French presidential candidate calls unaccompanied immigrant children ‘thieves’, ‘rapists’ & ‘murderers’
The vocabulary of bigotry is universal
The parallels are obvious. French presidential candidate for the Reconquête (Reconquest party), Éric Zemmour, was a long-time media personality before turning to politics. And in an August 2020 TV appearance he called unaccompanied migrant children ‘thieves’, ‘rapists’, and ‘murderers’. Unlike the US, France has laws against hate speech. And Zemmour was fined €10,000 ($11,400) for using this vile language.
However, despite adopting the same anti-immigrant rhetoric as a previous American presidential candidate, Zemmour is an ex-political journalist and pundit, so his closest American counterpart is not Trump, it is Tucker Carlson. Although, as a Frenchman, his bigotry is typically more intellectually sophisticated. But the theme is the same. He hates immigrants and Muslims. And this is not the first time he has made that clear.
Zemmour was fined for incitement to racial discrimination in 2011 and anti-Muslim activism in 2018. He has been acquitted six times of similar charges - in 2008, 2014 (twice), 2016, 2017, and 2019. And convictions in 2015 and 2020 were overturned on appeal. I suppose his apologists might say his slew of acquittals are proof he is not a racist. But a disinterested judge will see the frequency of the charges points to a dedicated racist, whose bigoted language usually falls short of actually being illegal.
Zemmour is also well known for supporting the “great replacement” conspiracy theory contending that non-Europeans will replace France's native population. Any Carlson fan will recognize this nonsense as Tucker is an enthusiastic promoter of the American version of this bigotry.
Anti-immigrant rhetoric is not a political tool exclusive to the US and France. Brexiteers used it to convince the British to vote to leave the European Union. And it worked. In fairness, it was far from the only lie the Conservatives used in the UK to get the population to vote against their economic interests. While the Bible, guns, and abortion are not ‘trigger topics’ as they are in the US, the UK is second to none when it comes to racism and nationalism (which they characterize as ‘sovereignty’) Although pretty much every other European country is guilty of the same sin.
One legacy of colonialism is the preferential treatment of citizens of former colonies looking to immigrate to the European countries that once occupied them. In France, this has led to an increase in the Muslim population coming from the Maghreb — the majority Islamic, Arabic, North-West of Africa, comprising Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya. Currently, 9-10% of French citizens have Maghrebi roots, while 7-9% are Islamic. Nationalist French politicos are making political hay by smearing this minority as being insular terrorist-enablers, hiding their anti-French agenda in militant mosques while cloaked in a hijab. This is an incendiary claim that ignores French Muslims marry outside their faith 20-25% of the time.
And anti-Islamic bigotry creates the very radicalism it warns about. The more Zemmour and his fellow travelers rail against the ‘Muslim menace’, the more young French Muslims feel ‘unFrench’ and turn to ever more fundamentalist Islam for a sense of identity.
Zemmour has one further fault. He, like so many conservatives, is a hypocrite. While, as noted above, the Maghrebi are majority Muslim, c.500,000 immigrants from the area are Jewish. Among their number were Zemmour’s parents, who were Jewish Berbers who emigrated from Algeria in the 1950s. It is reminiscent of the anti-immigrant hate in America propagated by a population that is itself the product of immigration.
Finally, let’s ask what are the odds of Zemmour winning? French presidential elections are a two-round affair. Everybody gets to run in the first round. This year there are 41 candidates. The top two then go onto a second round, where the candidate who wins the majority of votes wins the presidency.
In the 2017 election, Marine Le Pen, representing the far-right Rassemblement National (National Rally), upset the odds by making it to the second round, where Emmanuel Macron, the incumbent, thrashed her. This time around Macron, barring a seismic upset, will again be a finalist. There he he will likely face either Le Pen again, Valérie Pécresse, the candidate of ‘Les Republicains (The Republicans), Zemmour, or Jean-Luc Mélenchon, of La France Insoumise (Unsubmissive France).
These four candidates are close in the polling, so only after the results of the first round are in, will we know which one moves on to the second round. And this time around, the polls show that Macron, although the favorite, will have a harder time of it.
Will the French get their Trump/Carlson President? Probably not. But in 2016, Trump showed the unlikely was possible. God help them.