Photo: Screenshot
'Quenelle intended to represent violent attack on Israel and French institutions supporting it'
Photo: Screenshot

France’s potential breakdown

Op-ed: 'Quenelle' gesture is not a popular sign of contestation; it is the indicator of a modern form of violent anti-Semitism building up in France

As football players, basketball stars and national celebrities are crowding the ranks of a growing anti-social movement, France is put in jeopardy because of its inability to acknowledge the risk posed by revolutionary wave triggered by a group of populist stage performers.



Former football world champion Nicolas Anelka caught everyone’s attention when he used a well-known and already massively used anti-establishment salute in a national sport competition. The "quenelle" was invented in 2009 by a widely criticized anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist comedian, Dieudonné M’bala M’bala.


The French public figure ran in the 2009 European Parliamentary elections as the head of a party called The Anti-Zionist List. The gesture he invented is the exact reverse of a Nazi salute in shape and form and is intended to represent a violent attack against the State of Israel and the French institutions supporting it.


While much has been written concerning the "quenelle," its social implications and possible ways to limit the scope of the already viral attacks waged against the French establishment, religious minorities and the Jewish state, a key point has been overlooked. As Dieudonné pointed out in late August 2013, the "quenelle" is no longer his. It has become a loosely defined symbol of social identification, which escapes political parties and ideological frameworks.


Dieudonné in himself is nothing more than an agitator, an excellent orator putting his verbal skills at the service of his hatred of the Jewish people and of the State of Israel. His repeated statements claiming that he is not an anti-Semite are void of meaning after the words he pronounced, glorifying Hitler’s gas chambers and bringing back to the front stage the worst part of the 1930s Nazi slurs.


However, one should not be mistaken. While Dieudonné is just an agitator and probably not much more, the "quenelle affair" should be interpreted for what it really is. It has emerged as a clear mark of France’s potential breakdown, which finds its foundation in the implosion of a national political system leading to the need of new charismatic leaders and the rise of a form of modern anti-Semitism.


While discussing Dieudonné and the "quenelle," commentators and analysts have been focusing on the possible ideological links between the anti-establishment movement and neo-Nazi organizations. This generates a key conceptual misunderstanding. With President Hollande’s approval rate falling under the 15% bar, a disastrous economic situation and multiple challenges to the central government, France resembles the 1920s Weimar Republic more than the late 1930s Third Reich.


Since François Hollande took office, the once strong French government has repeatedly been abandoning ground to destructive movements, retreating on key internal and external affairs while bunkering itself on its strategically void and unpopular campaign of taxations and same-sex marriage. In such a climate of rupture between the political class and the average citizen, the latter is increasingly looking for movements able to fill the vacuum.


Public must contest modern day brown shirts

The "quenelle" is instrumental in exposing the government’s inability to preserve social justice and the respect of Republican values. Dieudonné and his followers should not be mistakenly compared to neo-Nazis as they are in their essence enablers, the modern day brown shirts, representing a new version of proto-Nazi movements.


The "quenelle" and its adepts are in fact mirroring those groups of young German fanatics who were parading the streets of Munich in the early 1920s. While they were still lacking a strong leader, they directed their attacks against a weak State, a crippled economy and the local and the global Jew, which for them represented the source of all evils.


Detractors of allegations made against Dieudonné and his emulators keep on defending them by defining the movement as anti-establishment revolution. These claims are nothing else than facilitators for France’s potential breakdown. Dieudonné's message is not one of social revolution, for it is based on genocidal hatred and irrational disgust in regard to anything that does not correspond to his vision of the word.


The "quenelle" is not a popular sign of contestation; it is the indicator of a modern form of violent anti-Semitism that is building up in France. As followers of Dieudonné are seen performing the now-notorious salute at the entry gates of Auschwitz or in front of the Jewish school where Mohammed Merah went on his terrorist massacre, it is clear that in France the socially accepted label of anti-Zionism disguises popular anti-Semitism.


The modern hatred of the Jewish people is based on a quasi-dogmatic opposition to the Jewish state, encouraged by a strong message of hate stemming from the sermons of radical Imams in French suburbs along with an overt crowd manipulation by media figures.


Dieudonné and his "quenelle" should not be considered as the heights of the current social crisis that is rocking France. In fact, the viral aspect of the issue may be seen as a pulse to monitor. It is often said that Hitler was neither a brilliant man nor an astute politician but he rose to power by being the voice of the social anger of his period.


Many are those who prepared the field for Hitler as anti-Semitic journals flourished in the crisis-beaten Germany. Mr. M’bala M’bala and the "quenelle" should be thus seen as elements setting the preconditions for a social breakdown taking the shape of an implosion of the national political structure and the further expansion of modern day anti-Semitism.


Many people are fighting the "quenelle" for what it is. Jonathan Simon Sellem and his JSSnews website attempt to expose those using this salute and bring them to justice. French officials are looking into possible ways of banning Dieudonné from performing. While those initiatives are to be lauded, the general public needs to start contesting these modern day brown shirts at present in order to prevent them from breaking into a large scale political movement in the future.


Riccardo Dugulin is an international affairs analyst. He holds a master's degree in international security from the Paris School of International Affairs (Sciences Po) and has worked in leading think tanks in Washington DC, Beirut and Dubai. He has held the position of security coordinator for a security assistance firm. His official website is and his official Facebook page is   


פרסום ראשון: 01.04.14, 10:35
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