France’s Trump?

The rise of Éric Zemmour.

Bruce Bawer is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. 

France’s next presidential election will take place in April, and the international media are already alarmed that the winner just might be a man named Éric Zemmour. He’s “shaking up France's presidential race before it's even begun,” warns the BBC. Among Zemmour’s unsettling views: he says “that France is being ‘submerged’ by migrants” and that the French media are "a propaganda machine that hates France.” In other words, he does that most unforgivable of things, in the eyes of the corporate media: he dares to tell the truth about certain uncomfortable subjects.

To the Financial Times, Zemmour is an “anti-immigration polemicist” whom “critics see” (yes, that cheap rhetorical dodge) “as a dangerous, Donald Trump-style provocateur” (because, after all, four years of Trump proved him to be a “dangerous...provocateur”) — “a TV talk-show star who rails against Muslims, immigration, feminism, crime and the supposed decline of France.” Like Trump, Zemmour “has focused on topics that attract intense interest from voters — especially immigration and crime — and packaged them in ways that favour the viral spread of his message.” Thus do the corporate media frame truth-telling as cynical vote-mongering.

In the Guardian you can read that Zemmour “claims foreigners have taken over whole neighbourhoods in France.” As if the banlieues that are no-go zones for non-Muslims weren’t an established fact! The other day France’s Chief Rabbi, Haim Korsia, who is known for his “commitment to interfaith dialogue,” called Zemmour - a Jew who goes to shul with his Jewish wife - an anti-Semite. Thus do the members of the establishment conspire to draw a cordon sanitaire around those who refuse to parrot the elite orthodoxy. Then there’s Hans-Georg Betz, a professor at the University of Zurich who studies “right-wing populism.” He accuses Zemmour of being “obsessed with Islam.” Yes, just like German Jews in the 1930s were obsessed with Nazism. For Betz, Zemmour

regurgitates ad nauseam all the familiar anti-Islamic tropes that have made the political fortunes of radical right-wing entrepreneurs in recent memory....These tropes posit that Islam is not only a religion, but also a political ideology, and as such totalitarian; that the basic principles of Western culture and civilization, such as democracy, freedom of religion and opinion, the equality of men and women, or the separation of church and state, are fundamentally at odds with Islam; and that Islam is all about submission and therefore incompatible with liberal democracy.

Funny how even now, as the writing on the wall (scrawled in Arabic with the blood of infidels) becomes easier and easier to read, academics like Betz still smile on Islam and depict people like Zemmour as “regurgitat[ing]...tropes” to make their “political fortunes.” Yes, the same tropes that made the political fortunes of Pim Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh. Everything Betz says in his mocking representation of Zemmour’s opinions is objectively true: Islam is totalitarian; it is irreconcilable with Western principles; it is about submission. Most Frenchmen agree: as Robert Spencer reported here the other day, two-thirds of them believe that their nation will “definitely” or “probably” experience the process of total Islamization that Zemmour and others call “the Great Replacement” - a concept that academic elites dismiss as an extremist fantasy.    

Zemmour’s views may accord with those of the majority of his countrymen, but  they diverge dramatically from those of the incumbent. To be sure, in October of last year Emmanuel Macron made headlines with a speech in which he called “Islamist separatism” an existential threat to the French Republic and promised a sweeping new set of initiatives to address it. A couple of weeks later, the jihadist murder of a schoolteacher, Samuel Paty, in a Paris suburb caused national outrage, and led Macron to double down on his promises. Yet when the Financial Times described him as planning to fight “Islamic extremism,” Macron wrote a letter in reply, explaining that, no, he was concerned about Islamist extremism, which he characterized as a distortion of a religion of peace.

Then, earlier this year, came Macron’s much-touted “Law against Separatism,” which National Rally (formerly National Front) leader Marine Le Pen dismissed as “toothless,” and his preposterous “Charter of Principles for Islam in France.” The feebleness of Macron’s anti-“Islamist” efforts was underscored in April by an open letter, signed by over a thousand members of the French military, warning that Muslim banlieus were being governed in accordance with “dogmas contrary to our constitution.” No wonder that Zemmour, in the past few weeks, has risen in the polls from a 5.5% level of support to 17%, surpassing the leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon, center-right Xavier Bertrand, and even Le Pen, placing him not far behind Macron, at 23%.

Who is Éric Zemmour? Born in 1958 to Jewish parents from Algeria, he studied at Sciences Po, one of France’s “grandes écoles,” then became a reporter, columnist, TV commentator, and author of books with titles like Le livre noir de la droite (The Black Book of the Right), Une certaine idée de la France (A Certain Idea of France), Mélancolie française (French Melancholy), and Destin français (French Destiny). His 2014 jeremiad Le Suicide français was a massive bestseller. He’s also written novels, political biographies, and a polemic about the feminization of Western society. Along the way, he’s been sued a number of times for stating objective facts about black and Muslim crime and for various examples of alleged “defamation” or “incitement to hatred.”

Zemmour’s new book, La France n’a pas dit son dernier mot (France Has Not Yet Had the Last Word), is a collection of articles originally published between 2006 and 2020.  The first thing that’s clear when you plunge into it is that he’s no standard-issue French politician. One of his supporters told the Guardian that a big part of his appeal is that “he is not like a classic politician at all...he speaks clearly and he doesn’t have the politically correct language of the political class. French people have had enough of the current political class.” Sound familiar?

It’s wrong to describe Zemmour as hating Islam obsessively. He also hates the EU. He hates everything that’s contributed to the decline of France. It’s moving to read a Frenchman who loves his country so passionately. He describes himself as having grown up as an admirer of DeGaulle, a giant, but as having spent his adulthood in a France run by dwarves. And looking to the U.S. and U.K., he sees similar decline: “The people of Brexit are the same as the people of Trump. They have freed themselves from their old progressive allegiances for the same reasons: a country that they no longer recognize; a job that they can no longer find.” For a précis of Zemmour’s philosophy, here’s his savvy list of the Ten Commandments of “our new religion”:

  1. Race doesn’t exist, but racists do.
  2. Only whites are racists.
  3. Identity - whether ethnic or sexual - shouldn’t be fixed.
  4. The schools’ only mission is to fight inequality.
  5. Virility is toxic.
  6. Islam is a religion of love.
  7. Capitalism and the patriarchy tyrannize women as they destroy the planet.
  8. There is no French culture, only cultures in France.
  9. Immigration is an opportunity for Europe.
  10. France can do nothing without Europe.

Perusing Zemmour’s book, I sought out entries from some of France’s red-letter days of recent years. On January 7, 2015, two jihadists massacred 20 people at the Paris offices of the weekly satire magazine Charlie Hebdo, which had published cartoons of Muhammed. Zemmour opens his piece of that date with a phone call from the cops telling him that henceforth - whether he likes it or not - he’ll be under police protection. For once, he tells us wryly, he doesn’t care to play rebel. Also, although the Charlie Hebdo crowd are, or were, a bunch of lefty ‘68ers, and his book La suicide francaise established him as one of their liveliest detractors, he can appreciate the ‘68 spirit that gave birth to Charlie Hebdo as “a magnificent explosion of libertarian hedonism in a society that was still a bit stuffy, the last fires of a Rimbaudian and surrealist rebellion.”

Then, on April 15, 2019, Notre Dame goes up in flames. Zemmour, in shock and in tears, suggests that “France is rediscovering that she is a Christian country.” Also, “that she is the country of beauty.” In fact, he maintains, “France is a woman,” and “the demolition of French identity began with the pillaging” of her beauty. Hence, “defending and safeguarding traces of French beauty is defending and safeguarding French identity.” Some may be disquieted by such fanciful formulations. But it seems to me that a romantic patriot who sees rescuing his country as an act of chivalry is preferable to a gray technocrat who’s prepared to manage his country’s gradual Islamization.

And what about Trump? On December 6, 2016, a month after the U.S. election, Zemmour meets an elderly woman at a party. Married to a rich American, she’s played a role in helping Trump win women’s votes, and has a message for Zemmour: France, like the U.S., needs its stables cleaned. But where’s the Trump to do the job? She and her French friends, she says, worked on that one for months. They considered all the big French CEOs. “We couldn't find anybody." But finally the truth dawned on them. “You,” she tells Zemmour, “are the French Trump."

Yes, he does indeed seem to be the closest thing the French have to Trump.  He also reminds me a lot of Pim Fortuyn, who was murdered days before a 2002 election that would likely have made him prime minister of the Netherlands. But Zemmour is even more reminiscent of another Dutch patriot, Theo van Gogh - the writer, filmmaker, and raconteur who was slaughtered in 2004 on a crowded Amsterdam street. Like van Gogh, Zemmour is a man of many parts, a happy warrior, a poet, a rough-and-tumble street fighter, who has limitless drive and can’t not tell the truth. Even their writing styles are very similar - they ram their points home bluntly, wittily, irreverently, without euphemism or circumlocution but, yes, sometimes with hyperbole. (Which, as in the case of Trump, is categorically different from the brazen lies of the establishment politicians.)

Like van Gogh, Zemmour is patently in love with his country and its history and culture, proud of its role in the advance of civilization and human liberty, and possessed of an old-fashioned conviction that it’s his patriotic duty - his duty to his country’s past as well as to its future - to stand up to an obvious existential threat to its freedom. In short, he certainly seems to be the real thing. Yes, it may already be too late to save France. But better to go down in gloire than in déshonneur.

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