France was shocked when Jean Marie Le Pen, who was the leader of the far-right party and never invited to be on any television channel in France, went into the second round against Jacques Chirac with 16.86% of votes in the 2002 presidential elections. Expectedly, Chirac was elected president with 82.21% in the second round; meanwhile Le Pen could only increase his vote to 17.79%.
But, according to the newspaper headlines, this was a shameful event and a great disaster for France! This was because Le Pen, who was prosecuted for inciting xenophobia and for his statement that gas chambers were “a mere detail” in the history of World War II, achieved a great success considering he could only win 0.74% of votes in 1974 when he first ran.
That’s all water under the bridge now. Over the last 20 years, far-right ideas have flourished and bloomed. They have even ceased to be “far-right ideas” as they have become pretty common. An ambiguous xenophobia against Africans, Arabs, and sometimes people coming from countries in the European Union was replaced by an overt hatred of Islam and hostility towards Muslims. This new xenophobia moved to the center of politics and gained serious ground in both left-wing and right-wing politics.
French Minister of Higher Education Frédérique Vidal, who gave an interview to CNews channel after Blanquer, said, “Islamo-leftism causes social collapse and I think universities as a part of the society are not free of its grip.” Not only that, Vidal also called on the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) to conduct a study on the “Islamo-Gauchisme [French term of Islamo-leftism] effect and its impact on studies on the decolonization process” in universities.
There are many examples of the so-called valorous breakthroughs in the name of Islamophobia that started in the 2000s. An influential figure in left-wing politics, feminist intellectual and philosopher Élizabeth Badinter, in an interview to the newspaper Le Monde during socialist President Hollande’s incumbency stated, “Don’t be afraid of being accused of being Islamophobic; I’m not afraid, no one should be afraid.” She had also secured the support of Prime Minister Manuel Valls at the time.
Before that, one of the founders of the highly circulated right-wing magazine Le Point, Claude Imbert said in slightly more timid words, “To be honest, I’m a bit Islamophobic,” while Françoise Laborde, a former Radical Party of the Left senator who later joined Macron’s party, said, “Frankly, I like being called Islamophobic.” These are only a taste of what’s going on.
In such an environment, a great candidate for the 26th presidency of the Élysée Palace emerged: Éric Zemmour. The name of his party “Reconquête” (Reconquest), refers to the Reconquista (reclaiming Andalusia from the Muslims) process of the Spanish and Portuguese uniting with European Christians against Andalusia. Another one of Zemmour’s muses is the former socialist militant Renaud Camus, who at the age of 75 turned into one of the most influential figures in far-right thought, and his theory of the “Great Replacement.” This is the famous conspiracy theory that influenced Brenton Tarrant, who attacked two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2019, causing the death of 51 and the injury of 49 innocent people!
The name of Zemmour’s party “Reconquête” (Reconquest), refers to the Reconquista (reclaiming Andalusia from the Muslims) process of the Spanish and Portuguese uniting with European Christians against Andalusia.
According to Camus, “a number of pro-globalization elites are encouraging Muslim Arabs and Africans to go to Europe as workers and colonize it, so the white race is at great risk because at this rate they will become a minority in their own country.” Zemmour, the new presidential candidate, wants to “engrave this issue concerning the very existence of the French nation into the minds of people” during his election campaign.
He has reiterated time and again that Muslims are ruining and colonizing France, that Islam is a religion of terror, that Arabic names should be banned, and that employers should have the right not to employ Arabs/Africans. While he calls Muslims to renounce Islam and become assimilated, Zemmour says he will close the borders to new immigrants and that he will impose restrictions on immigrants who are French citizens based on a series of criteria.
With his talent as a writer, Zemmour expresses in a vulgar but impactful way what others could only whisper or insinuate. He is a republican after all, albeit being “radical” or “overzealous” for some. In France, the definitions of secularism, republicanism, and “Civilization” – whether used together or separately – are extraordinarily useful euphemisms for anti-Islamic sentiment and hostility towards Muslims. When it comes to Muslims, Zemmour’s far-right ideological position of “Civilization and the Republic,” Marine Le Pen’s emphasis on “Secularism,” and a socialist or a right-wing politician’s discourse of “Republicanism, Secularism” or “Civilization” are not different at all.
As a matter of fact, Macron’s “Anti-Separatism Bill” was renamed “Principles Strengthening Respect for the Laws of the Republic” after receiving backlash across the world for being Islamophobic; however, it retained its content. In other words, the state does not openly say “give up your Islamic identity” like Zemmour, but does its best to make Muslims live their faith in their inner world and make their physical attachment to their religion invisible.
The French public is subject to constant manipulation; the French Institute of Public Opinion (IFOP), one of the leading research institutions in France, for instance, published a survey last month based on students’ responses to the question “Have you observed any behavioral patterns at school that show signs of religious belonging?” Zemmour, then, justified his thesis through this survey.
Horrendous cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed being projected on government buildings or Muslim children being forced to look at these cartoons as a part of their education, and two 10- or 11-year-old students who refused to look at these cartoons being taken from their homes with their families and being subjected to investigation is not dissimilar to what Zemmour promises.
Eric Zemmour announced and propagated this discourse and his racist comments by writing for mainstream media outlets like Le Quotidien de Paris and Le Figaro, along with appearing on prime-time shows on channels such as RTL and France 2. Although he faced trial and was convicted twice, it is not possible to claim that he has faced a hostile response to his person. In the last 20 years, he has become a celebrity in political and economic circles. For two years, he was working at CNews, the news channel controlled by the Catholic businessman Vincent Bolloré, who previously supported Macron.
Eric Zemmour announced and propagated this discourse and his racist comments by writing for mainstream media outlets like Le Quotidien de Paris and Le Figaro, along with appearing on prime-time shows on channels such as RTL and France 2.
Despite all this, there is something about Zemmour that renders him unique. Born in 1958 to an Algerian Jewish family, at his first official political rally on December 5, 2021 he boasted of his minority background, describing himself as a “little Berber Jew from the other side of the Mediterranean.” Zemmour, who was educated at a private Jewish school located in a Parisian suburb, says he practices his faith but does not consider himself Orthodox. However, this is not what makes him unique – he is accused of turning historical events on their head, while some describe him as an “anti-Semitic Jew.”
Indeed, Zemmour claimed that “Dreyfus may not be innocent,” [referring to the political scandal riddled with anti-Semitism known as “Dreyfus affair”] and Philippe Petain, who was president during the Nazi occupation between 1940 and 1944, was actually watching over the French Jews! Shocking at first glance, Zemmour’s connection to anti-Semitic history seems to be his far-right ideology, and the anti-Semitic vein at the base of the far-right may have tactically compelled him to make such comments. Indeed, 93-year-old former far-right party leader Le Pen also declared that he supports Zemmour instead of his daughter. “The only difference between Éric and me is that he is a Jew. It’s hard to call him a Nazi or a fascist. It gives him more freedom,” Le Pen said.
On the other hand, there may be another element to explain his shocking historical “revisionism.” In France, there is a publication called Causeur, which was first established as a website by the Sephardic Jewish journalist and writer Élisabeth Lévy. Causeur has been publishing as a monthly magazine for several years now and is deemed a right-wing and far right-wing publication. Alain Finkielkraut, another one of the magazine’s founders, is one of the country’s most influential and prominent philosophers and of Jewish origin, who is known for being “just like Lévy, but more of an Islamophobe.”
Lévy, in the article titled “Salomon, Will You Vote for Zemmour?” states that Zemmour is the talk after synagogue services. She relays that while part of the congregation says, “aren’t you be ashamed to support him, so you’re going to vote for a Petainist,” others say “Zemmour is our savior.” Due to France’s foreign policy discourse or despite the protection offered by legislation against anti-Semitism, the rise of Islamophobia causes tensions between Arab and Jewish children in the suburbs, especially in Paris. Lévy extracts that while many institutions and organizations of the Jewish community condemn Zemmour for his views and allegations, Jewish families residing in the suburbs see him as a “savior” or even as the “last exit before exile.”
According to polls, with 14-17% of the vote, Zemmour is unlikely to become president. However, in a country where far-right parties and ideas are indisputably on the rise, he will retain a significant voter base and will continue to inflame the debates along with consolidating the anti-Islamic and anti-Muslim rhetoric.
VIDEO: Far-right pundit Zemmour in running for French president