Eric Zemmour’s dangerous promise of a “French France”
Four months before the presidential elections in France, the country goes into electoral mode. In a crowded field of candidates, leaped an unlikely presidential hope without a traditional political party or structure to support him – Eric Zemmour.
Far-right journalist and media expert, Zemmour is a familiar face in French salons thanks to his television presence. After weeks of suspense and favorable polls, Zemmour, known for his racist views, declared his candidacy via a YouTube video. He swore to “save” France. The video juxtaposes scenes from a bygone and idyllic France, with footage of violent street protests and brutal clashes with the police. Zemmour deplores the disappearance of the France of his childhood and of his ancestors, nostalgically for the greatness of the France of Joan of Arc and Louis XIV and raises the specter of being foreigners in his own country due to of the overwhelming presence of black immigrants and Muslims.
Zemmour’s speech on restoring France to its former glory has Trumpian overtones, especially regarding Islam and immigrants, both of whom he sees as threats to the very idea of ââFrance. However, Zemmour’s ability to impress the listener with arguments drawn from history and political theory falls far short of Trump’s rambling rhetoric and demagoguery. This is what makes it more dangerous.
This maverick, himself the son of Tunisian immigrants, considers immigration to be the main, but not exclusive, source of France’s social and economic woes. Zemmour subscribes to the âGreat Replacement Theory,â the idea that Western societies are undergoing radical demographic change with migrants from the south of the planet supplanting the white population. He suggests that unless the problem is tackled head-on, immigrants would violently take over, “dispossessing” the “real” French. Zemmour is a proponent of integration – one nation, one language, one culture – and rejects multiculturalism. In a televised debate, he said the French Republic is not McDonald’s. âWe don’t come as we are. We assimilate into a dominant culture. All immigrants would need to assimilate into the mainstream French culture, shedding all vestiges of their rituals, customs and clothing in public.
Zemmour even called for a ban on foreign and traditional Muslim names. If elected, he pledged to restore a Napoleonic law, which prescribes names from the ancient history of France and the Christian calendar of saints for children born in France. From an economic standpoint, Zemmour’s program identifies the major challenges without proposing solutions. However, in a statement that has ramifications for countries like India, he has declared his intention to bring the outsourced jobs back to France.
Zemmour’s pitch seems to have resonated with many. That this vehement candidate, with no electoral experience and no substantive program, conduct double-digit polls, simply on the strength of the promise of a âFrench Franceâ, testifies to the turn to the right of France.
Over the years, aided by the media, the French political class has unwittingly prepared the ground for supporters of toxic rhetoric, like Zemmour, to prosper, by favoring a restrictive definition of secularism, by playing the card of insecurity. and normalizing the expression of anti-Muslim sentiment. This lapping of anti-Muslim prejudices has exacerbated divisions within the country and radicalized the right.
In an effort to remain relevant and reclaim the votes of Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally, President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist party and conservative Republicans have turned sharply to the right on multiculturalism and immigration. Macron has upped the stakes with a new âseparatismâ law and government measures such as shutting down mosques, Islamic charities and even civil society groups that monitor Islamophobia. While his policies are seen to make Islam and Muslims the problem, they are also Macron’s attempt to fight Le Pen on his own turf and distract from sentiment of a country in decline – an impression reinforced by protracted violent protests by yellow vests against the inequality economy. Zemmour jumped into the fray, positioning himself to the right of the far right Marine Le Pen. Together, the two are currently voting at 30%, an indication of the shift to the right of France’s political center of gravity. With the left in disarray, the presidential election of 2022 is likely to be fought and won by the right.
Whatever the outcome, the Zemmour phenomenon has radicalized political discourse and turning it back will prove to be a difficult task, if not impossible.
Kapoor-Sharma writes on politics, culture and current affairs.