (“You’ll see, the future will present me as a moderate!”) and the French Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson.
In Bagneux, the suburb where Halimi was murdered, Jean-Claude Tchicaya, a government social worker, organizes workshops and field trips to foster understanding among blacks, Arabs, and Jews. “Halimi was tortured in the town where I live, in the neighborhood where I live, in the building where my mother lives,” Tchicaya told me. “I even knew personally some of the young people who were part of the murder gang. To believe that all Jews are rich is an anti-Semitic prejudice that didn’t exist in the neighborhood twenty years ago.” He added, “Dieudonné is cunning, insinuating. He touches parts of people’s minds that are vulnerable.”
In May, 2006, a group calling itself the Tribu Ka marched down the Rue des Rosiers, the main street of the Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Le Marais, chanting anti-Semitic slogans. The Tribu Ka’s leader, Kémi Séba, a French-born man of Ivory Coast and Haitian parentage, reportedly issued a “warning” to France’s Jewish community: “If by any chance the French Jews brush even a single hair of Brother Fofana’s head, we will take care of the curls of your rabbi.” In July, Sarkozy, who was then the interior minister, had the Tribu Ka banned. All of this meant further embarrassment for Dieudonné, who, it was revealed, allowed Séba to use the Théâtre de la Main d’Or for meetings in which he reportedly praised Hitler’s ideas on race. Dieudonné’s office issued a statement emphasizing the gulf between Séba and himself, and pointing out that Séba’s “ethnically based organization”—the Tribu Ka excludes non-blacks from its meetings—was the opposite of the “republican project defended by Dieudonné.” (Two months ago, the Théâtre de la Main d’Or announced Séba’s stage début, a “street politic” production called “Sarkophobie.”)
In August, 2006, Dieudonné left town on an “anti-Zionist solidarity mission,” and arrived in Beirut in the wake of Israel’s war with Hezbollah. He was accompanied by his Presidential campaign manager, Marc Robert; the September 11th conspiracy theorist Thierry Meyssan; and Ahmed Moualek, the leader of the youth organization La Banlieue S’Exprime! (The Suburbs Speak!). Dieudonné met with the chief of Hezbollah’s television network, Al Manar, and was photographed shaking hands with Jesse Jackson, who looked befuddled. By his side during all these encounters was his new friend from the National Front, Alain Soral.
I saw Soral again this past May, two weeks after the French Presidential elections. Le Pen had won only ten per cent of the vote—his worst showing in years—and failed to qualify for a second round. Though the victorious Sarkozy campaign managed to win National Front supporters by promising a tough new immigration policy, N.F. insiders blamed the outcome on Soral’s “banlieue” strategy and the alliance with Dieudonné, who, they believed, had alienated white voters as well as moderates. “We have passed into the Republic of Show Business, a schmatte monarchy,” Soral said glumly. “There was almost nobody on the Champs-Élysées for Sarkozy’s victory, but on TV it looked like crowds. It was just like in Baghdad, with the tearing down of Saddam Hussein’s statue. It was all staged television, recycled crowds, Jews. The French people don’t care—they’re like cows watching a train go by.”