The “quenelle” craze that took over France and a few other European countries in the last few months is not merely the product of hate but rather one of sheer ignorance. Although both seem to correlate, historically at least, there is an important distinction that needs to be made.
Ignorance is what leads to blind hate. Whether that hate is justified or not is dependent on the individual, however there is without a doubt a relationship between ignorance and a lack of justification of one’s hate. Wait what?
The question is if the individuals who are frivolously displaying these signs on football fields and in front of Shoah museums are aware of what they are doing. Are they participating in a abhorrent furor of hatred, or are they-in their ignorance- trying to fit in a cultural fad?
Surely every time we see a new picture on social networking sites or a news source, the people who show off their “quenelle” in photos are either bemused or straight up laughing. Is it a sign of hatred? Or simply just someone trying to fit in?
Unfortunately it is both. By trying to fit in a racist, yet in their view, humorous show of body language they are not just trying to confirm into social norms that their peers and culture are exhibiting, they are consciously or even unconsciously exhibiting hate. You might be wondering: so what?
Are there no historical similarities? The formation of the fascist party led by Benito Mussolini in Italy displayed and vulgarized the use of the Roman Salute to move the masses. Let alone the use of the infamous Nazi Salute that has become one of the most overt representations of hatred. How about the use of the Japanese salute under Hirohito’s despotic regime? Is there no common affinity to the “quenell”? Something that binds all of these together?
Conformity. By displaying signs whether one knows why or not, builds a culture of complacency, ignorance and hatred. Especially when connected to the eternal and universal fact of trying to “fit in” or “be a part of something” in human nature, no matter at what cost. Even if it means the hatred of others for the purpose of finding one’s place in the cultural hegemony- the masses.
The “quenelle” is more than just a cultural fad, and it is more than just a representation of French anti-semitism. It is a form of language, I dare say, a mechanism by which hatred is not just spread but rather it is normalized in the minds of individuals. The more it becomes placed in mass culture and media the more it has become normal to see it. Not so different how by 1941, the Hitler Salute was absolutely embedded in all fabrics of daily life- it was everywhere.
Yet the gesture’s promoters say it is for comical means, to break down social conventions, and to promote free speech. Dieudonne himself who has been banned from performing in various French cities, and from entering the U.K has claimed that it was only a part of his “routine”. Really?
Is that why in 2009 in a political campaign promoting Anti-Zionism under the headline of “Pour Une Europe Libérée”- For A “Free Europe”, Dieudonné poses showing of his famous sign. Again immediately comparable to any National Socialist poster from the 1930’s. This leads me to the next question, in fact to a set of questions.
Does this gesture work to promote hatred and more ignorance, or is it just a display of the current anti-semitism in France? Maybe Both? And more importantly, do people stretch their right hand down pointing to the ground because they hate something, or because they are following their peers blindly-as ignorance dictates? These two things are not mutually exclusive, they seem to function together in a complexity so vigorous as to influence culture and to make people hate whether they actually do or don’t.
My immediate concern is the affect the gesture is having on younger generations. In other terms what if it is playing a didactic role in diffusing xenophobia under the guise of a cultural phenomenon- even a humorous and “harmless” gesture? If that is the case as they say, then we should ask ourselves what else would make someone to pose in front of Auschwitz-Birkenau while performing the “quenelle” for a photo? An innocuous antic?
Whatever the case may be the fact remains that the “quenelle” is a means to spread hatred, namely anti-semitism, and ignorance is the locomotive by which it can be spread. It is not an issue of free speech, rather one of defamation.
About the Author: Milad Doroudian is a history student at the University of British Columbia and a writer. He is currently working on a book on the Jassy Pogrom of 1941.
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