To be honest I had never heard of the quenelle until last Saturday. When I first saw a picture of Nicolas Anelka displaying this gesture, after his first goal against West Ham, I had no idea as to its significance. I do now.
Nicolas Anelka is a friend of Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, who has been described as a “notorious French antisemitic ‘comedian’ and ‘anti-Zionist’ political activist”. Born in 1966, Dieudonné began his activism on the left, but has drifted further and further right until he has ended up in the extremist camp. Among other things, Dieudonné is a Holocaust denier, adamant that six million Jews were not murdered by the Nazis in Auschwitz and elsewhere. There is of course overwhelming evidence proving that the Holocaust did take place, so denying it is really a huge insult to the millions who perished.
The quenelle was a gesture invented by Dieudonné and it is claimed that it is a reverse Nazi salute. Anelka himself tweeted that, “this gesture was just a special dedication to my comedian friend Dieudonné” That may be so, but leaving aside the question of somebody in Anelka’s position perhaps being more careful about the friends he chooses, the fact remains that the gesture is seen by many as Anti-Semitic and racist – and I can’t believe that Anelka didn’t realise that before he did it. It was also a totally unnecessary gesture, given the context of the match.
It is always a difficult line to draw, when it comes to these kind of issues. On the one hand, freedom of expression is a precious human right, which we can enjoy in this country, whilst millions of others across the world are sadly deprived of it.
On the other hand, it is a right which has to be balanced, like all rights do, with a responsibility, in this case not to use it to harm others. Using the right of freedom of expression to promote hatred and racism only means that others’ rights are being infringed. This is what it appears Anelka is guilty of.
There is talk of a Football Association enquiry into the matter. It can only be hoped that they are rigorous enough to get to the bottom of it and if Anelka is found guilty of racism and promoting hatred, he is given an appropriate sanction.
Whatever the result of any such enquiry one thing is clear; there can be no room for racism and hate-crimes in our national game – or society at large.
© Peter Sagar December 2013