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French Court Rules Controversial Comedian's Show Can Go Ahead

A French comedian whose performances authorities want to ban because of the act's perceived anti-Semitism has been given the go-ahead to perform in the city of Nantes, France.

A court ruled Thursday that Dieudonne M'bala M'bala's show Thursday night that will open his nationwide tour can go ahead. About 5,000 tickets have been sold for the performance.

Critics say Dieudonne's straight-arm gesture, known as a "quenelle," is a reverse Nazi salute, but the 46-year-old comedian says it is anti-Zionist and anti-establishment. He denies it is anti-Semitic.

But the BBC notes that:

"He has seven convictions for anti-Semitic hate speech and his latest show is also said to contain a string of derogatory references to Jews. ... The French government has made a concerted effort to stop the comedian's new tour after Dieudonne was recorded making blatantly anti-Semitic remarks about a Jewish journalist."

French Interior Minister Manuel Valls said Thursday that he planned to appeal the court's ruling. Valls is leading the effort to stop Dieudonne's tour.

Several cities, including Nantes, had banned the performance, but Dieudonne's lawyer said it violated his client's freedom of expression. Jacques Verdier, the lawyer, called Thursday's ruling a "total and complete victory."

Dieudonne's gesture also made headlines across the Atlantic when the NBA's Tony Parker used the quenelle in a photograph with Dieudonne. Parker later apologized, saying he was unaware of the gesture's meaning.

In Britain, Nicolas Anelka, a soccer player for West Browich Albion, used it while celebrating a goal. He called it "a dedication to Dieudonne." He faces a sanction from the Football Association.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Krishnadev Calamur is NPR's deputy Washington editor. In this role, he helps oversee planning of the Washington desk's news coverage. He also edits NPR's Supreme Court coverage. Previously, Calamur was an editor and staff writer at The Atlantic. This is his second stint at NPR, having previously worked on NPR's website from 2008-15. Calamur received an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri.
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