France’s firebrand comedian Dieudonné has cancelled a stand-up show after it was banned in three cities in as many days because of its anti-Semitic remarks. He pledged to soon present a new act that avoids the same kind of controversial content.
“One must accept the laws and rules that govern this democracy, or what little is left of it,” a defiant Dieudonné told journalists in Paris on Saturday. “In my work as a comedian I was working on an idea. I think I pushed a debate to the limits of humor. Now the judges will have to make up their own minds.”
Dieudonné made the announcement after a string of legal battles led to bans on his routine ‘Le Mur,’ or ‘The Wall,’ in the cities of Nantes, Tours and Orléans. A scheduled appearance in Paris – where the show was launched in June – was also blocked by authorities earlier in the day.
During the infamous show Dieudonné often targeted Jewish figures like radio show host Patrick Cohen. He also gave ‘quenelles,’ a gesture he coined and that has been described by French Interior Minister Manuel Valls as an inverted Nazi salute.
Wearing traditional African garments, he told journalists on Saturday that the “Dieudonné affair was over” and that his new act would focus on “Africa’s place in the world and history.”
Debating free speech
The government-led ban on ‘Le Mur’ has sparked a passionate debate about free speech in France.
Alain Juppé, the conservative mayor of city of Bordeaux and a leading figure within the main opposition UMP party, has publicly embraced Valls’ initiative to outlaw the comedian.
But Vincent Feltesse, a member of Valls’ own Socialist Party who will run against Juppé in an upcoming mayor race, has called the wisdom of the measure into question.
Other observers have also warned about falling prey to Dieudonné’s provocations.
In an interview with the Journal du Dimanche weekly, the respected French jurist Philippe Bilger said court bans on Dieudonné would turn a “mediocre celebrity” into a “victim”.
History of racism
The 47-year-old humorist has been charged multiple times for inciting racial hatred in France, and was found guilty on seven separate occasions between 2006 and 2010. He has paid fines and damages ranging from 1,000 to 10,000 euros.
He has also attempted to make an entry into politics, heading a list of “anti-Zionist” candidates representing the Paris region in the 2009 EU parliamentary elections.
Last week Valls asked mayors across France to consider canceling Dieudonné’s performances for security reasons, citing potential clashes between the comedian’s fans and his detractors outside the venues.