French President François Hollande on Tuesday backed attempts to ban shows by a controversial French comedian who the government accuses of threatening public order with his anti-Semitic comments.
Hollande’s call for local officials to ban Dieudonné M’bala M’bala from theatres comes after the French cities of Nantes, Marseille, Bordeaux, and Tours banned his forthcoming shows on the grounds of public order.
“I am calling on all representatives of the state, particularly its prefects, to be on alert and inflexible,” President Francois Hollande said, referring to regional officials charged with maintaining law and order in France.
“No one should be able to use this show for provocation and to promote openly anti-Semitic ideas,” he told a meeting of senior government officials in Paris.
Lawyers for Dieudonné, who has been fined repeatedly for hate speech, said they would take legal action to defend him.
“Freedom of expression is not at the whim of governments or a comedian,” they said in a statement announcing the launch of legal complaints for defamation and invasion of privacy. The cities' bans have also sparked misgivings amongst some opponents of the comic, who fear that banning him will only fuel his popularity further with his target audience and enhance his opportunities to cash in on his notoriety.
Reverse ‘Nazi salute’
Dieudonne supporters say the public order argument is false because he performs inside theatres rather than in the streets.
Interior Minister Manuel Valls pushed to ban his shows after Jewish groups complained about his trademark straight-arm gesture, which they call a “Nazi salute in reverse” and linked to a rising tide of anti-Semitic remarks and attacks in France.
In the worst recent anti-Semitic incident, a French Islamist killed a rabbi and three pupils at a Jewish school last year in the southwestern French city of Toulouse.
Dieudonné, 46, Paris-born son of a Cameroonian father and French mother, says the gestures is a statement of his anti-Zionist and anti-establishment views, not anti-Semitism.
West Bromwich Albion striker Anelka is being investigated by the English Football Association for using it during a December 28th football match. NBA basketball star Tony Parker, a Frenchman, has apologised for a three-year-old photo of him making the salute.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)