In ‘Defence’ Of Nicolas Anelka

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’?

Further reading:

Mandatory Di Canio, Sunderland & Fascism Post

We’re Tottenham Hotspur, We’ll Sing What We Want

Follow Dispatches on Twitter: @Sofalife


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17 Responses to In ‘Defence’ Of Nicolas Anelka

  1. Mr smith January 27, 2014 at 10:19 am #

    Best article that i have read on the Nicholas Anelka quenelle incident. You have shown that thoughtful writing still exists, well done.

  2. wbalind January 27, 2014 at 11:14 am #

    This is my first visit to your website and I will definitely return. I have surely read every article on Nicolas Anelka and the ‘quennelle’ incident and you have summed up (in a very articulate and thought provoking manner) how I feel about the whole incident. You have also given much ‘food for thought’ on gestures and the media scrutiny. Great article .

  3. GRB68 January 27, 2014 at 11:43 am #

    Great article, nail on head.
    Mark this FAO Martin Samual.

  4. John January 27, 2014 at 11:52 am #

    This is a debate in football that I have stayed out of until this point, but to see an otherwise intelligent writer duped means this line of thought will gain legitimacy.

    You’ve written a decent piece, noble in it’s intention but ultimately misguided. You refer to the gestures ambiguity here in France as to whether the quenelle is anti-semetic or not.

    The problem with this logic is that there really isn’t any ambiguity about the gesture: the gesture is anti-semitic in connotation, by association and in nature.

    The debate is based on plausible deniability, but saying the quenelle is not anti-semitic doesn’t make it so.

    Your idea of ambiguity may arise from the fact that there has been some debate about the issue – however I would liken the debate to the debate you might have in England – ‘Are the BNP racist?’ – they take great care not to be so openly, but most people would agree that, in fact, they are.

    The quenelle is favoured by neo-nazi groups, anti-semites and the far right – and you have no doubt seen the many photos posted online of people making the pose in front of Jewish memorials and monuments. I haven’t seen it used in an anti-establishment context at all.

    • Big John January 27, 2014 at 1:23 pm #

      There is no debate in England about the BNP being racist, they may stay within the law but they are very open in their racist and xenophobic views.

    • Greg January 27, 2014 at 9:41 pm #

      Rather than it being a case of being “duped”, like many in England I’m coming at it from a position of relative ignorance. As a result, I’ve sought to ask a series of questions that might further my understanding of the gesture.

      It would be churlish to suggest that Anelka didn’t know what he was doing when he unveiled the ‘quenelle’. However, to charge him with racism, the FA must categorically be able to prove that that is what the gesture symbolises. From what I understand, and as I state in the post, it is viewed as an anti-establishment symbol that has been appropriated by less savoury elements of society. The issue is further complicated when it becomes a gesture that has no cultural legacy in our country. I’m happy to be enlightened should there be a gap in my knowledge.

      I have always been of the opinion that free speech should be protected however reprehensible some views might be. Surely it is better to tackle racists, neo-Nazis and other bigots through legitimate and coherent debate thus allowing them to be seen for who they really are. Banning merely adds to their mystique. It polarises and ferments an attitude of alienation that these people use to their advantage.

  5. Baloni January 27, 2014 at 12:15 pm #

    I sent a letter expressing some of these sentiments to a national newspaper which berated WBA for not taking immediate punitive action against Anelka. It wasn’t published. My point was that there may have been anti-semitic prejudices in Anelka’s action but that this had to be proven and couldn’t just be assumed and condemned. As you point, out the quenelle predated Mbala Mbala and his offensive act. We don’t ban the cross of St George in tjhis country just because it has been adopted by BNP and the EDL.
    In the past I have argued for curbs on such organisations but the Anelka – Mbala affair is much more complex. Most of the media seem to have forgotten the British democratic principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’. It was just too attractive a story for them not too whip up a moral panic against a figure who they have always

  6. BaggieBird January 27, 2014 at 5:15 pm #

    Well written and balanced unlike most of the media rubbish we have had to read.

    Innocent until proven guilty! This is a complex case and needs to be fully considered. Terry and Suarez both played until their cases were investigated. Lee Hughes played at West Brom after the fatal car crash which he got six years for, the day he was found guilty he was sacked by the club.

    If annelka is found guilty then the club must act accordingly.

    As for Zoolpla they were going anyway, WBA had already started talks with Indian companies. Zoopla are just about the float on the stock market so they don’t want anything that could impact in share trading coming out then.

  7. Frank Heaven January 27, 2014 at 9:14 pm #

    Thanks for bringing a bit of balance and rationality to quenelle-gate.

    WBA fans have found this a difficult period. Personally I would have liked the club to have made a stronger statement reaffirming their anti-racist position. However this is clearly a complex case, culturally and legally, and it is not right to hang the man before he has been tried. Even though the national press have.

    It has been particularly unedifying to see ‘occasional’ football pundits like Marina Hyde jumping on the bandwagon, spotting an easy column for their bleeding-heart liberal audience.

    As for Zoopla, well I notice they are planning to float soon, which may have nothing to do with their opportunistic PR stunt. Anyway, me and my mates will be using Rightmove from now on.

    • Greg January 27, 2014 at 9:49 pm #

      That’s the irony isn’t it? We’ve all been so quick to condemn before we even know what we’re actually condemning. I was sad to see Marina Hyde taking the stance that she did as I generally enjoy her pieces, being one of those bleeding heart liberals myself. However, we really need to guard against people being banned simply because we don’t like what they’re saying. That’s how liberalism should work.

  8. efraim January 28, 2014 at 2:16 pm #

    if your whole argument really centres around this ‘has a different meaning in another country’ thing, then that was the argument suarez used to defend himself when he was charged with racially aggravated conduct against evra. suarez claimed that in south america ‘negro’ just means black, and doesn’t have the same offensive connotations.
    all this doesn’t really stand up in my book, and suarez was rightly charged. It may be more idiotic than racist, but its still something that should be fined. If Anelka is so concerned about the French context, he should jump on a plane to france, take a picture with his ‘mate’ performing the gesture and then pop back in time for the next west brom game. which is exactly what samir nasri did (pictured performing the quenelle with the comedian) but don’t bring this shit into football.

    • Greg January 28, 2014 at 2:46 pm #

      No, my argument centres around the fact that Anelka has been charged with racial aggravation for something we cannot define categorically. He has said he won’t do it again. That should be enough unless we can prove otherwise. Or should we be banning people for doing idiotic things at will? If that is the case, we’d all be culpable for censure at various points in our lives.

  9. tonyh January 28, 2014 at 3:52 pm #

    I just don’t know what to think to be honest. I am however suspicious when the terms anti Zionist is taken to be equivalent to anti Semitic. I can also see parallels with the Suarez thing – though there is a great deal more ambiguity here. Remember Gus Poyet’s helpful attempt to explain the cultural context there? Certainly put me off the idea of a holiday in Uraguay.

    Football is a sport which I think has done a great deal to break down barriers and counter prejudice. I’m not a Spurs fan, but I always liked the ‘Yid’ thing, something I took for the very opposite of anti Semitism. I find a lot of the recent ‘controversies’ utterly depressing.

  10. Jean January 28, 2014 at 4:17 pm #

    Watch this, quenelle song in english

    • Greg January 28, 2014 at 7:58 pm #

      Thanks for this, Jean. Amazing and enlightening.

  11. Winston January 29, 2014 at 12:27 am #

    Great link Jean, really well put position Greg. Who really cares what Anelka did? British institutions are too reactionary by nature these days and the FA leads the pack. Innocent until proven guilty, unless your John Terry as he has no comparison and he’s John Terry.

  12. WBA73 January 29, 2014 at 11:33 pm #

    When will dim witted players learn not to make controversial gestures? It doesn’t matter if he meant it to be fascist/racist/anti-establishment..he is dragging the clubs name through the mud by a stupid gesture. Get rid. Only here on a pay day till he retires anyway….

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