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The most dangerous man in France today is Éric Zemmour. A best-selling author and far-right polemicist, Zemmour seems to be an increasingly serious candidate to become the next President of France. Recent polls show him surpassing Marine Le Pen, the French far-right’s former leader—even though Zemmour has yet to formally enter the race.
The danger Zemmour presents lies in the open extremism of his views.
His central talking point is that French Muslims are not just not-French: they are the anti-France, ineluctably foreign to French society and a threat to its very existence. He believes France is in the midst of a civil war, with the future of the republic at risk. Islam, he claims, is a religion of terror with which no compromise or modus vivendi is possible. He has redefined French identity: the only real French patriot is one who fights Muslims.
Zemmour’s message eerily echoes the anti-Semitic rhetoric of the far-right under Vichy; it’s as if he had repurposed the most virulent speeches of the Collaboration and simply replaced the word “Jew” with “Muslim.”
He gets away with saying such things because his identity offers him the perfect excuse. He’s a Jew of Algerian-Berber descent, and his family found itself deprived of French citizenship and subject to racist laws during World War II.
In his 2014 best-seller Le Suicide francais, he claimed that the Vichy government had been defenders of France’s Jews, a lie he has repeated as recently as last year. He opposes memorializing the Jews murdered during the war and condemns French acceptance of responsibility for the crimes that were committed against Jews, saying that “this repentance causes us much harm, making us feel guilt which leads us to seek expiation, which has destroyed our civilization.”
Spoken by anyone but a Jew, these statements would be cause for disqualification from the public sphere. The case of Jean-Marie Le Pen bears this out. Le Pen, then leader of the Front National, in a TV appearance in 1987 described the Holocaust as a “point de detail” of the Second Word War. He has never shaken the accusation of anti-Semitism that has dogged him and the party he founded ever since. In 2020—just to drive his point home— Zemmour dined with the daughter of Nazi foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop in the company of Jean-Marie Le Pen.
In his latest book, which sold 200,000 copies before its publication, he described the four people murdered at a Jewish school in Toulouse in a terrorist attack in 2012 as having been “above all, foreigners” since they chose to be buried, not in France, but in Israel.
He has even expressed sympathy for the French general staff’s behavior in the notorious Dreyfus affair, since Dreyfus, as a Jewish immigrant from German Alsace, wasn’t really French at all: he was a “German.”
According to Zemmour, anyone who questions France’s eternal rectitude, anyone who doesn’t identify absolutely and completely with France in its nativist grandeur to the exclusion of any other form of identity, is an enemy.
He appears, not as a normal politician—but as a prophet and a savior—the only person who can rescue France from the slow suicide it has been committing for the past fifty years, since the events of May 1968.
To oppose him is to oppose France. This, finally, is the gravest danger he poses.
Even if he were to finally choose not to run, Zemmour has already won. For decades, France has blocked anti-Semitism and openly racist discourse from public debate. His daily—and seemingly hourly— appearances on radio and TV and his verbal and intellectual facility have, in effect, normalized his frankly white-supremacist views and his racist vision of France.
And that is the greatest danger he presents: for even if he were ultimately to decide not to run for President of France, Eric Zemmour has already transformed, irrevocably, the country’s political culture.
Mitchell Abidor is a Brooklyn-based writer and translator.
Miguel Lago is the co-founder and president-director of Nossas. Nossas is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works as a system of civic mobilization infrastructures and a laboratory for activism and civic engagement.