Why is Eric Zemmour's book frightening? Because it's no joke - Haaretz

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If it wasn’t frightening, it could have been funny. In his bestselling new book “France Has Not Said Its Last Word Yet,” published in France two months ago, French-Jewish journalist Éric Zemmour describes his daily strolls through the empty streets of Paris during the COVID-19 lockdown, claiming that “the absence of the residents detaches Paris from the present and takes it back to its past. And it’s as though all the protagonists of French history – the heroes as well as the traitors, the rebel kings, ministers and authors, peasants and scientists, whores and nuns – reprimand me: ‘What have you done to our beloved capital?’”

The first association that occurs to him is Hitler’s visit to the occupied city in an open car, passing through the empty Champs-Élysées, around the deserted Place de la Concorde, reaching the Les Invalides compound to kneel before the grave of Napoleon Bonaparte. Zemmour too passes through the empty Concorde, imagining the guillotine at its center and the beheading of Louis XVI. Across from the Church of Saint Roch on Rue Saint-Honoré, he pictures Napoleon setting up the cannon meant to take out the royalist rebels. At the balcony of the Hôtel de Ville, he sees the poet Lamartine emotionally declaring the founding of the Second Republic.

In his mind’s eye, all the heroes of France’s glorious history point at him, the reactionary provocateur Éric Zemmour, seeing him as France’s sole representative, he who has “not said the last word,” tasking him with the responsibility: what have you done to us? He himself can wander freely despite the lockdown, armed with a journalist’s card – or “Ausweis,” as he calls it, using the German name of the letter of transit issued by the Nazis during the occupation to pass from occupied to “free” France. Occasionally, police officers stop him for a selfie.

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After reading about Hitler’s visit to occupied Paris and the Ausweis, it no longer seems far-fetched to imagine Zemmour humming “Maréchal nous voilà!” (“Marshal, We Are Here”) to the glory of the French general, Philippe Pétain, who established the Vichy regime in 1940 and collaborated with the Nazis. And he, Zemmour, has been chosen to save France, occupied as he sees it by the Islamists, homosexuals and white-male-castrating women “invaders.”

Why is this frightening? Because it’s no joke. Zemmour is persuasive. Never in France’s history has there been a similar case of a journalist, columnist, radical right-wing provocateur (recently defined as a “Pétainist”) and lacking any political experience who, in a few short months, has turned the campaign for the April 2022 presidential election on its head.

Hard-right political talk-show star Eric Zemmour speaks to the media as he arrives to visit the Notre-Dame de la Garde cathedral in Marseille, southern France, last Friday.Credit: Daniel Cole,AP

He can only be compared to Jean-Marie Le Pen, the radical right-wing Holocaust denier, probably Zemmour’s spiritual father, who managed to provoke violent riots throughout France around his 2002 presidential campaign.

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Zemmour calls his rallies “literary gatherings,” as he has yet to formally declare his candidacy for president (at least at press time) – he may do so as early as this week. Yet his book is no novel but an argumentative tract. He spends much of it sparring with the late Marxist theoretician Antonio Gramsci while emphasizing the gulf between them. He also quotes Maurice Barrès and Charles Maurras, two nationalist, antisemitic French thinkers.

The civil war has already begun

“France Has Not Said Its Last Word Yet” has sold 175,000 copies so far, netting Zemmour at least 1.3 million euros (almost $1.5 million) – which he might use to fund his electoral campaign. The book was published by his private imprint, Rubempré, named for Lucien de Rubempre (Balzac’s ambitious and opportunist protagonist in his “La Comédie humaine” series). The fact that the selfsame Rubempré falls from greatness and hangs himself in his prison cell proves that Zemmour has no superstitions.

Far-right French commentator Eric Zemmour signs his new book "La France n'a pas dit son dernier mot" in Toulon, France, in September.Credit: ERIC GAILLARD/ REUTERS

On the cover is a photograph of the author attired in an elegant blue suit against a background of the tricolor, casting a penetrating gaze with a faint smile on his lips, in what is being taken as a genuinely “presidential” portrait. The book, which he terms the “journal of a political autobiography,” collects previously unpublished articles he wrote between 2006 and 2020. They are sandwiched between a preface in which the author sets forth his political ideas, and an afterword that merely reinforces the content of the preface and proves that Zemmour’s views have grown ever more radical during the 14 years covered by the book.

He appears to have persuaded about 15 percent of the electorate, according to the latest polls, even if in the past two weeks his rival, Marine Le Pen, has gained ground and is now 1 percentage point ahead of him. But the election campaign has only just begun and, formally, Zemmour is not even a candidate.

Throughout, the book resonates the “great replacement” theory (“Le Grand Remplacement”) – a racist, xenophobic theory of the far right according to which migrants, mostly from the Maghreb states of northern Africa and elsewhere lower down the continent, are liable to replace the French population, culture and way of life.

As a journalist and polemicist who has been present in the French media for the past 30 years, Zemmour has learned how to rivet and also to outrage his audience by spreading poison laced with mendacious historical “facts.”

The success of his book and his reactionary views have attracted some voters of Marine Le Pen, who until now had always been seen as “far right,” but thanks to Zemmour has become a “left-wing woman” – at least in the eyes of some of her former supporters. And despite the relative slowdown in his surge, he may soon gain more strength: he will hold a huge rally in the capital at the start of December.

Zemmour’s target audience is the “weak” parts of society who already vented their distress three years ago in the gilets jaunes (“yellow vest”) protests. But he also appeals to some of the conservative bourgeoisie who vote right-wing and have been left basically leaderless, as they are headed by five particularly unattractive candidates.

Éric Zemmour. 'Has anyone truly proved that Captain Dreyfus was not guilty?'Credit: Daniel Cole,AP

“In my childhood dreams, I never dreamt of becoming president,” he writes at the beginning of the book. “I didn’t even think about registering in a party or choosing a political track. I liked history, politics, literature. For me, as a Frenchman, the three disciplines were interlinked. Bonaparte and de Gaulle read a great deal and were writers. The greatest figures of French literature did not avoid political activity: Montaigne, Chateaubriand, Balzac, Hugo, Lamartine, Tocqueville, Barrès, Céline, Aragon, Camus, Sartre, Malraux. … I told myself: ‘To be Chateaubriand, or nothing!’”

For Zemmour, politics was a “world of giants” next to whom he “felt small, vulnerable and not Machiavellian enough.” He goes on to explain: “Politics is not my profession: I am fighting for ideas and not for seats. … Politics in my eyes is the way to continue French history.”

Zemmour’s ambition is to go down in French history alongside the two figures he reveres: Napoleon Bonaparte and Charles de Gaulle.

“As a Frenchman and a patriot,” he waves an accusing finger at the “progressive ideology” that has in his eyes brought France to the brink of the abyss. “Never have we been so enfeebled, so divided in our opinions, flooded with refuges – with illegal migrants from Africa and the Maghreb countries,” he laments.

In his view, the principal problem is immigration and the breached borders, as a result of which France is losing its identity in favor of identities of all stripes: Blacks, Africans and, of course, Muslims – all of whom are, in his perception, and indiscriminately, supporters of radical Islamism. “France has ceased to be a culture but justifies a parallel existence of a collection of cultures, and that is a disaster,” he asserts. “After all, we shut the borders in the face of the coronavirus, so why can’t be shut the borders in the face of the African migrants?”Portraying migrants as a virus is part of his allegation about France being under “occupation.”

A woman walking past an advert promoting Eric Zemmour as the next French president. He has yet to throw his hat into the ring, but is already polling at 15 percent. Credit: SARAH MEYSSONNIER/REUTERS

The political discourse, he maintains, needs to focus on the postcolonial colonization: the conquest of France by the Muslims, which, he avers, can be offset by expelling or incarcerating the illegal migrants.

“The civil war started already with the beheading of the teacher Samuel Paty and the murder of three worshippers in a church in Nice,” he writes, referring to events that occurred in October 2020. The worshippers were stabbed to death by a Tunisian terrorist in an attack that was attributed to radical Islam; the civics teacher was murdered by a Muslim refugee from Chechnya after he showed caricatures of the prophet Mohammed in class.

The Jewish angle

And from the Muslims we move to the Jews. Zemmour was born 63 years ago in the Paris suburb of Montreuil to a Jewish-Algerian family that arrived in the country in the 1950s, and he prayed in a synagogue until his father’s death when the young Zemmour was 13. At the same time, he lauds France’s Catholicism and often writes about it.

His Jewish roots do not prevent him from bracketing together the parents of the Jewish children who were murdered by the terrorist Mohamed Merah in March 2012 in a Toulouse school and the murderer’s mother. Both they and she are “not good French people,” because they preferred to bury their children out of France: the victims were interned in Israel; the killer in Algeria.

Moreover, he resorts to history to weave his conspiracy theories about the Jews. “Has anyone truly proved that Captain Dreyfus was not guilty?” he asks with feigned naiveté.

A woman walking past an advert calling Eric Zemmour "our Trump," in southern France last month.Credit: Bob Edme/AP

He also adds equally infuriating historical distortions. For example, that Pétain and the Vichy regime actually saved France’s Jews from being sent to the camps, through the laws that were promulgated in October 1940 stipulating that only the “foreign” Jews (those who had immigrated to France and had not acquired citizenship) would be transported to their death.

True, the foreign Jews were the first to be sent to their annihilation. However, beginning in 1942, all French Jews without distinction were persecuted, and about 75,000 of them were deported to Nazi camps, including 11,000 children. Overall, some of the ideas Pétain espoused – such as the “national revolution” and the preservation of order, hierarchy and discipline – are close to Zemmour’s heart.

Zemmour also argues that the 1999 trial and conviction of the war criminal Maurice Papon – who collaborated with the Nazis, was responsible for the transportation of Jews to Auschwitz and pursued an impressive postwar public career until 1981 – was merely a means to cleanse France of its unflattering history. Papon’s conviction proves, he claims, that the French paid the price “if there was any sort of collaboration with the Nazis.”

He also takes then-President Jacques Chirac to task for the 1995 speech he delivered at the Vélodrome d’Hiver (or Vél d’Hiv, the Paris site from which 13,000 French Jews were rounded up and deported to death camps in July 1942) for “assuming responsibility for France’s disgraceful behavior toward all its Jews during the occupation.”

Personal message from Trump

Zemmour pines for the years of the presidencies of de Gaulle and Georges Pompidou – the ’60s and ’70s, when the conservative patriarchy ruled and respect was paid to values such as order, hierarchy, excellence and the integration of immigrants into French society and culture. In those years, he says, the most popular first names in France were Claude, Marie, Catherine and François – and not Mohammed, Jamila, Rashida and Omar. In a 2018 television program, he savaged a young woman with an African name for being an “affront to the French republic.”

Yellow vest protesters demonstrating in Paris three years ago. Zemmour is looking to appeal to them.Credit: STEPHANE MAHE/REUTERS

In the book, he also maintains that “France’s citizens were swindled and betrayed by the elites, and by the Islamization that is gnawing at democracy and obscuring the French identity.” Zemmour’s reactionary views tend to ignore the fact that every five years in the French republic, tens of millions of citizens cast their vote in a democratic election, and that the French have never been prevented from going into the streets to demonstrate when they are discontented.

Tenderly, and with the utmost affection, he quotes his friend, the populist Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, “who said delicately,” as Zemmour puts it, that “it is preferable to be a liberal in the 19th century and not a liberal in the 21st century.”

In 2006, Zemmour published his provocative book “The First Sex,” in which he developed a theory about the “emasculation of the white man in the Western world.” The book is a repulsive and heinous document that affirms norms of behavior that disappeared from the world three decades ago.

“Today’s women brought about the de-virilization of men,” the new book asserts in relation to the decline of masculinity. “According to the contemporary semantic and ideological equation, a white heterosexual male is the equivalent of a collaborator with the Nazis. My book ‘The First Sex’ proved that: I am the ridiculous and rejected embodiment of the emasculated white male.”

Zemmour’s tirades against Muslims, Blacks, women, elites, homosexuals and, of course, the media have landed him in court several times. He was convicted of incitement to racial hatred and given stiff fines, but that did not deter him from continuing to drip his poison. And despite the appeals to higher courts, the punishments remained unchanged.

Yet despite everything, he succeeds in recruiting important donors in order to rent an election campaign headquarters (at a reduced price) in one of the most expensive buildings in Paris’ Eighth Arrondissement.

In one of the book’s articles, written in December 2016 after Donald Trump’s U.S. election victory, Zemmour describes a meeting with one of the president’s representatives – an elderly French woman with purple curls who had lived in the U.S. for many years. She was one of the women active in Trump’s inner circle, and she had a message for Zemmour from the new president: “We analyzed the situation in France for months, we saw the differences and in the end we understood – the French Trump is you!”

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