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Updated: January 10, 2014 20:41 IST

French Council of State has the last laugh

Vaiju Naravane
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File photo of controversial French comic Dieudonne M'Bala, known as Dieudonne.
AP File photo of controversial French comic Dieudonne M'Bala, known as Dieudonne.

The Council of State, one of France’s highest constitutional bodies, upheld the decision to ban the show of the controversial comic Dieudonne M’bala M’bala, accused of anti-Semitism and incitation to racial hatred.

The comic’s one-man show entitled The Wall, which was to have taken place in the city of Nantes, was cancelled at the last minute after the Council of State upheld the government’s initial decision to ban it. Mr. Dieudonne had appealed the ban and the banning order had been struck down by the Administrative Tribunal, citing freedom of speech.

Interior Minister Manuel Valls then moved the Council of State for upholding the ban as a preventive measure saying Mr. Dieudonne could cause public disorder. This was granted with just minutes to spare before Mr. Dieudonne’s show got underway. Several other theatres in towns across France have since cancelled his shows.

Mr. Dieudonné who is of French and Cameroonian origin has been condemned several times in the past to pay heavy fines for similar offences. He has popularised a new salute, where the hand is placed on the heart, which many have interpreted as being an anti-Semite gesture.

The comic has successfully mined the resentment and frustration felt by many young people of immigrant descent who live in deprived suburbs. Commentator Pascal Bruckner referring to Mr. Dieudonné’s shows has decried what he calls “anti-white racism” that has taken root among several underprivileged sections of the French population.

Mr. Dieudonné’s jokes are often in poor taste referring to the holocaust where an estimated 6 million Jews perished under Hitler’s Nazi rule. He is known to be a negationist, denying the mass extermination of Jews ever took place. Despite the ban, Mr. Dieudonné has continued to provoke and Culture Minister Aurelie Fillipetti said she was envisaging banning the comic’s videos from social TV platforms such as Dailymotion or YouTube.

One of Mr. Dieudonné’s lawyers is a Frenchman of Indian origin, Sanjay Mirabeau whose family comes from Pondicherry. Mr. Mirabeau is a lawyer but also a political activist who has contested elections and a part time actor. One of the films he played in won an award at the Goa film festival a couple of years ago. Criticising the government’s circular calling for a ban against the show, Mr. Mirabeau told The Hindu: “A performance can only be banned if it creates a public disturbance. My client has been performing for over 25 years and there has never been any disorder. On the other hand, it is the declarations of the Minister that are likely to cause trouble because 6000 fans have been denied their due.”

Several voices have been raised in France against the ban, not necessarily to defend Mr. Dieudonne but to uphold the principle of freedom of speech.

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