Zemmour Throws His Hat Into The Ring

Last week, in a seven-minute video, Éric Zemmour – the fearless French columnist, TV commentator & bestselling author whose latest book, France Has Not Yet Had the Last Word, officially announced his candidacy for the Presidency of France and it could hardly have been a more powerful announcement. It wasn’t just an announcement; it was an oration for the ages…

“My dear compatriots,” began the man widely known as France’s Trump, “for years, the same feeling has gripped you, oppressed you, haunted you: a strange and penetrating feeling of dispossession.” As he continued speaking, music played: Beethoven’s Seventh. Many commentators jumped on this: how could a man so preoccupied with all things French use a German symphony for his music bed? Ok, fair enough: perhaps it would’ve made more sense to play Faure’s Requiem or Messianens Quartet for the End of Time.

Zemmour continued, “You walk the streets of your city and you don’t recognize them. You look at your screens and you are spoken to in a language that is strange and, quite frankly, foreign.” The video cuts back and forth between a shot of Zemmour reading his announcement with an old-fashioned radio microphone in front of him, and a wall of old books behind him; and images of street violence, girls in hijabs, soccer players “taking the knee,” and incidents of subway crime.

“Wherever you go,” said Zemmour, “you have this impression that you no longer live in the country you know.” From this description of today’s France – a description to which most Frenchmen, judging by recent polls, would vigorously nod in agreement – Zemmour looks back to the France of a generation or two ago, the France of history, and the France of national myth, “You remember the country you knew in your childhood, you remember the country your parents described to you; you remember the country you still find in movies or in books; the country of Joan of Arc and Louis XIV, the country of Bonaparte and General De Gaulle….”

As he continues, we view images of Versailles, a classroom, a theater stage and a laboratory. The names roll on: Hugo, Descartes, Pasteur, Molière, Racine. Even Jean Gabin and Alain Delon. Although Zemmour gives France credit for the invention of the car (arguable), it was indeed an impressive and, yes, powerful litany. I know it was powerful because it worked on me – a person who’s usually capable of being extremely snotty about the French.

Sharpening the contrast between past and present, Zemmour observed that the France of bygone days is gone, or going. “You haven’t moved and yet you feel as if you’re not at home anymore. You haven’t left your country, but it is as if your country has left you.” This feeling of loss, he noted, isn’t something new: what’s new is the unashamed and widespread public acknowledgment of it. “For a long time,” Zemmour continues, “you believed that you were the only one to see, to hear, to think, to fear.” Now that’s changed: it’s become clear that this “feeling of dispossession” is shared by everyone – even though the elites (“journalists, politicians, academics,” and so on) continue to deny “the seriousness of our decline andthe reality of our replacement.”

Finally, Zemmour speaks of himself. “For a long time, I have not been only content with the role of journalist, writer, cassandra, whistleblower.” He obviously expected some politician “to seize the torch” from him. But that never happened. So, “I have decided to take charge of our destiny.” Zemmour then asks the people of France to elect him as president – and thereby save French children from a future of barbarism, French girls from a future of veils and French boys from a future of submission.

We must, he maintained, “preserve our ways of life, our traditions, our language, our conversations, our controversies over history or fashion, our taste for literature and gastronomy.” Was it frivolous of him to include fashion and food on this list? Perhaps, but what’s French culture without some frivolity? Again, after citing France’s glorious military, literary, artistic, and scientific achievements of the past, Zemmour said: “The charm of our art of living is the envy and the happiness of all those who taste it.”

That last line is amusing and touching at the same time. Because only a Frenchman would ever say such a thing about his culture. Only Frenchmen talk about the “art of living” (art de vivre). And good for them because sometimes, it’s very important to speak of such things. There’s a definite reason Jefferson mentioned “the pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence. Contrast Zemmour’s line about art de vivre with the Ayatollah Khomeini’s famous remark about Islamic culture: “There are no jokes in Islam. There is no humor in Islam. There is no fun in Islam.” Given a choice between the two, I’ll take France along with a glass of a nice Cabernet Sauvignon, please, with my boeuf bourguignon.

Zemmour finally concluded’ “We will not allow ourselves to be dominated, vassalized, conquered or colonized. We will not aloow ourselves to be replaced; or, for that matter, cowed into silence. They will tell you that you are racist, they will tell you that you are driven by sad passions, when it is the most beautiful of passions that drives you, the passion for France.”

I’ve omitted a lot of Zemmour’s speech in my brief summary here – including terrific lines about the tyranny of the EU and its “Third Worldization” of Europe, the poison of gender and “Islamo-leftism” in French schools. In an apparent nod to Abraham Lincoln, he concludes with the classic words “of the people, by the people, for the people.” If you watch the entire thing, you’ll see how stirring it actually is; a commanding, supremely eloquent dose of home truth. It was also so utterly French its emotional extravagance as ripe as the ending of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, its romantic patriotism as electrifying as the scene in Casablanca where everyone at Rick’s defies the Nazis by singing the Marseillaise. It’s a contemporary use of nostalgia worthy of Proust. French commentators saw deliberate echoes of Charles de Gaulle’s famous speech of June 18, 1940, calling for all free Frenchmen to resist the German occupation. 

In short, as political candidacy announcements go, it sure as hell was above-par. However, his critics didn’t find it so. In the New Yorker, the always fatuous Adam Gopnick managed to call Zemmour an “ultra-nationalist & far-right.” He described his candidacy as “bizarre,” with “alarming echoes of Vichy France.” And that was only in the headline and subheader. As for Zemmour’s video, Gopnick found it “strange,” “odd,” and (again) “bizarre.” He criticized the use of Beethoven’s Seventh not because of its German origin but because it “was broadcast in wartime over German radio on Hitler’s birthday.”

This wasn’t Gopnick’s only ham-handed attempt to smear Zemmour by association: he made a special point to mention that Zemmour is the son of Algerian Jews “shouldn’t be any real surprise,” Gopnick explained, since “leaders of extreme nationalist fervor always tend to rise from the extremities of a nation—Napoleon the Corsican, Stalin the Georgian, and even Hitler the Austrian.” And then there was this shabby cheap shot: “every country finds its own style of fascism….In Italy, it was operatic in spirit and neoclassical in form; in Spain, grimly Catholic; in Germany, violent and histrionically spectacular. It is no surprise that the American face of authoritarianism took on the forms of celebrity television, nor should it be any more of a surprise that the French face of it…should be that of apparent erudition loaned out to a vengeful, inward-turning hatred of the Other.”

Over next to the Guardian, where Didier Fassin, the very model of the elite French academic (he is a professor at both Princeton and at the École des Hautes Études). Fassin predictably assailed Zemmour’s “toxic ideas” along with his “extremist views,” and his apparent approval of “people comparing Nazism with Islam.” (Remember: one mustn’t ever compare Islam to Nazism; one should only equate resistance to Islam with Nazism, as Pope Francis did the other day, likening migrant camps in Europe to Auschwitz and the Gulag.) For Fassin, Zemmour’s rise reflects the fact that “French public discourse is increasingly characterized by Islamophobia, xenophobia and racist and sexist ideas.”

Around the globe, the legacy-media spin was much the same. France24 called Zemmour “sulphurous.” Cambridge lecturer Christopher Bickerton sneered at Zemmour for “appealing to a certain image of France.” Uh, yes, a France where cars aren’t being torched and the streets aren’t packed with prayer rugs. Several commentators described the “great replacement” – the recognition that, if present trends continue, Muslims will eventually take over France – as merely a “conspiracy theory.” If so, then most Frenchmen are conspiracy theorists. 

In Le Monde, Franck Johannès and Ivanne Trippenbach asked how Zemmour could be a presidential candidate “after he has twice been convicted of incitement to racial hatred.” The elites seem not to grasp that for more and more French voters, being found guilty of criticizing Islam by a court of law is a badge of honor. Yet another clueless observation came from Benjamin Haddad, the European Director of the Atlantic Council (and an ardent EU-lover and Trump-hater), who attributed to Zemmour “an obsession with decline that borders on self-hatred.”

No, one mustn’t never be “obsessed” with France’s decline, because that’s Islamophobic. The only proper response to the Islamization of Europe is to bite one’s tongue and do one’s part to make the great replacement as smooth and peaceful a process as possible, even as one firmly insists that it’s a far-right fantasy. Yes, one may make occasional attempts to placate the general public, as Macron did in October of last year, with promises of ambitious programs to address the Islamic challenge; but one must realize that the purpose of such promises is only to quell the anxious masses, and that they should on no account be taken seriously.

I may be wrong, but I have the sense that Zemmour can be taken seriously.  I’ve said before that he reminds me of the heroic Dutch martyrs Pim Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh, who paid for their seriousness about Islam and liberty with their lives. Zemmour also brings to mind another noble Dutchman, Geert Wilders – a patriot who, for nearly two decades now, has repeatedly sounded the alarm about the existential threat of Islam, refusing to mince words or back down in the face of death threats, media slander, and judicial harassment. The question about Zemmour, as with Wilders, is whether a majority of his country’s voters do indeed care about their homeland, their history, and their freedom enough to risk being branded as bigots, racists, and Islamophobes. ✪

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