Something smells fishy within the realm of the French republic; La Quenelle, a sort of inverse Nazi salute, which first appeared during the 2009 European Elections for an ‘anti-Zionist’ political formation and was popularized by the French comedian Dieudonné, has gone viral, being by many adherents and ardent supporters of extreme right-wing rhetoric throughout French society.
From 2009 onwards, it became a popular online occurrence to see pictures posted on the social media of proponents of La Quenelle. One of the most noteworthy occurrences was when Alain Soral, a French extreme right-wing pseudo-intellectual that has refuted on several occasions the existence of gas chambers, made the gesture in the middle of the holocaust memorial in Berlin. Another occasion that put the spotlight on La Quenelle was when Jean-Marie Lepen, ex-leader of the xenophobic extreme-right wing Front National, was seen alongside his right hand man Gollnisch and two other self-identified ‘supports’ making the salute at the end of one of his political rallies.
But the source of the actual controversy is the fact that international footballer Nicolas Anelka on the 28th of the past month made reference to the gesture while celebrating a goal he had scored in the English Premier League. Many anti-racism and Jewish organizations immediately called for a playing ban and public excuses for what they saw as a hateful gesture.
Anelka denied that La Quenelle was a racist, anti-Jewish or hateful gesture, he stated that for him and Dieudonné, La Quenelle is an anti-system salute. La Quenelle represents the rage that many people have for a system of globalized capitalism that breeds inequality and alienation.
I won’t go more in depth about what I believe the real significance of La Quenelle is, because that isn’t the essential question that should be asked. Unfortunately though, “What’s La Quenelle” or “What’s the true significance of La Quenelle” are the only two headlines that make reference to the nascent trend in the media. It isn’t a trivial fact at all that most media outlets’ focus is to give a definition to this salute. Why? Because it’s much easier to label something as racist, xenophobic and anti-Jewish than actually attack the problem at it’s root.
The same logic works for the French government that has decided to take Dieudonné to court and shut down his shows, these attitudes are shortcuts… not solutions. They’re intellectual shortcuts that try to put the fault on the perpetrators and omit the underlying crisis.
The rise of La Quenelle is undeniably linked with the rise of extreme right-wing rhetoric in Europe. If La Quenelle signifies anything at all; it signifies the failure of the ‘progressive’ forces to reorient the political debate in Europe.
In May of 2012, the election of Francois Hollande was seen as a victory that would reinvigorate the European left and the fight against austerity. Since May 2012, things have continued the same. The European Union has continued on its ruthless quest for balanced budgets, no matter what the social sacrifices might be. The social malaise on the other hand has increased ten fold since that faithful day in May 2012, exactly because in many ways not much has changed.
The ‘historical’ socialist left in Europe has in many ways endorsed the austerity measures that were implemented by their predecessors for fear of destabilizing a fragile economic recovery they say. Because of this they are now trapped in the iron cage of neo-liberal economics.
Salutes, gestures and discourses are not the problem here and unfortunately for the French officials no law will stall the rise of the extreme right wing. Because right wing nationalism, xenophobia and racism aren’t fueled by a salute, they are fueled by economic inequality, austerity measures and the dismantling of the welfare state. La Quenelle is but the physical expression of this accrue rupture between the burden of millions for the well being of a few.
Dieudonné is but a pawn in this game, an insignificant factor, that will be pushed aside with the motion of time, but others like him will come forward and unfortunately maybe some of them will be more malicious and direct. The rise of right-wing extremism will not die out until the left wing offers a clear alternative to the neo-liberal homogeneity.
To those that see La Quenelle as a battle cry, I have but one thing to say: one cannot create a more just and equal society with an impulse of hate, only compassion and solidarity can do that.
In the words of Che Guevara “At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love.”