Éric Zemmour, oracle of a “nostalgic and reactionary” France | International

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Éric Zemmour, at the presentation of his book 'La France n'a pas dit son dernier mot' (France has not said its last word), last October in Paris.
Éric Zemmour, at the presentation of his book ‘La France n’a pas dit son dernier mot’ (France has not said its last word), last October in Paris.Chesnot (Getty Images)

Éric Zemmour exploded on Tuesday after his first television interview as a candidate in the French presidential elections next April. “Bastard!”, He was heard saying in the corridors of the private French channel TF1, according to the newspaper The Parisian.

The invective was directed at Gilles Bouleau, the sober presenter of the 20:00 newscast, who had just given him a rather polite interview with no particularly difficult questions. “It seems to me that you have not asked me about my political program, and I regret it,” he had complained a few minutes before to the cameras. “It was now or never.”

Zemmour’s tantrum (Montreuil, 63 years old) may reveal his lack of political experience. But also a concern. In the early fall, when it was clear that he would be a candidate, he skyrocketed in the polls and became the favorite to finish second and face President Emmanuel Macron in the second round. Now he begins to lose strength and some polls relegate him to fourth position, with 13%. The dialectical fight in television gatherings, in which he has been exhibiting his undoubted ability for 15 years, is not the same as a campaign to occupy the head of state in the second economy of the European Union and a nuclear power.

But in the attack on the television journalist and the attempt to transform an interview into a ring dialectical there is something of Donald Trump. Noise and chaos as a tool to capture the spotlights. As if Zemmour had been inspired by him book of style of the American businessman and television star who, based on controversy and transgressions, and with an anti-immigration and nationalist message similar to his, ended up being president of the United States between 2017 and January 2021. There are points in common with Trump. But Zemmour, which this Sunday will celebrate its first campaign rally in Villepinte, north of Paris, is a purely French product that appeals to a purely French malaise.

“I am nostalgic and reactionary,” he admitted on the RTL radio network in 2018 when presenting his book French destiny (“French Destination”, not translated), a volume of more than 500 pages in which he claimed a glorious history of his country and denounced those who, in his opinion, had fed his black legend. And he added, in case it had not been clear: “I am doubly nostalgic and reactionary.” That is, nostalgic and reactionary in the collective and national, and in the intimate and biographical.

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Zemmour is nostalgic for a glorious French past that he would like to return to. His France is a country he claims was the Rome of the West, in decline since Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo and now on the brink of civil war and extinction. The same sentiment applies to the idealized France of his childhood, that of the sixties and seventies: the moment before what, in his opinion, is a process of colonization by Muslim immigration of which he considers the French elites to be accomplices.

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“Private property. No entry, ”reads a sign on the iron fence surrounding the Faidherbe Residence, a set of gray four-story blocks built after World War II. It’s Friday, it’s raining, the streets are deserted. This is Drancy, the suburb or the northern outskirts of Paris. Here Zemmour lived part of his childhood, the son of Algerian Jews who had arrived on the continent in the 1950s on the eve of the war of independence.

“The suburb it was paradise when I was little ”, he said a few years ago in a television report that took him to the places of his childhood. “Here there was Italian, Spanish immigration, us, although we were not really immigrants. There were no veiled women ”.

The zemmourism is built on this impression of a lost paradise: before, the suburb it was an oasis of peace and coexistence where successive waves of immigrants ended up becoming pure French; now the same suburb it appears in the media, movies, and in much of political discourse as a focus of violence and Islamism. “You have the feeling of not being at home,” says Zemmour in the video in which he announced his candidacy on Tuesday. “You feel like foreigners in your own country. You are exiles from the interior ”.

When Zemmour asserts that Islam is incompatible with France or proposes to ban names without Judeo-Christian roots like Mohammed, he appeals to this feeling. In his books, he insists that his relatives, “Jews of Berber origin”, gave their children French names, and he recalls that his mother forced him to take off their clothes. kipá that he took in the Jewish school in which he was educated as soon as he went out into the street.

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Jean-Yves Camus, a political scientist specializing in the extreme right, is, like Zemmour, a Jew. She shared classrooms with him at Sciences Po, the prestigious Institute of Political Science in Paris. And he tries to explain the keys to a phenomenon that nobody saw coming. “We are from the same generation, the Thirty Glorious”, explains Camus, referring to the term that designates the three decades of high growth and full employment in the postwar period. “He comes from a modest background and this did not prevent him from studying at Sciences Po. The social elevator worked, industrial employment existed, purchasing power was more important than today ”.

Journalist Étienne Girard describes in The radicalized (“El radicalizado”), a recently published biography of Zemmour, as all his life he has lived with the obsession of being accepted by the intellectual and political elites of Paris. He has not forgotten the humiliation of being rejected twice in the National School of Administration, the nursery of the ruling class. “Rarely has the destiny of a man accompanied with such perfection the torments of a country eaten away by the unease of identity and the inconveniences of globalization”, writes Girard.

Camus delves into the roots of the phenomenon: “Éric Zemmour is the result of a series of wounds that crystallize at a given moment”. A wound is the identity: the difficulties of a part of France to accept that the Maghreb who arrived from the sixties and seventies would definitely stay. The Islamist attacks in recent years, perpetrated in many cases by young French people of immigrant origin, and the popularity of the extreme right contribute to this environment in which immigration, despite being lower than in other European countries, monopolizes all debates .

The other wound has to do with history and “memory problems with the colonial period and the Algerian period”, Camus points out, referring to the war in Algeria between 1954 and 1962. One could add the complex digestion of collaborationism with the German occupation between 1940 and 1944.

Zemmour presents himself as a candidate-historian who speaks clearly, also about these two periods. “He grew up in an environment in which he became passionate about history very early, he spent his life discussing history,” explains Geoffroy Lejeune, director of the conservative magazine Current values and author of a fictional political novel, An ordinary election (“An ordinary election”), published in 2015 and in which he imagined that Zemmour was president.

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On French destiny, Zemmour evoked “the political-historical fights” in the family after-dinner parties of his childhood. His own historical theories have more of the erudition of table-top and bar-counter talk than the rigor of a professional historian. As if his entire career as a polemicist, and now as an incipient politician, was an extension of those conversations, the exact point where nostalgia for childhood and childhood converge. great nation.

Claim of Pétain and the patriarchy

To claim an unblemished national story, Éric Zemmour has come to vindicate Philippe Pétain, the leader of France who collaborated with the Nazis in the deportation of Jews to Auschwitz and other camps, precisely from Drancy, a 20-minute walk from where he grew up.

In the book The first sex (The first sex), which in 2006 launched him to fame as a polemicist, lamented “the abdication of the white men of the 20th century who renounced the scepter of patriarchy”, in contrast to other societies, such as Arab ones, which “assume force, violence , war, death, virility ”. “I respect people who are willing to die for what they believe in, something that we are no longer capable of,” he said in an interview in 2016 referring to the jihadists.

“He is unable to renounce an ingenious phrase, and this in politics is deadly,” commented Marine Le Pen, the candidate of the National Regrouping, who sees her dominance in the extreme right threatened.

The “witty phrases” have earned Zemmour several convictions for incitement to racial hatred and he has just been tried for calling unaccompanied minor immigrants “thieves”, “murderers” and “rapists” on the CNews chain (owned by the Vivendi group). . The question is whether permanent transgression will work in France as it did in the United States under Trump.

“His real handicap is that he is not a politician, so he can do well or very badly: he always says what he thinks,” observes Lejeune. “So far it has not gone bad, but in the matter of names [musulmanes] or Pétain, politically it is idiotic to say that ”.

Olivier Ubéda, Zemmour’s adviser, stated a few weeks ago: “He is not a politician. A politician says: ‘Vote for me’. He says, ‘Listen to me, read me.’

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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