Dieudonné and Québec: Canadian media misses golden Québec-bashing opportunity
For the life of me I can’t figure out how the Anglo-Canadian media missed this one. There is everything they love in this story: Québec, antisemitism, racism, the French, Jean-Marie Le Pen and a very easy way to throw in Pauline Marois and the Separatists.
Somebody fell asleep at the switch.
Here’s what’s going on. Last week the Superior Court of Québec sentenced French stand-up comic Dieudonné to pay 75 000$ to French crooner Patrick Bruel for attacking the French signers reputation. In a 2006 interview Dieudonné had called Bruel “a pure product of this ultrasionnist political system” who had “the superiority complex of some Israelis.” He also called Bruel a liar and said the signer thought the bombing of children in Lebanon was “normal”.
This was far from Dieudonné’s first controversial declaration or even his first time his opinions had landed him in court. In fact, from a man who has called Jews “a sect, a swindle” and a people that “sold the holocaust, sold suffering to build a country and make money”, you could even say that his comments about Patrick Bruel were quite tame.
So how did Québec get involved? It started when Patrick Bruel, who was a guest on the Radio-Canada TV show Tout le Monde en Parle, objected to the complacent attitude of the Québec media toward Dieudonné compared to France, where he is a pariah. Dieudonné replied with his infamous attacks on another Québec TV show, Les Francs-Tireurs, with Richard Martineau.
In another interview, Dieudonné was asked why the controversy that surrounds him did not seem to follow him across the Atlantic: “There is a freedom of speech and tone, here, that is quite anchored in the culture of this country. After getting rid of religion, I’m under the impression that there is a quite strong critical sense that developed. I feel comfortable in the general state of mind and culture of Québec.”
In the same interview Dieudonné praised Pauline Marois, the Parti québécois’ leader, whom he claims he has met and found to be “very serene”.
Oh the headlines they could’ve cooked up with that one…
Well Ok, then. The church ladies and hall monitors of McGill and the Globe and Mail must be busy telling some other nation how to run their country, so let’s take this opportunity to discuss as adults. For once.
The question is: Has the Québec media been complacent with Dieudonné?
The answer is yes.
It must be understood that Dieudonné is an extremely smart man, a complex artist and an equal opportunity offender. At the beginning of his 2008 show J’ai fais le Con which I saw in Montreal, he talks about the Pygmies who steel the garbage behind his father’s house in Cameroon: “Pygmies are a nuisance, kind of like your Indians”.
I don’t know how many people in the audience understood the joke was on them. Dieudonné is actually a defender of the rights of Cameroon’s Pygmies and outspoken about the deforestation that condemns them to a life of beggars on the streets of Yaoundé. When you know that, the parallel he makes between Pygmies and canadian natives on the streets of Montreal or Winnipeg takes on a whole other meaning.
Dieudonné delights in the ambiguity and loves exposing our double standards. Which is, after all, a comedian’s job. He is also very good at forcing the media to pay attention to him. Last year, he made far right Front National leader Jean-Marie Le Pen the godfather of his child and in December 2008 he invited holocaust denier Robert Faurisson on stage with him to give him a Free Speech award.
Which brings us to Dieudonné’s most controversial topic: is his claim that there is a « hierarchy of suffering » in society, notably expressed in the way that Jewish suffering and the Holocaust is considered a worse crime than the slave trade.
He did not come up with that himself. This is a fairly common discourse, notably in some radical parts of the African-american community.
It is a heavy question. Certainly one worthy of public discussion.
Another question that should be discussed publicly is why people like Dieudonné who are preoccupied with this « hierarchy of suffering » are obsessed with Jews? Why not the fact that the condition of African-Americans receives more attention than that of Mexican natives? Or that the world takes to the street for Tibet and Palestine and could care less about the Kurds? Or that the world knows a whole lot more about the « plight » of Anglo-Quebecers than they do about the struggle of Franco-Manitobans?
Is this focus on Jews not a « hierarchy of the scapegoats »?
The fact that the Québec media merely labelled Dieudonné a “controversial” comedian when he is in fact, and of his own admission, a radical provocateur raises questions. The fact that the Québec public is indifferent to his comments about Jews while it is offended by similar statements about black people by pop psychologists and TV comics exposes our own double standards.
That is why the Québec media and public failed. Not because they gave him a soapbox – he knows how to get those on his own – but because they just smiled and nodded to Dieudonné’s provocations, falsely pretended not to understand, just so they wouldn’t be dragged into the debate.
And it’s the debate that’s important.