Note: The following post is littered with ‘inverted commas’. After all, one wouldn’t want to ‘offend’ anyone.
I really hope that Spurs win their next three matches. In fact, I’m ‘crossing my fingers’ in the hope they might. That’s a fairly ‘innocuous’ gesture to indicate my investment in ‘blind faith’, right? Not in Vietnam it’s not. Crossing your fingers in the presence of a Vietnamese friend might cause a rift in the relationship seeing as you are effectively insulting them by making reference to female genitalia. Similarly, if I suggest that Tim Sherwood’s first few matches as head coach have been ‘ok’, I might curve my thumb and index finger into an ‘o’ and splay the remaining three thus confirming my satisfaction. Do that in Brazil during the World Cup and I run the risk of a lynching because I’ve called someone an ‘arse’. Do you see where I’m ‘going’ with this?
Until Nicolas Anelka chose to ‘celebrate’ his goal against West Ham in December with what’s popularly known in France as a ‘quenelle’, most football fans in England had no comprehension of its ‘connotations’. A few weeks on and with the FA charging Anelka with misconduct, it would appear that everybody has become well-versed with what the ‘inverted Nazi salute’ represents. It’s apparently a ‘rallying call’ for anti-Semites created by a ‘provocateur’ who has been routinely banned from performing ‘controversial’ ‘diatribes’ that seek to critique the ‘machinations’ of the French State and supporters of Zionism.
That’s how the comedic philosophy of Dieudonne M’bala M’bala has been defined in most sections of the media this week as various ‘opinion-makers’ have scrabbled to attach ‘meaning’ to Anelka’s ‘gesture’’. To be honest, I was as ignorant of its ‘cultural explosiveness’ as anybody else. However, even a cursory bit of ‘research’ throws up a series of questions that could ultimately make Anelka’s decision to ‘fight’ the FA charge a successful one.
The ‘quenelle’ is defined by many in France as an ‘anti-establishment’ salute. Deriving from a French dish of elongated fish meatballs it is said to resemble a ‘suppository’ and so M’bala M’bala’s supporters view it as a figurative ‘up yours’ to a system that is seen as working against the rights of the ‘disenfranchised’ and ‘impoverished’. Although this is an accepted interpretation of the gesture, Jewish groups have heavily criticised it for its apparent Nazi ‘iconography’ and M’bala M’bala has found himself banned from various performing platforms. This, despite there being ‘clear distinctions’ between the definitions of ‘anti-Semitism’ and ‘anti-Zionism’.
As a result of the ‘quenelle’s’ ambiguity in its country of origin, it is therefore highly questionable of the football authorities in England to impose a ban on a player under the guise of ‘racial aggravation’. We are not talking about a ‘universally recognised symbol’ such as a Nazi salute that when used, is transparent in its intent to provoke and invoke the associated horrors. The ‘quenelle’ is a local gesture that has now ‘ironically’ gained ‘international currency’ because of the subsequent ‘uproar’ caused by a footballer using his prominent standing to voice his ‘support’ for a friend who many consider as being ‘silenced’ by the ‘moral guardians’ of the French State.
We’re walking a ‘dangerous path’ when we are so willing to shout down or ban viewpoints that may not necessarily bolster the ‘received interpretations’ of the world that are shaped by our media and governmental outlets. M’bala M’bala’s opinions may indeed not be ‘palatable’ for many and that’s ‘understandable’. But does that then legitimise the right of those in disagreement to ‘gag’ those who support him? Surely, it’s better to engage with such issues rather than sweep them into the ‘margins’? Isn’t that how a ‘democracy’ is meant to function? Or are we expected to be ‘spoon fed’ our opinions without question or interrogation? That sounds suspiciously like a world dreamed of by those ‘proper anti-Semites’ in Germany back in the nineteen-thirties.
What’s equally worrying is that the FA is willing to punish a player for making a gesture deemed offensive in another country. It’s essentially a second-hand punitive measure. The ramifications of such a precedent ‘could be far-reaching’, especially if a player in the future executes a celebration that is deemed offensive in ‘Asian’ countries. Marketing departments are probably ‘fretting’ over such an eventuality as I write.
A more cynical mind than my own might think that Anelka’s celebration was a ‘stroke of genius’. By bringing M’bala M’bala’s work to a much wider audience, the comedian could easily ‘circumvent’ the restrictions placed upon him within his own country. And what of those who have used Anelka to gain some ‘free publicity’ over the last week or so? West Brom have lost a sponsor that was ‘unlikely’ to renew its contract with the club at the end of the season. It would seem that taking an apparent ‘moral stance’ looks good for public relations and other companies duly followed by ‘threatening’ West Brom with a further loss of revenue streams because of the furore caused by Anelka. Should an entire institution be condemned because of the ‘unprofessional behaviour’ of one of its employees? I don’t recall Chelsea and Liverpool losing sponsors over the Terry/Suarez race rows, which probably says more about West Brom’s ‘lowly status’ as an ‘international brand’ than anything else.
By loading the ‘quenelle’ with anti-Semitic undertones, the media has now ‘created’ a situation in which an ‘obscure’ gesture is clearly recognised by many as being one, easily defined thing. How long will it be before we see ‘supporters’ of various London clubs gleefully taking it up and aiming it towards the White Hart Lane crowd? If charged, they’d be able to hide behind the ‘anti-establishment’ defence because we’ve allowed them to take an idea and transform it into something else. It’s not Anelka who turned the ‘quenelle’ into an anti-Semitic gesture, it’s ‘us’.
All this in a week that saw three Spurs fans charged for using the word ‘Yid’ at a match and a club founded by Palestinians in Chile being prohibited from using the map of ‘Palestine’ as the number one on the back of its shirts.
Having discussed the ‘quenelle’ all week, my mother-in-law being pretty decent in the kitchen has offered to cook me the ‘offending’ culinary dish so I can sample its many ‘flavours’. She also happens to be from Austria. Oh, and by pure coincidence the colours of the clothes she is wearing today are red, white and black. Explore the facts or jump to conclusions? That’s your ‘choice’. As should your ‘view’ be on Anelka. Is that ‘ok’?
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