Race storm by race storm, the comfortable fallacy that English football is immune to racism is being eroded. First Suarez and Terry, now Nicolas Anelka. The controversy surrounding the West Brom striker centres on his performing the ‘quenelle’ during a match in December.
This gesture, resembling an inverted Nazi salute, was popularised by the French ‘comedian’ Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, a man whose tasteful comic repertoire includes such classic gags as the ‘Shoananas’ song, a charming little number whose title is a portmanteau of ‘Shoah’ (the Hebrew word for the Holocaust) and ‘Ananas’ (French for pineapple). Other highlights of this visionary’s oeuvre include dancing onstage dressed as an orthodox Jew whilst throwing out Nazi salutes and shouting ‘Israheil’, and referring to Holocaust remembrance ceremonies as “memorial pornography”. He has been convicted of anti-Semitism eight times. Anelka claims the gesture was nothing more than a show of solidarity with Dieudonné, a close friend. In other news, Paolo di Canio is not actually a fascist; he just really likes Mussolini.
Apologists claim the quenelle is anti-establishment, not anti-Semitic. Photos depicting the performance of the gesture at Auschwitz, the Berlin holocaust memorial and the Jewish school in Toulouse where three children and a rabbi were murdered in 2012, suggest otherwise.
Moreover, insofar as the gesture is anti-establishment, that ‘establishment’, for Dieudonné and his following, is synonymous with the sinister ‘Jewish lobby’ that runs the world. Dieudonné’s subscription to this ‘Protocols’-esque view is clear enough in his stand-up routine. Thus, here, ‘antiestablishment’ is inseparable from ‘anti-Semitic’. The quenelle, then, is an anti-Semitic gesture.
There has been considerable frustration at the time it has taken for the FA to conclude its investigation into Anelka’s actions. However, this outrage seems misdirected; there are aspects of the controversy which are worse than mere bureaucratic inefficiency. Take, for example, the frankly pathetic response of ‘Kick It Out’, the anti-racism campaign part-funded by the FA. For weeks, the organisation stayed silent, until heroically breaking ranks on 15th January to proclaim that it was “very frustrated” at the investigation’s slow pace. ‘Kick It Out’ did not condemn Anelka’s actions; this, we are told, is protocol. What, then, is the point of a campaign that aims to change people’s perceptions, but whose only public role is re-affirming the decisions of the organisation that funds it? ‘Kick It Out’ needs to be as bold as its name suggests.
Far more worrying, however, is West Brom’s reaction. Even after the implications of Anelka’s actions had become clear – following caretaker manager Downing’s initial claim that complaints were “absolute rubbish” – the club remained unmoved. In a statement, they merely “acknowledge[d] that Nicolas’ goal celebration has caused offence… and has asked Nicolas not to perform the gesture again”, offering no apology. The same lack of contrition, indeed, applies to Anelka himself. If, as he implies, he is not an anti-Semite, why has he not displayed the common human sensitivity to apologise for the offence caused by what he, surely, considers to be one great big misunderstanding? The silence, in this case, is offensive in itself.
Football, it seems, will never learn. No matter how many games he is banned for, Terry will still be ‘captain, leader, legend’ to the Chelsea faithful; Suarez will remain the hero of the Kop. In continuing to support and play Anelka, and refusing to express disapproval until their hand is, inevitably, forced, West Brom seem bent on perpetuating this twisted tradition – a tradition in which footballing ability trumps all