Pressure mounts on French comic in racism row

Pressure mounts on French comic in racism row
A man poses with one of his drawings showing a Jew character covering the mouth of an other character with a gag reading "freedom of speech" during a gathering in front of controversial French comic Dieudonne's theatre on December 28, 2013 in Paris, to protest against French Interior minister who called for Dieudonne's new tour performances to be banned. During the gathering, some protestors performed the "quenelle" gesture popularised by anti-establishment Dieudonne, who has been condemned in France on several occasions for anti-Semitism.

PARIS - The mayor of Paris on Sunday joined France’s interior minister in calling for comedian Dieudonne, whose vitriolic brand of humour targeting Jews has caused outrage, to be banned from the stage.

Anti-racist groups also threatened legal action against a provocative arm gesture Dieudonne makes which has been described as an upside-down Nazi salute.

Dieudonne has been part of France’s comedy scene for years, but while he started out with a Jewish comedian in sketches that mocked racism, he gradually veered to the far-right and alienated some fans with anti-Jewish comments – one of his latest being a joke about gas chambers.

Speaking on Europe 1 radio, Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe likened Dieudonne to a criminal who “defends crimes against humanity”.

“We must ban the performances (of the comedian),” he said, echoing recent comments made by Interior Minister Manuel Valls.

Dieudonne has been fined several times for defamation, using insulting language, hate speech and racial discrimination, and over his use of the provocative straight arm gesture known as the “quenelle”.

But the 47-year-old comedian argues that the horrors of the Holocaust are given too much focus to the exclusion of other crimes, like slavery and racism, and says the gesture merely represents his anti-establishment views.

The “quenelle” has landed several personalities in hot water, including footballer Nicolas Anelka, who recently used it to celebrate a goal.

SOS Racisme, an organisation that fights racism, announced Sunday it would take to court anyone who spread pictures of or made the “quenelle” in locations such as synagogues or Holocaust memorials “that leave no doubt” as to the anti-Semitic nature of the gesture.

The French-based International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism (Licra) said late Sunday that it was ready to take such legal action in Bordeaux, in southwest France, over recent “quenelle” incidents outside a synagogue there.

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