Back in January, we reported here on the way a heretofore-obscure French comedian had popularized the quenelle — a downward facing Nazi salute — had become the symbol of a crucial shift in European culture in which anti-Semitism had become fashionable in some segments of popular culture. Months after Dieudonné M'Bala M'Bala had started making international headlines, he has finally made the front page of the New York Times today with a feature that ponders whether efforts by French authorities to crack own on his activities have helped make him even more popular. As Seth Mandell previously noted, efforts to restrict free speech in this manner — even the sort of hateful, Holocaust-denying speech practiced by Dieudonné — are bound to backfire and this is exactly what has happened in France. Dieudonné's audience hasn't just increased as a result of rulings banning his performances and fining him for Holocaust denial have enabled him to bridge the vast gap between Muslim immigrants and right-wing French nationalists who share their hatred for Jews.
This is bad news for France and Europe. But the problem here goes deeper than the way the measures employed by government authorities and Jewish groups to punish Dieudonné have predictably boomeranged on them and turned him into a counter-cultural hero. This depressing spectacle can be represented as something new in which social media and the Internet have provided a forum for disgruntled people looking for a spokesman for their desire to use the Jews as a convenient scapegoat for their troubles. But Dieudonné is merely the latest outbreak of the same old European sickness that produced the very Holocaust that the comedian has tried to deny.