The latest in the Nicolas Anelka-Deuidonné-quenelle affair is that another apparently nonsense word has been inserted into the fray.
“Zoopla,” the English real estate website and jersey sponsor of West Bromwich Albion has decided to end their sponsorship of the Midlands soccer team due to the failure of management to act on the matter of player Nicholas Anelka having performed a neo-fascist quenelle salute in their December 28th game against West Ham United.
Inaction appears to be the order of the day, as the English Football Association (FA) was should have already made a decision regarding Nicholas Anelka’s performance of the quenelle, allegedly an inverted sieg heil salute created by the French player’s friend, anti-Semitic comedian and political provocateur, Dieudonné M’bala M’bala. While the FA tends to take its sweet time in adjudicating allegations of racism - it took them two months to determine that Chelsea captain John Terry had called Queen’s Park Rangers’ Anton Ferdinand a “black c**t.”
The sport’s anti-racist watchdog, Kick It Out, has also complained about the sluggishness of the FA’s response and Zoopla, one of whose owners is Jewish, has tried to force the issue by first saying that Anelka should not be allowed to wear a Zoopla-branded jersey, and later announced they would not be renewing their contract with West Brom.
While teams generally don’t like it when sponsors meddle in their business, West Brom claims they are waiting for the FA to make a determination. For its part, the FA is saddled with a far more complex case than the Terry-Ferdinand matter. “Anelka’s goal celebration has trapped English football between the localism of its past and the globalism of its present,” noted Roger Bennett of Grantland Sport’s, Men in Blazer’s podcast. “The Football Association has a history of bumbling on complex cases, he added. “A ban for Anelka will surely come, and it should be on the longer side, yet because Anelka – who is a French Muslim with Martinique roots – does not fit traditional English notions of racism and because English football is a fast-growing global product with a massive following across Africa and the Middle East, the course of justice has been too slow – even embarrassingly so.”
As for Anelka, he has, to the chagrin of many, continued to play and has remained on West Brom’s roster. Nearing the end of a mediocre career that could have been brilliant, Anelka apparently wanted that extra little bit of negative attention that misbehaving children momentarily like until they are punished. Nicknamed Le Sulk, Anelka could never control his bad attitude, a fact that resulted in him having moved to and fro to different teams and leagues - 11 different teams in 16 years - top-tier teams like Arsenal, Chelsea, Paris-St. Germain, and Real Madrid, an indication of his playing ability. But unable to keep a lid on his rebel-without-a-cause anger, he was also booted off the French national team for dissension and sent home in the middle of the last World Cup. Approaching middle age but unable to peel off his angry young man mask, he was a prime target for a puppeteer like Dieudonné, who persuauded him to perform the quenelle.
And it is Dieudonné who is the true villain in this saga. An overt antisemite, who cleverly cloaks his Jew hatred under a thin veneer of anti-Zionism together with a touch of humor, Dieudonné is the playground smart-ass who tells his friend to give the teacher the finger - “it’ll be really cool,” and his pal Anelka, apparently not the brightest of bulbs, does it.
In his own defense, Anelka claimed that he did it only to “honor his comedian friend, Dieudonné,” and that the gesture is not anti-semitic, but “anti-establishment.” One must wonder what hat establishment might that be? Could it be the one that pays Anelka $85,000 per week? Perhaps that bears repeating: Anelka makes approximately $85,000 per week. The “establishment,” apparently, really screwed him over badly.
Responding to Anelka’s assertion, British comedian and anti-racism-in-football campaigner David Baddiel tweeted, “Not entirely sure that saying “I only did it in support of my friend the enormous anti-Semite” makes it not anti-Semitic.” Although the comment received a lot of support, Baddiel said that one of the responses he received was from a French person who replied, “It’s not anti-semitic - it’s anti-French government and Zionist cabal.”
This response, according to Baddiel, “was a brilliant example of confusion around all this. In France - and other places - anti-Semitism has been co-opted, or re-dressed, as anti-establishment. And so no doubt Anelka just thought he was sticking it to “The Man,” rather than “The Jew.” But of course “The Man” has been aligned with “The Jew” by people like Dieudonne.”
What Baddiel is getting at here is the insidiousness of something like the quenelle. Dieudonné and his ilk have sneaked anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial into French political discourse using anti-Zionism as a cover. While it has long been on the fringes, a popular “anti-establishment” comedian like Dieudonné is bringing it mainstream and he is not without success. Perhaps worst of all, the reaction of the upper echelons of the French government, which was to ban his performances, proves to his fans (in their eyes, at least) that the government is in the hands of the Zionists, who would like nothing more than to seem him banned. As a result, the episode appears to have been a win-win for Dieudonné, and although he’s had to cancel his current tour because of government pressure, he has received an enormous amount of press and his popularity as an anti-authority figure has boomed. Worse yet, the quenelle appears to have gone international.
As for the FA and their footdragging, the problem is that few outside of France had ever heard of le quenelle. Had the press not seized upon it, Anelka’s gesture would have passed unnoticed. Part of the collateral damage of publicizing his neo-fascist gesture is that it has become much more popular. Youtube is full of images of people performing le quenelle, most often in front of Jewish institutions. The FA was so befuddled by the significance of this gesture, it had to hire an outside consultant just to figure out what it meant. Apparently bewildered at having to enter the cranky world of French radical politics, it’s no wonder the FA has remained circumspect.
Another unusual component to this, as Spiked magazine’s sports columnist Duleep Alirajah noted, is that both the FA and anti-racism organizations like Kick It Out typically expect racism to come from football’s white, working class fans. While that is presumptuous on their part, it is also unusual for them to have to consider racism as emanating from brown-skinned bigots. For many years, racism has been conceived of as being uni-directional: a vicious product of a dominant white culture. This is no longer the case and it will be interesting to see how the FA and West Brom, which previously had one of English football’s most prominent anti-racism/discrimination track records, will extricate themselves from these muddy waters.