What is the 'quenelle'? Nicolas Anelka banned for five-matches for performing gesture in Premier League match

As the West Brom striker is handed a heavy punishment by the FA, we ask what the controversial gesture signifies

John Lichfield
Thursday 27 February 2014 18:50
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West Bromwich Albion's French striker Nicolas Anelka gestures as he celebrates scoring their second goal against West Ham United
West Bromwich Albion's French striker Nicolas Anelka gestures as he celebrates scoring their second goal against West Ham United

Whether or not the “quenelle” arm gesture was originally anti-semitic is open to debate. There is little doubt that it has come to have an anti-semitic meaning.

Its inventor, the black French stand-up comedian, Dieudonne M'bala M'bala, 47, has seven convictions in France for inciting racial hatred against jews. He is currently under investigation yet again for making anti-semitic remarks.

He also faces possible legal action for money-laundering and faking insolvency to avoid paying taxes and Euros 45,000 in unpaid fines and damages for racial offences. Over Euros 600,000 in cash was found earlier this month in a police raid on one of his homes.

In January, the French government announced that it would take action - since approved by one of the highest courts in France - to ban Dieudonne's latest one man show. It was just after this announcement that Nicolas Anelka performed the "quenelle" gesture after scoring a goal for West Bromwich Albion in a game against West Ham.

Anelka, who today was banned for five-matches,  said that his "quenelle" was an act of solidarity with his "good friend", Dieudonne. He denied that he knew that the gesture had any anti-semitic meaning.

What is the quenelle? And what does it signify?

"La quenelle" in French means an elongated meat-ball or fish-ball. In slang, it means a finger or a penis.

Dieudonne's gesture means, symbolically, that you want to shove your "quenelle" as far as possible up the backside of your enemy.

Dieudonne M'bala M'bala, the French comedian

An arm with an outstretched finger is pointed at the ground. The other arm is folded across the chest. The hand is placed on the first arm, showing how far up your enemy's backside you wish to slide your "quenelle". This hand is sometimes moved suggestively upwards.

Dieudonne and Anelka - and many Dieudonne supporters and ordinary French people - deny that the gesture is an inverted form of Nazi salute. They insist that the target of the "quenelle" is the actually the "establishment" or the "system". This is disingenuous.

Although the quenelle is sometimes aimed at the "system", the overwhelming majority of pictures of "quenelles" posted on the internet have jewish targets. Alain Soral, an openly anti-semitic French writer and self-desribed "national socialist" political activist, recently posted an image of himself "doing the quenelle" at Auschwitz. He is a close friend and adviser of Dieudonne.

In any case, there is little distinction in the Diedonnosphere - the name awarded to Dieudonne fans - between "the establishment" and "the jews".

In Dieudonne's world view, the jews run the world. They are responsible for the suffering of blacks and poor whites. Why?  Because they manipulate the capitalist system in their own interests and because have created a global monopoly of pity by exploiting the Holocaust (which may or may not ever have existed).     

Dieudonne has resumed his stand-up Tour de France with the worst parts of the anti-semitic "jokes" removed. When he reaches one of these passages, he pauses and looks knowingly at his audience which bays its anger and delight.  

Fans perform the 'quenelle' salute after the performance of French controversial humorist Dieudonne M'bala M'bala was cancelled

The comedian's stock in trade is to drench the Holocaust on obscenity. A couple of years ago the comedian re-wrote an old  French pop song and called it "chaud ananas" - hot pineapples. In French this sounds like "Shoah nanas" or "holocaust floozies".

The innocent pineapple and the obscene quenelle have become Dieudonne's twin emblems. In context, both are clearly anti-semitic.

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