The Quenelle: NSFW (Whether You Like It Or Not)

Posted: February 3, 2014 in Blog, Features, Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I wanted to call this post “Not ‘Eau Que’” (Not OK), but in the knowledge that it meant ‘water that’, felt that it wasn’t as ingenious as I first thought. Anyway.

A gesture has captured the imagination of the world, and especially Europe, in recent weeks. I am of course talking about the quenelle – one arm across the chest, hand resting over the opposite shoulder, with the other arm held straight, diagonally towards the ground.

It looks like this:

I was only scratching. Honest...

I was only scratching. Honest…

It has hit the UK news once again today, after its designer, Dieudonné  M’bala M’bala has been denied entry to the United Kingdom. Despite being sick of hearing about it so much, and seeing the image above of the exceedingly stupid Nicolas Anelka (currently in the running for at least a five-match ban for using the quenelle as a celebration) I want to pass comment.

It was designed as an anti-Semitic salute: One arm is crossing all of Judaism from humanity, while the other is a Nazi salute, gleefully insulting the dead and buried, by pointing to their graves.

Actually, that story was a lie, but does it matter?

Dieudonne M'bala M'bala executes the quenelle.

Dieudonne M’bala M’bala executes the quenelle.

First, meet Dieudonné  M’bala M’bala: French comedian, coiner of the quenelle, and accused of being an anti-Semite, although he claims that he is not, and is in fact anti-Zionist. Dieudonne does not claim that the gesture was created as such, and served more as a softer and less violent ‘up yours’ gesture. However, it has been interpreted not as a direct insult, but as a salute, with a far more focused ‘Nazi salute’ style definition. Multiple court convictions for inducing hate, and his affiliation with holocaust deniers such as Robert Faurisson has not helped his case.

I won’t pretend to know the full story and complete truth about Dieudonné and his beliefs, nor his comedy, as the language barrier is a big problem. Therefore, I don’t feel at liberty to have a reliable opinion on whether his ban from entering the United Kingdom is correct, and will not try. However, this too serves no purpose to prevent me from noticing something more important than his beliefs, and his surprising ultimate insignificance to the tale – the quenelle is offensive.

Quenelles at Auschwitz and an Anne Frank exhibition. Whether or not it began as anti-Semitic, it is now.

Quenelles at Auschwitz and an Anne Frank exhibition. Whether or not it began as anti-Semitic, it is now.

Whether or not it was intended as such, no matter how much it is denied, it has at least become an anti-Semitic gesture, whether the user performs the quenelle with the intent to portray that belief. Even with Dieudonne’s beliefs out of the question, people doing it in front of images of Anne Frank, or on the rails of Auschwitz-Birkenau, means that this is what it means, as of Anelka’s quenelle in December 2013. This will not change any time soon.

Sticking a middle finger up (while it is an insult, as opposed to a salute like the quenelle) hasn’t always been offensive. Were I to stick my middle finger up on air, clearly at a friend as an in-joke, no doubt somebody would still take issue to it, despite not intending to offend. At this moment in time, it is seen as offensive, and no ‘it’s just a finger’ excuse is going to get me out of trouble. There are no excuses.

I assume that the best comparison would be the metalhead ‘devil horns’ gesture. Now it is simply a salute that people may do at concerts. Some might argue that it’s ‘anti-establishment’ though most see it simply as an innocent bit of fun. Imagine if that were to become the signature symbol of a far-right political party, or religious terrorist organization. Whether the metal fans like it or not, the gesture would have been claimed, and tarnished, with no hope of claiming it back anytime soon. No matter how innocent the quenelle’s origins may be, it is not anymore.

All that matters when it comes to offensive gestures is now. I do not find it offensive, but I respect that others do. It is offensive whether you like it or not.

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