The quenelle (French pronunciation: [kə.nɛl]) is a gesture created and popularized by French political activist and comedian Dieudonné M'bala M'bala, popularly known by his first name. Dieudonné first used the quenelle gesture in 2005 in his sketch entitled "1905" about French secularism, and has used it since in a wide variety of contexts.
Jewish leaders, anti-racism groups and public officials—especially in France—have interpreted it as an inverted Nazi salute (illegal to perform in France) and as an expression of antisemitism. French officials have sought to ban the gesture due to its perceived subtext of antisemitism.
The name quenelle comes from a dish of elongated fish meatballs, said to resemble a suppository. Hence, the phrase "glisser une quenelle" ("to slide the quenelle"), with a gesture evoking fisting practice, is similar to the English insults "up yours" or "up your ass."
Dieudonné first used the quenelle gesture in his 2005 show named "1905," while talking about a dolphin. Dieudonné used the gesture in various contexts, including for his 2009 European election campaign poster for the "anti-Zionist party": he stated that his intention was "to put a quenelle into Zionism's butt".
The quenelle gesture is usually performed by pointing one arm diagonally downwards palm down, while touching the shoulder with the opposite hand. Although the quenelle is usually done with the hand at shoulder level, it can also be done with different variations (e.g. elbow or wrist level).
Dieudonné described it as "a kind of up yours gesture to the establishment with an in the ass dimension. But it's a quenelle, so it's a bit softer, less violent".
Following the quenelle made by French soldiers stationed outside a synagogue in the sixteenth arrondissement of Paris, The president of the International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism wrote an open letter to Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, dated September 9, 2013, in which he describes the gesture as "an inverted Nazi salute representing the sodomy of the victims of the Holocaust." He also appears in the French TV show "Complèment D'enquête" making the same claims. Dieudonné and his lawyers filed a lawsuit against the League in December 13, 2013.
Dieudonné describes himself as an anti-Zionist, but not an antisemite. He has stated that the quenelle is a humorous "anti-system" gesture which has no association with antisemitism, and declared that he will sue various journalists and personalities who compared the quenelle to a Nazi salute. Officially, French authorities have said the gesture is too vague to take any action against Dieudonné. However, an official January 2014 circular issued by the Interior Ministry specifically linked the quenelle gesture to antisemitism and extremism.
The quenelle has become viral, with many photos posted to the internet showing individuals posing while performing quenelles at wedding parties, in high school classes, underwater, or in front of the Parc Astérix theme park.
Various public figures such as Tony Parker, Nicolas Anelka and National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen were pictured making the gesture. A new trend has emerged, consisting of performing quenelles beside unwitting public figures identified as members of the establishment (such as Bernard-Henri Lévy, Pierre Bergé or Manuel Valls) or in front of the media's cameras. TV host Yann Barthès publicly apologized for quenelles made by someone in the audience during his show and revealed the identity of the author. Shortly afterwards, a picture of Yann Barthès himself performing a quenelle surfaced on social networks. Barthès argued that he didn't know what he was doing when the picture was taken. Several people have been fired for having published photos of them performing quenelles and some people have been assaulted for the same reason. Two teenagers were arrested for having performed a quenelle at school.
While Dieudonné said in August 2013 that "the quenelle had taken on a life of its own and had become something he could no longer claim as his exclusively," his wife Noémie Montagne registered the quenelle as a trademark with the French National Industrial Property Institute.
Critics see quenelle salutes performed (and photographed) in front of prominent Holocaust landmarks and Jewish institutions as proof of the prejudiced intent of the gesture. Individuals have been photographed performing the gesture at the Auschwitz extermination camp, and Alain Soral performed a quenelle in front of the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin.
In September 2013, two French soldiers on duty had their picture taken in front of a Paris synagogue doing a quenelle. One man, now sought by French police, performed the quenelle at three locales connected to the murder of Jews: two at sites related to the March 2012 Toulouse shootings and the other near the Paris monument commemorating the Holocaust.
According to Jean-Yves Camus, a French academic, the quenelle is a "badge of identity, especially among the young, although it is difficult to say whether they really understand its meaning." It has become the focus of a "broad movement that is anti-system and prone to conspiracy theories, but which has antisemitism as its backbone."
By professional athletes
When French footballer Nicolas Anelka of West Bromwich Albion F.C. performed the quenelle to celebrate scoring a goal on 28 December 2013, the gesture, which was already considered "something of a viral trend" in France, became an international news story and one of the most searched terms on Google. Anelka described the gesture as anti-establishment rather than religious in nature, and said he did a quenelle as a "special dedication" to his friend Dieudonné. However, French minister for sport Valérie Fourneyron called his actions "shocking" and "disgusting", adding: "There's no place for anti-Semitism on the football field." A subsequent statement released by West Bromwich said Anelka agreed not to perform the quenelle again, but nevertheless on 27 February 2014, Anelka was banned for five matches and fined £80,000 for this action. In response to the incident, club sponsor Zoopla announced that it would not continue its sponsorship deal with West Bromwich after the 2013–14 season. Dieudonné, who intended to visit and support Anelka in England, was banned from entry to the United Kingdom in February 2014. Anelka was subsequently sacked by West Brom on 15 March 2014.
In November 2013, a photograph of French footballer Mamadou Sakho performing the quenelle with Dieudonné was discovered. Sakho said he had been tricked into making a quenelle without knowing its meaning, and that the photo had been taken six months earlier.
Following the Anelka incident, a photograph surfaced of Tony Parker, a French professional basketball player who currently plays for the San Antonio Spurs of the National Basketball Association (NBA), performing the quenelle alongside Dieudonné. Parker apologized, saying he didn't know at the time that "it could be in any way offensive or harmful."
French government reaction
On 23 December 2013, French President François Hollande said "We will act, with the government led by prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, to shake the tranquility which, under the cover of anonymity, facilitates shameful actions online. But also we will fight against the sarcasm of those who purport to be humorists but are actually professional anti-Semites."
In a statement on 27 December 2013, France's Interior Minister Manuel Valls said he would consider "all legal means" to ban Dieudonné's "public meetings," given that he "addresses in an obvious and insufferable manner the memory of victims of the Shoah."
As Dieudonné continued to sprinkle usage of the quenelle on his website and in Internet postings, such as in his 2013 New Year's Eve video, the government took note. On 6 January 2014, Valls declared that performances considered anti-Semitic may be banned by local officials, and sent a three-page circular entitled "The Struggle Against Racism and Antisemitism – demonstrations and public reaction – performances by Mr. M'Bala M'Bala" to all prefects of Police in France. With respect to freedom of speech in France and banning scheduled performances ahead of time, Valls wrote: "The struggle against racism and antisemitism is an essential concern of government, and demands vigorous action." He took note of the liberty of expression in France, but goes on to say that in exceptional circumstances, the police are invested with the power to prohibit an event if its intent is to prevent "a grave disturbance of public order" and cited the 1933 law supporting this. In addition, Valls specifically made reference to the quenelle, linking the quenelle gesture and quenelle trademark to Dieudonné's racist and antisemitic attitudes in his internet publications.
Most political parties in the opposition support the government's ban – including the main right-wing party (UMP) and The Greens, whose leader Eva Joly compared Dieudonné to Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik.
The leader of the right-wing National Front, Marine Le Pen, stated that she had "no opinion about the quenelle" and that politicians should speak about serious subjects such as unemployment, poverty or deindustrialization, not about quenelles. She later declared that the government's ban was similar to censorship.
- "Dieudonné fait fructifier sa quenelle à scandale" [Dieudonné makes his quenelle a scandal]. Le Républicain Lorrain (in French). 4 January 2014.
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- Sky News. "Dieudonne breaks silence on quenelle".
- Morel, Myriam (2013-11-26). "Photo polemique de Mamadou Sakho: qu'est‐ce que la quenelle de Dieudonne ?" [Polemic photogram of Mamadou Sakho: what is Dieudonne's 'quenelle'?]. Metro (in French) (FR: Metro International).
- Licourt, Julien (2013-12-30). "D'où vient la 'quenelle' de Dieudonné" [Where Dieudonné's "quenelle" comes from]. Le Figaro. Archived from the original on 12 January 2014. Retrieved January 10, 2014. "We can find one of the first public performances of the 'quenelle' in a show about French secularism in 2005. 'When a dolphin sees a man now, he laughs in our face. Of course. Because he knows he's about to stick his fin right up to here in us...' And at that moment, Dieudonné performs the sign of the quenelle."
- "Extrait du spectacle 1905 (2005)".
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- "Open letter from LICRA to Jean-Yves LE DRIAN, French Minister of Defense" (in French). LICRA. September 9, 2013. Archived from the original on 2014-01-06. Retrieved 2014-06-16.
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- T, M (26 December 2013). "Définition de la "quenelle": Dieudonné porte plainte pour diffamation" ["Quenelle"'s definition: Dieudonne sues for defamation] (in French). BFM TV.
- T, M (24 December 2013). "Quenelle : Dieudonné porte plainte et vise la Licra" [Quenelle: Dieudonné sues and aims for the Licra]. Le Monde (in French).
- Liphshiz, Cnaan (2013-12-25). "French use Nazi-like salute with impunity". Times of Israel.
- Hacquemand, Eric. "Voici la circulaire anti-Dieudonné envoyée par Valls aux préfets" [Here is the anti‐Dieudonné circular letter sent by Valls to the mayors]. Le Parisien (in French). Archived from the original on January 7, 2014. Retrieved January 7, 2014. "He poses personally on the tour poster performing the gesture known as 'the quenelle', a gesture for which his production company has registered intellectual property rights at the National Industrial Property Institute (INPI) and which references his internet publications, without ever having renounced the racist and antisemitic declarations in his publications. And in the exchanges which he has with a portion of his public, his followers, or numerous people known for their antisemitic and extreme ideas, declaring in a message published on January 1  on the internet site Youtube that he wanted to announce 2014 'under the sign of the quenelle' he announces clearly his wish to persist along the same path, despite nine judgments against him."
- "Hollande supports banning Dieudonne". i24news. 29 December 2013.
- "What's in a gesture? The quenelle's ugly undertones". France24. 30 December 2013.
- Penketh, Anne (31 December 2013). "Photo shows French minister with men performing quenelle". The Guardian.
- "Yann Barthès photographié faisant une 'quenelle' : l'animateur coupe court à toute polémique" [Yann Barthès pictured making a 'quenelle': the host cuts short all polemics]. The Huffington Post (in French). 20 November 2013.
- Magnenou, Fabien (23 December 2013). "Un intérimaire banni du groupe Adecco pour une "quenelle"" [Intern fired from Adecco for a "quenelle"]. France Télévisions (in French).
- "Une "quenelle" fait exclure deux pompiers (Quenelle gets two firefighters dismissed)". 20 Minutes (France). 12 December 2013.
- "Lyon: six jeunes s'improvisent justiciers contre des auteurs de quenelle" [Lyon: six youngsters improvise as justicers againts authors of quenelle]. L'Express (in French).
- "Quenelle: deux lycéens placés en garde à vue" [Quenelle: two high schoolers arrested in flagrant]. Le Figaro (in French).
- "La femme de Dieudonné dépose la marque 'quenelle'" [Dieudonné's wife registers the 'quenelle' brand] (in French). FR: France TV Info. 2014. Archived from the original on January 7, 2014. Retrieved January 7, 2014.
- "Nazi-style quenelle salute performed at Toulouse Jewish school". Times of Israel. 30 December 2013.
- "Anelka's 'Nazi' salute storm: Striker could face lengthy FA ban for offensive goal celebration along with sanctions in France". The Daily Mail. 28 December 2013.
- "What the hell is a 'quenelle'? Why everyone is searching Google for an anti-Semitic salute". Haaretz. 31 December 2013.
- "Nicolas Anelka: West Brom sponsor Zoopla to end deal". BBC Sport. 20 January 2014.
- "Nicolas Anelka vows never to repeat 'anti-Semitic' goal celebration". The Guardian. 30 December 2013.
- Daniels, Tim. "Nicolas Anelka Banned 5 Matches, Fined £80,000 for Quenelle Gesture". Bleacher Report. Retrieved February 27, 2014.
- "French comedian Dieudonné responds to British ban with quenelle to the Queen". The Telegraph (UK).
- "'Quenelle' avec Dieudonné: Sakho dit avoir été piégé" ['Quenelle' with Dieudonné: Sakho says he was trapped]. Le Parisien (in French). 28 November 2013.
- "Spurs guard Tony Parker apologizes for controversial gesture". The Boston Globe. Associated Press. 31 December 2013.
- "In France, quasi-Nazi salute may evade long arm of the law". JTA. 23 December 2013.
- "France to ban 'anti-Semitic' comedian". Radio France Internationale. 27 December 2013.
- 2014 sera l'année de la quenelle !!! on YouTube ["2014 will be the year of the quenelle!"].
- "La circulaire de Valls aux prefets" [Valls' circular letter to the prefects] (in French). YouScribe. Archived from the original on 8 January 2014. Retrieved May 8, 2014.
- "Quenelle: Cope soutient Valls" [Quenelle: Cope supports Valls] (in French). BFM TV.
- "Dieudonné, Breivik". The Huffington Post (in French). 2014-01-08.
- Poincaré, Nicolas. "Marine le Pen: Le FN n'a pas d'avis sur la quenelle de Dieudonné" [Marine le Pen: FN has no opinion on Dieudonné's quenelle]. Europe soir (video extract) (in French) (Europe 1).
- "Le Pen: une indigestion générale de quenelles" [Le Pen: a general quenelles indigestion]. Le Figaro (in French). 2014-01-09.