Harper‘s keeps sending me subscription renewal notices. The most recent one pointed to a few topics the magazine had explored recently, including European nationalism and the rise of anti-Semitism (something I’ve written about here and here and here and here). I couldn’t recall seeing this article, so I did a search, and it turns out that “recent” refers to August 1990. In other breaking news, the Berlin Wall has fallen.
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 DieudonnÃ©.
The beginning of lâaffaire DieudonnÃ© came in December, 2003, when he appeared on âYou Canât Please Everyone,â 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 âthe Americano-Zionist Axisâthe only one . . . that offers you happiness, and the only one to give you a chance of living a little bit longer.â While the panel of comedians invited for the show (it included Jamel Debbouze, Franceâs most popular Muslim comic) laughed, the showâs host, Marc-Olivier Fogiel, looked on nervously. DieudonnÃ© finished his polemic by raising his arm and crying, âIsra-heil.â 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 DieudonnÃ©, but the new France that he represents:
On February 13, 2006, Ilan Halimi, a twenty-three-year-old cell-phone salesman, was foundânaked, gagged, and handcuffedânear 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 âthe gang of Barbarians,â 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 âJews have money,â and that they believed that Halimiâs parents, a working-class couple, or âthe rabbiâ would pay half a million dollars for Halimiâs release.
Sammy Ghozlan, the head of a French group that monitors anti-Semitism, said that the words of an âalleged comedianâ influenced the killers, and Julien Dray, the spokesman for the Socialist Party and a founder of S.O.S. Racisme, declared that Halimiâs death was a result of âthe DieudonnÃ© effect.â DieudonnÃ© denounced Dray for throwing around murder accusations lightly. In a statement he released at the time, DieudonnÃ© attributed the torture-abduction to the neo-liberalism that âhas established the cult of profit as the central value of societyâ and to the âAmerican drift in French society.â On February 26, 2006, pamphlets depicting DieudonnÃ© and Fofana above the words âThinker. Murdererâ were distributed during a March in Paris to protest Halimiâs murder.While French politicians were holding vigils for Halimi, DieudonnÃ© invited to his theatre the family of another victim of a kidnap-murder and called for an end to the âdiscrimination among victimsâ that allegedly favored Jews. A few days later, DieudonnÃ© held a rally on the theme of âRepublican equality against discrimination among victims,â adding an Algerian and an Armenian to the list of those whose killings had gotten scant notice. At about this time, DieudonnÃ© added to his show impersonations of Hitler (âYouâll see, the future will present me as a moderate!â) 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. âHalimi was tortured in the town where I live, in the neighborhood where I live, in the building where my mother lives,â Tchicaya told me. âI 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 didnât exist in the neighborhood twenty years ago.â He added, âDieudonnÃ© is cunning, insinuating. He touches parts of peopleâs minds that are vulnerable.â
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 Kaâs leader, KÃ©mi SÃ©ba, a French-born man of Ivory Coast and Haitian parentage, reportedly issued a âwarningâ to Franceâs Jewish community: âIf by any chance the French Jews brush even a single hair of Brother Fofanaâs head, we will take care of the curls of your rabbi.â In July, Sarkozy, who was then the interior minister, had the Tribu Ka banned. All of this meant further embarrassment for DieudonnÃ©, who, it was revealed, allowed SÃ©ba to use the ThÃ©Ã¢tre de la Main dâOr for meetings in which he reportedly praised Hitlerâs ideas on race. DieudonnÃ©âs office issued a statement emphasizing the gulf between SÃ©ba and himself, and pointing out that SÃ©baâs âethnically based organizationââthe Tribu Ka excludes non-blacks from its meetingsâwas the opposite of the ârepublican project defended by DieudonnÃ©.â (Two months ago, the ThÃ©Ã¢tre de la Main dâOr announced SÃ©baâs stage dÃ©but, a âstreet politicâ production called âSarkophobie.â)
In August, 2006, DieudonnÃ© left town on an âanti-Zionist solidarity mission,â and arrived in Beirut in the wake of Israelâs 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 SâExprime! (The Suburbs Speak!). DieudonnÃ© met with the chief of Hezbollahâs 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 voteâhis worst showing in yearsâand 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 Soralâs âbanlieueâ strategy and the alliance with DieudonnÃ©, who, they believed, had alienated white voters as well as moderates. âWe have passed into the Republic of Show Business, a schmatte monarchy,â Soral said glumly. âThere was almost nobody on the Champs-ÃlysÃ©es for Sarkozyâs victory, but on TV it looked like crowds. It was just like in Baghdad, with the tearing down of Saddam Husseinâs statue. It was all staged television, recycled crowds, Jews. The French people donât careâtheyâre like cows watching a train go by.â