How a convicted racist is reshaping the French elections

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On January 17, earlier this year, a French court convicted a well-known writer and television personality, one Eric Zemmour, of “racist hate speech” in a televised abuse of immigrants.

“They are thieves, killers, they are rapists. That’s all they are. We should send them back,” Zemmour said in his tirade against migrant children. The show was televised in September 2020 on the CNews channel.

His outburst caused an uproar throughout France. However, he was “lucky” on his day in court – he got off with a friendly slap on the wrist; he was fined 10,000 euros (40,074 Dh) and did not even have to pay the full amount. He was told he could pay them in daily installments of 100 euros over 100 days

One would expect such a convicted racist to be shunned by society, fired by his employer, or at least apologize. Not in today’s France apparently, and certainly not Zemmour. Today, he is one of the top three candidates in the country’s presidential election, scheduled for April 10 and 24. Surreal, right? Not enough.

President Emmanuel Macron is expected to win the election, mainly due to the crisis in Ukraine. Traditionally, voters tend to stick with incumbents in times of crisis. They prefer not to take risks with change. But still, the French election sometimes gives suspicious results. Nothing is certain here.

Macron, the former banker who served as economy minister under former Socialist President Francois Hollande, won the presidency by a huge margin five years ago when few expected him to win. do it. He is running again on a so-called centrist platform this year.

Right-wing policies

Many of his policies to spur economic growth have led to the famous Yellow Vest protests. He is accused of favoring the wealthy in almost all of his right-wing inspired policies. It is a disguised right, say its detractors.

Her main rival in next month’s polls is none other than the usual suspect, far-right leader Marine Le Pen. As expected, she sticks to her usual anti-immigrant agenda. This year, it added another proposal to its immigration policy: the end of automatic citizenship for people born in France.

A close third is Valerie Pecresse, the candidate of the main right-wing Les Républicains party. It is the party of Jacques Chirac and Nicola Sarkozy. Pecresse is the party’s first female presidential candidate. She is a former Minister of Higher Education.

Then there’s Eric Zemmour, the convicted racist pundit, the “most drug dealers are black and Arab” TV presenter, who has been investigated 16 times for racist and hate speech. The latest polls have however placed him in third place, ahead of Pecresse. But it doesn’t matter, does it? The four main candidates are right-wing demagogues, Macron included.

But Zemmour is an interesting person who is interesting to talk about because he is obviously the one who shapes the elections. He actually influences the agenda of the polls and the speech of other candidates, which leads to an atmosphere of hatred and anti-immigrant sentiment all over the land of freedom, equality and brotherhood.

The author became known in France by promoting in his program the racist and Islamophobic theory of the Great Replacement, a conspiracy theory adopted by many white supremacists around the world, which inspired massacres in the United States and in other countries. other countries against non-whites, including the Friday Mosque Massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand on March 15, 2019, where at least 50 people were shot dead by white supremacist Brenton Tarrant.

The great replacement

The Great Replacement revolves around the theory that white Christian populations in the United States and Europe are being replaced by predominantly Muslim immigrants. Until a few years ago, the theory was limited to the underground room or whatever hole the racist lunatics met in.

Today, thanks to Donald Trump and his right-wing politics, the theory has attracted more believers, this time more mainstream and supposedly sane people. Zemmour tried to sell this theory for years on his TV show. He succeeded, finally. He made his fearmongering racism national.

First, let’s be frank. France today lacks true statesmen. The days of Chirac, Mitterrand and De Estaing are long gone. The French are stuck today with the likes of Sarkozy and Macron, who has yet to prove his true inclinations – he is more of a salesman with no real color. He is a banker, after all.

As Zemmour stormed onto the national stage last November, the French elite trembled. He was so popular that he was seen in December as President Macron’s main challenger. The Great Replacement theory, which until a few years ago was shunned by Marine Le Pen herself, has become a regular point of discussion in this election. The Zemmour effect. He reshaped the debate and pushed the boundaries of what is politically acceptable in France.

Last month, Pecresse, the Republican candidate, in her main campaign speech, filled with veiled attacks on immigrants and Muslims, said France would not succumb to the “Great Replacement”. She clarified that there is a substantial difference between “French of the heart” and “French of the papers”, a reference often used by racists to designate naturalized citizens as less French than their white fellow citizens.

“By using the ‘Grand Replacement’, she gave him legitimacy and put far-right ideas at the heart of the debate on the presidential race,” said Philippe Corcuff, far-right expert and teacher at the ‘Institute of Political Studies. in Lyon, told radio France 24.

The use of the racist reference in what is considered the most important speech of his career shows the massive influence of far-right ideas, like the Great Replacement, and racist candidates like Zemmour, in this election. And if this man makes it to the second round for a one-on-one against Macron, which is a possibility, it’s plausible that the French president will take a similar line.

The Ukrainian crisis has shown that in Europe it is quite easy to fall into racist discourse. The mainstream media, leaders and intellectuals have all fallen into the trap of differentiating between a war in the heartland of civilized white Europe and one in the uncivilized, dark-skinned Middle East or Afghanistan.

Zemmour’s rise shows how easy enough it is in France too to transform a universally liberal and trusting society into a frightened community that quickly descends into the hate speech of condemned racists.

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