Culture Ethics Politics

In France, comedian’s trial suggests mocking religion has its limits

French comedian Dieudonne M'Bala M'Bala, also known as just "Dieudonne", attends a news conference at the "Theatre de la Main d'or" in Paris on January 11, 2014. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes *Editors: This photo can only be used with RNS-FRENCH-COMEDIAN, originally transmitted on Jan. 30, 2015
French comedian Dieudonne M'Bala M'Bala, also known as just "Dieudonne", attends a news conference at the "Theatre de la Main d'or" in Paris on January 11, 2014. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes *Editors: This photo can only be used with RNS-FRENCH-COMEDIAN, originally transmitted on Jan. 30, 2015

French comedian Dieudonne M’Bala M’Bala, also known as just “Dieudonne”, attends a news conference at the “Theatre de la Main d’or” in Paris on January 11, 2014. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes
*Editors: This photo can only be used with RNS-FRENCH-COMEDIAN, originally transmitted on Jan. 30, 2015

PARIS (RNS) Less than a month after the attack on satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo sparked massive free speech demonstrations across the country, authorities here moved swiftly to show that even in France, mocking religion has its limits.

On Wednesday (Jan. 28), controversial French comedian Dieudonne M’Bala M’Bala appeared in court on charges of inciting racial hatred. At issue: comments he made two years ago regretting that a prominent Jewish journalist had not died in the “gas chambers.”

M’Bala M’Bala — better-known in France by his first name, Dieudonne — has sparked outrage over the years for his anti-Semitic jabs, including a straight-armed gesture that quickly went viral and was taken up by the far right. Authorities banned several of his performances last year that featured the gesture, which Jewish groups liken to a Nazi salute.

On Thursday, Dieudonne faced a separate charge of inciting terrorism for posting on his Facebook page this month that he felt like “Charlie Coulibaly” — in reference to the gunman who killed four Jews at a kosher supermarket in Paris, two days after the Charlie Hebdo attack.

Charlie Hebdo’s irreverent and sometimes crude drawings spoofing religious figures — ranging from Jesus to the Prophet Muhammad — have been the publication’s trademark and reflect a long-cherished French tradition of biting satire.

A week after the January attack on its Paris office, the weekly came out with a new edition, again featuring the Muslim prophet. As hundreds of thousands of French snapped up copies, millions of angry Muslims staged protests worldwide.

Like Dieudonne, Charlie Hebdo has had its share of court cases — but has managed to win most of them. Blasphemy is not a crime in France; Holocaust denial is, thanks to a 1990 law.

At his hearing this week, the French comedian said he wanted to “make peace” with his critics and denied he was anti-Semitic.

YS/MG END BRYANT

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Elizabeth Bryant

5 Comments

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  • How interesting that the “social justice allies” who condemned Charlie Hebdo for supposedly inciting hatred against a vulnerable community have had nothing to say about the French Muslim comedian who incites hatred against a vulnerable community.

  • I’d be more in support of France if it actually PRACTICED Free Speech equally, instead of adopting laws against hate speech and selectively enforcing them when the hate speech is directed against certain groups, yet ignoring the laws when applied to other groups. It’d be better if they applied their anti-speech laws universally. At least then it’d be fair.

  • No, that would not be fair. Any such laws enacted by the central government in a country the dimensions of France would be bad. Municipal ordinances governing the use of public space and constraining disorderly conduct are permissible, as well as containing conduct which breaches the distinction between domestic life and public life. “Hate speech” laws never would unless the speech proscribed were palpably seditious. Such statutes are on the books already (in New York, for example) and require no extensive or intensive inquiries into the content of speech, merely its juxtaposition to threats to public order.

  • Mea culpa! I guess I always mistook him for a Muslim because he has been described as having a large French Muslim following, and because he grants interviews to outfits like Islametinfo (where he opined that Jews “serve Satan” and “persecuted the prophet of Islam” and called upon Christians and Muslims to unite as a new sort of Mega-Religion to wipe out the Jews) and generally talks like a particularly undiplomatic Hezbollah spokesman.

    But it appears that he is indeed more of a “faitheist” with a soft spot for Christianity and Islam (perhaps he could replace the departing Chris Stedman here at RNS!). So, please allow me to revise my comment:

    How interesting that the “social justice allies” who condemned Charlie Hebdo for supposedly inciting hatred against a vulnerable community have had nothing to say about the French pro-Christian, pro-Islam faitheist comedian who incites hatred against a vulnerable community.

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