We have been following the prosecution of French comedian Dieudonne M’Bala M’Bala, 46, for hateful speech in France, particularly his alleged anti-Semitism. While I do not consider Dieudonne funny in the slightest and rather offensive, the prosecution reaffirms the growing divide between the United States and its closest allies over free speech. Now, England has magnified those concerns by barring Dieudonne from entering the country. This sounds strikingly like the equally controversial move against Michael Savage.
We have been following (here and here and here and and and here and and here and here) the worsening situation in England concerning free speech. As noted in a recent column, free speech appears to be dying in the West with the increasing criminalization of speech under discrimination, hate, and blasphemy laws.
Dieudonne M’Bala M’Bala likes to target Jews in his popular shows. He has already been hit with fines approaching $100,000 for his jokes. He has been particularly called out for his use of a provocative arm gesture called the “quenelle,” described as an upside-down Nazi salute as well as far right references (as shown by a different man in this picture), He has also joked about gas chambers in his recent jab at Jewish radio presenter Patrick Cohen. Dieudonne remarked that “[w]hen I hear Patrick Cohen speak, I tell myself, you know, the gas chambers… A shame.” He has also expressed admiration for Iran’s leader and described Holocaust commemorations as “memorial pornography.”
While I understand the anger, I remain stuck on the denial of free speech and association. Comedy is often a form of political speech and a vehicle of association. M’Bala has a right to speak his mind against different groups and the use of the quenelle is not unlawful and should not be unlawful as a form of speech. For those of us who find his humor offensive, free speech offers an ample vehicle to respond. Instead his critics are using the power of the state to punish him for speaking his mind, even in the form of jokes.
According to reports, Dieudonne was going to visit his friend French footballer, Nicolas Anelka. It was an interesting reason since Anelka was sanctioned for using the “quenelle” during a goal celebration in December. The men insist that the salute is not fascistic but anti-government. For many free speech advocates, it does not matter what the message of the salute may be. It is a form of speech that should be protected as a basic civil liberties.
England is not alone in such denials. Indeed, this country has engaged in such questionable practices. However, both France and England have plunged headlong into the uncertain waters of government speech regulations and prosecutions. It is only likely to get worse as different groups demanding actions on their own black listed individuals. Then the joke will be on us as the West guts free speech in the name of tolerance.