Monday, January 13, 2014

should Dieudonné be silenced by the law?

guardian |  Technically, in the context of Dieudonné's tour, the reasoning given for a ban is not a breach of the law on hatred and Holocaust denial, but a potential threat to public order. The invocation of a threat to public order as an ad hoc censorship tool is not exactly ideal, is it? But of course, the Loi Gayssot forms the backdrop and the intellectual and legal justification for everything that follows. So apart from the moral argument about censorship, the questions are: what is the purpose of the law? And has it worked? If the purpose of the law is to discredit Holocaust "revisionists" then I would suggest it has not achieved its aim. Dieudonné sells out shows; the aforementioned Bruno Gollnisch is elected to the European parliament.

Is the aim to prevent the rise of the far right? Again, it's arguable that it has failed. The Front National has maintained a percentage of the vote in the teens, about the same as it did when the law was introduced.

One could say that without the law, Holocaust revisionism and antisemitism might be even stronger, but the fact is, this isn't a lab experiment: there's no "control" where we can see what alternative outcome might be. What we do know is that we have hundreds of young French people getting transgressive kicks by posting pictures of themselves giving "inverted Nazi salutes" at Jewish sites.

AH I think the law obviously has its limits here. The reality is that antisemitism lies deep at the core of French history and society and no legislation is ever going to change that – it's damage limitation at best. But I don't buy the argument either that French law has created this situation, or that it's making it worse. I'm thinking here of the example of LF Céline – arguably the greatest French novelist of the 20th century, and a vicious antisemite whose pro-Hitler tracts were so virulently anti-Jewish that they shocked the Nazi authorities. These books have quietly not been reprinted since the 1930s – or sell at inflated prices in dodgy editions at rightwing meetings across Europe. The point I'm making here is that, in a sense you're right – no law will ever control this mindset. I think Sartre gets it right in his essay Portrait of an Antisemite, when he says that French antisemitism (including Céline) comes from a sense of "inauthenticity" – unconvinced of his own place in society, the antisemite finds comfort in the reality of Jew-hatred. This is what is happening in the banlieue – cut off from and humiliated by the perceived French establishment. The way out of this is hard and complicated – bringing those who feel excluded back into the centre of political and cultural life. It's even harder to do this when the likes of Dieudonné, who thrives on division and disposession, is obviously working against this, evoking all the old ghosts of the French past. I'm not really making the case for censorship, just sounding a note of caution. In the end it may well be that what France needs is not political or legal solutions, or even psychiatry, but an exorcist.