The quenelle (French pronunciation: [kə.nɛl]) is a gesture created and popularized by French political activist and comedian Dieudonné M'bala M'bala. He first used it in 2005 in his sketch entitled "1905" about French secularism, and has used it since in a wide variety of contexts. The quenelle became viral, with many photos posted to the internet showing individuals posing while performing quenelles at mundane places (wedding parties, high school classes, etc.).
In late 2013, following its use by professional footballer Nicolas Anelka during a match, Jewish leaders, anti-racism groups, and public officials in France have interpreted it as an inverted Nazi salute 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 balls, 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 arse".
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."
The quenelle has become viral, with many photos posted to the internet showing individuals posing while performing quenelles at mundane places such as wedding parties, in high school classes, underwater, or in front of the Parc Astérix theme park.
Following an incident in which the quenelle gesture was used 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 described the gesture as "an inverted Nazi salute representing the sodomy of the victims of the Holocaust". He also appears in the French TV show Complément d'enquête making the same claims. Dieudonné and his lawyers filed a lawsuit against the League on December 13, 2013.
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. 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 specialist in far-right politics, the quenelle is a "badge of identity, especially among the young, although it is difficult to say whether they really understand its meaning". Camus stated that Dieudonné has become the focus of a "broad movement that is anti-system and prone to conspiracy theories, but which has antisemitism as its backbone". Camus sees the quenelle as a gesture against the conspiracy theory of the existence of an international "Jewish conspiracy". For him, it is an antisemitic gesture that has nothing to do with the Nazi ideology.
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 Suit against unknown, those who compare the quenelle to a Nazi salute. On January 23, 2014 Dieudonné subsequently described the gesture as also being a sign of "emancipation" for people descended from slaves. However, he was sentenced for defamation and public insult of people of Jewish faith or origin", defamation towards the International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism, defamation against the Holocaust, incitement to ethnic or racial hatred and crimes against humanity denial. 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.
Use of the quenelle by British musician Alison Chabloz in August 2015 was the subject of complaints. However, the organisers of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, where Chabloz was due to perform, said no action would be taken against her as it was not within their remit.
Various public figures such as the French basketball player Tony Parker, footballer 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 did not 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.
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 did not 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 conservative party (UMP) and The Greens, whose leader Eva Joly compared Dieudonné to Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik.
The leader of the populist-right party 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.
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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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'In France, it's a gesture against the system.' He added that the use of the quenelle was linked to the history of slavery that affected his and Anelka's ancestors. 'Nicolas Anelka and I, we are French of African origin and this salute is a gesture of emancipation,' he said.
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- 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.
- Doherty, Rosa (18 August 2015). "Fringe won’t act over musician’s quenelle gesture". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 30 October 2016.
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- "UK artist posts quenelle, questions gas chambers to spite ‘Zionists’". The Times of Israel. 21 August 2015. Retrieved 30 October 2016.
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- "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 against 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.
- "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.
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- 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.
- 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 January 8, 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.
Media related to Quenelle (gesture) at Wikimedia Commons