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No prophet is accepted in his own country; we can read it in the Bible and it’s been proven to be right quite a few times in history. Currently, this adage is being put to the test in France, as Éric Zemmour, a second-generation immigrant of Algerian Jewish descent, tries to convince the French to remain French and make those arriving in their country assimilate.
The increasingly popular writer and media pundit announced his presidential candidacy on November 30th, surprising only those who have not followed anything related to world politics in the past decade. In doing so, Zemmour now joins the many atypical figures who have appeared in Europe as an antidote to the liberal-dominated status quo, and their lukewarm “center-right” companions, who have left many nations insecure, divided, and without self-confidence.
The Old Continent is going through an identity crisis and two groups are competing to control its response to it. The first advocates creating the same “victim groups” that have been created on the other side of the Atlantic and are supported by Washington. The second group is made up of leaders like Orbán in Hungary or Morawieczki in Poland, and openly resist the “wokezation of Europe.” Mostly confined to central and Eastern Europe, they now seek to find a strong ally in Western Europe to form a wider coalition of nationalist and conservative forces.
Initially, Matteo Salvini in Italy seemed to fulfill that gap but the dynamics of Italian politics and his absence from the recent congress of national conservative parties in Warsaw suggests he might not be the fitting candidate for this role. Many in this group now hope Zemmour might be the one to give them a strong Western pillar as a future president. His recent visit to Budapest in September to meet Viktor Orbán and his core messages indicate an extensive overlap in terms of ideas about the future of the continent. He shares their conviction that the EU must be made of a strong alliance of nations instead of a multicultural, soulless melting pot.
The question of supporting national identity in a country like France, which has over 10%—mostly Muslim—immigrants who are increasing by 200,000 annually, is simply a matter of survival. The terror attacks of the past few years, from the Charlie Hebdo massacre and the Nice attack to Fr. Jacques Hamel’s or Samuel Paty’s brutal murders, are only the tip of the iceberg of France’s identity crisis and what’s at stake. While Islamic terrorism is one of the worst results of the recent decades’ liberal multicultural policy, it is not the one affecting everyday life. The most prevalent and daily result is the emergence of a “new France.”
Throughout the country, uncontrolled districts in which neither its religious rules nor its social customs remind the visitor of the country he’s in, are on the rise. These zones, by their attitude and existence, show how much the residents openly reject (or some of them even despise) the ‘old France.’ The widening gap between these two worlds is damning evidence of the failure of the past governments and those leftist ideas that have deprived a nation of its roots and the ability to have a vision about itself.
Zemmour, who refers to himself as a “successful assimilation project” rejects the multiculturalist model and expects new and old immigrants in France to assimilate into French culture. His political movement, symbolically called “Reconquest”, referring to the Spanish Reconquista, when Christian forces drove Muslim rulers from the Iberian Peninsula, might sound unnecessarily strong, but according to his announcement speech, he believes the radical changes that have taken place in France require a straightforward approach:
“You feel like foreigners in your own country. You are internal exiles. For a long time, you believed you were the only one to see, to hear, to think, to doubt. You were afraid to say it. You were ashamed of your feelings. For a long time, you dared not say what you are seeing, and above all you dared not see what you were seeing. […] France is no longer France, and everyone sees it.”
Throughout his announcement speech (first published on YouTube), Zemmour painted a picture of a France plagued by street crime and chaos in desperate need of saving. Recently in an interview for The Spectator, he said, “Immigration is war” and insisted he was not setting France on fire by talking about this issue, but that the country is already burning.
While their solutions might differ, no sane person could deny the tension in France. Even Zemmour’s critics agree that there are problems that have been swept under the rug. John Lichfield, The Independent’s veteran Paris correspondent, told El American that “immigration is a fraught subject and there are many genuine problems which are sometimes obfuscated by the political class.” However, he thinks Zemmour goes further than that. “His core argument is that immigration is not an accident or an unfortunate fact of life, it is part of a deliberate policy by the French/global elites to destroy French culture and identity.”
Regardless of whether immigration is supported intentionally by political groups, the numbers show that French society is changing radically.
Anne-Elisabeth Moutet, a columnist for The Telegraph in Paris, claims “Immigration is not the central message, though. It’s all about giving a destiny to France. He said he gives his hand to any Muslims who want to be French first.” According to Moutet, Zemmour’s message is more directed at the decrease of French identity rather than migrants in general. In Zemmour’s eyes, French politicians today must, like his own personal hero General De Gaulle, have a “certain idea of France” to lead the country.
Moutet insists that the fact Zemmour doesn’t act like a technocrat gives him an advantage over another right-wing candidate, Marine Le Pen. Le Pen, called by some “Macron’s life insurance,” is facing fading popularity but maintains enough support to divide the right and prevent Zemmour’s entry into the second round of elections. This scenario would undoubtedly help Macron, who is the perfect archetype of a European technocrat.
Zemmour’s popularity after a quick and radical rise now stagnates around 10-15%. His real challenge will be to widen his campaign to get into the second round and face Macron whose popularity has grown quite fragile. If he succeeds in doing that, we will see if all that Zemmour states about France, migration, assimilation, and the decline of Europe are fantasies of a radical lunatic or the legitimate return of an “old France” which, as the title of his recent best-seller book suggests, has not said its last word.
Péter is a Hungarian journalist and podcaster based in Budapest. He writes a weekly column for El American on European politics, culture, and many other things. He’s also the strategic director of the digital outlet Axióma. He loves cachapa con queso 'e mano. // Péter es un periodista y podcaster húngaro con base en Budapest. Escribe una columna semanal para El American sobre temas políticos y culturales de Europa. Es también director estrategico del medio digital Axióma. Le encanta la cachapa con queso 'e mano.