The World Today for February 18, 2022


A Race to the Bottom


Right-wing French presidential candidate Eric Zemmour recently described Roubaix, a town in northern France that is home to a large Muslim community, as “Afghanistan two hours from Paris.” A pundit and author, Zemmour was clearly playing to voters who are concerned about how immigration is changing France.

“French people who are Muslims must live in the French way and not consider that Sharia Law is superior to the laws of the republic,” he told France Inter Radio, according to Agence France-Presse.

Comments like those have made Zemmour the new bogeyman of the French left. Last month, a French court convicted Zemmour of hate speech for saying immigrants were murderers, rapists and other criminals who should be deported, wrote the Financial Times. He was fined more than $11,000 and faced 100 days in prison if he failed to pay.

His extreme rhetoric has even drawn fire from Marine Le Pen, the leader of the National Rally – formerly known as the National Front – which traditionally dominates the French far-right. Le Pen recently told the French daily Le Figaro that Zemmour’s coalition includes “traditionalist Catholics, pagans, and a few Nazis,” Politico EU reported.

Some of Le Pen’s colleagues don’t agree. According to Reuters, Jerome Riviere, who led the National Rally’s caucus in the European Parliament, and other party officials have switched their allegiance to Zemmour. European Parliament member Gilbert Collard said he didn’t have anything against Le Pen but preferred Zemmour’s “ideas.”

Last year, Zemmour was outpacing Le Pen in the polls. It looked then as if he could come in second in the April presidential election, meaning he would have likely faced incumbent President Emmanuel Macron in a run-off election. More recently, however, he has sunk to fourth place after Macron, Le Pen and conservative Valerie Pecresse, who recently also found herself in the crosshairs for talking about the “great replacement”: This phrase often used by Zemmour is “the false claim that the native populations of France and other Western countries are being overrun by non-White immigrants — notably Muslims — who are allegedly supplanting, and will one day erase, Christian civilization and its values,” the Associated Press wrote.

Meanwhile, Macron, who has yet to declare his candidacy, now has a 40 percent approval rating in part due to his imperious style, the Economist explained. Still, the conservative British magazine nonetheless predicted that Macron would likely win reelection. But winning reelection is hard for French presidents, Bloomberg added, owing to the country’s voting system and the fragmented electorate.

In foreign policy, Macron has pursued a more muscular role on the world stage. Domestically, however, he and France are struggling. In Auxerre in east-central France, for example, residents are worried about a lack of jobs and stagnant wages for those who can find work, the New York Times reported. Many worry, too, about immigration and crime.

Zemmour’s appeal, in other words, should surprise no one who has been paying attention, even those who shun him.

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