Friday, January 10, 2014

Dieudonné Before Anti-Semitism and Holocaust Denial

Dieudonné began his career in comedy as the partner of Élie Semoun, of Moroccan Jewish descent. The two pioneered a distinctive brand of edgy, anti-racist comedy. In those days, Dieudonné was an opponent of the Front National and ran as a left-wing candidate in the 1997 legislative elections. In that same year, Dieudonné and Semoun split, with Semoun accusing Dieudonné, who managed the financial aspects of their joint act, of cheating him on the proceeds. By 2006, Dieudonné appears to have changed camps. He attended the annual festival of the Front National and met with Jean-Marie Le Pen in a well-publicized encounter. It was at that point that his evolution began, although in the 2007 presidential election he supported José Bové in the first round and Ségolène Royal in the second. Dieudonné eventually introduced the Holocaust negationist Robert Faurisson at one of his shows, and according to one court document joined with Faurisson and Youssouf Fofana, the leader of the "gang of barbarians" convicted of the kidnap and murder of Ilan Halimi, to attack Alain Jakubowicz, the head of the LICRA (Ligue international contre le racisme et l'anti-sémitisme) for slander.

As I ponder this history, I'm also reviewing a book that devotes several chapters to a number of prominent figures in France in the early part of the 20th Century. The ideological confusion, the mobilization of racial hatred, the mixture of artistic talent and fitful ambition to make a loud and "shockingly radical" "anti-Establishment" political statement to some obscure end--for all of these things one can find precedents in any number of figures of the 1920s and 1930s, from Léon Daudet to Pierre Drieu la Rochelle, Robert Brasillach, and Ramon Fernandez, from Maurice Bardèche to Jacques Chardonne. Any attempt to explain these bizarre and complex trajectories and shifting allegiances is bound to be inadequate. Perhaps every era, when looked at closely enough, is deeply confused ideologically and replete with such strange characters. But perhaps some eras are more likely than others to produce these chimerical creatures. I'm not sure. I think I understand something about the strangeness of the 1920s and 1930s. I'm less sure about the teratogenic character of my own times. But the case of Dieudonné may be trying to tell us something.


SocProf said...

I believe you meant ILAN Halimi, not Serge Halimi (of the Monde Diplomatique... how Freudian is that? :-) ).

Art Goldhammer said...

Yes, quite right. Thanks for the correction. Freudian indeed.

Alex Price said...

Also Céline. He never apologized for his anti-Semitism. When confronted about it after the war, he always claimed to have been just a pacifist.

FrédéricLN said...

I share the feelings in this post. Most folks of 2014, when they hear about the danger of antisemitism and so on, consider that the present situation has "rien à voir", nothing in common with, say, the "shoah", because they imagine mass murders and death camps that, at the moment I write, do not exist in Europe. I mean, they think at the 20's-30's from the perspective of 1933-1945. Present times would not look like the 20's-30's, because the 1933-1945 era did not occur again? But that is inverting causation.

One sure thing - Europe was destroyed in 1918, and it's shining in 2014 — such a long time of peace, 70 ans, is, I guess, absolutely new in European history. We are not accustomed to living with such a mountain of un-destroyed wealth. FN, and even PCF since the 70's (as shown by Harris-de Sedouy), are conservative petit-bourgeois movements, their militants do not show any sign of despair (even if Libé, NouvelObs or France 2, and PS-UMP politicians, would say they do). They worry about future, they fear they may loose, of their children may loose, what the previous generations built and secured. And they protest about national leaders who wouldn't care of the people — who would only secure their own money and power at global level.


BTW, I tried a more precise writing of my comments on the Dieudonné affair, this time in French, as my expression in English is too fuzzy. ->