THE BATTLE on the far-right to face Emmanuel Macron in next year’s Presidential election has seen two distinct strains of discriminatory politics emerge in France.
Marine Le Pen – leader of the National Front (now named National Rally) since 2011 – has managed to normalise anti-immigration rhetoric in the nation.
Her call for a referendum on migrants entering France last month was not highly controversial, but a seemingly normal part of political discourse.
It’s not controversial to say that Zemmour is more outward in his views on minorities. He has previously said there is no difference between “Islam and Islamism,” as well as claiming “Islam is not compatible with France.”
But while the talk-show host’s venom may incite and encourage explicit racism, Le Pen has, through a degree of slight moderation and mainstream exposure, possibly proved to be more dangerous for minorities.
“Zemmour is expressing extreme, polemical views that Le Pen had started to veer away from, and in so doing is prompting others to be more confident in expressing hate speech,” Professor Rainbow Murray of Queen Mary University told Redaction Report.
“But Le Pen’s attempts to give a veneer of respectability to a far-right discourse are dangerous in a different way.”
After her party’s failure in June’s regional elections, Le Pen said she would never take the National Rally – formerly the National Front, of course – back to its roots. She has been trying to clean up the party’s image – but the policy rhetoric is still largely the same, at least inwardly.
Professor Jim Shields of the University of Warwick told Redaction Report: “Since Le Pen took over leadership of the National Front, she has sought to soften its image and bring it more into the political mainstream.
“This bid for respectability – or ‘de-demonisation’ – has seen Le Pen change the party name (to National Rally) and ditch some of its more radical policies and discourse.
“Zemmour has no such constraint and promotes a hard-edged anti-immigration, anti-Islam message more redolent of the old FN under Le Pen senior.
“While Marine Le Pen has sought to widen her party’s focus beyond immigration and security to economic, welfare, environmental policy etc, Zemmour has ultra-nationalism at the core of his political messaging, with a relentless emphasis on immigration, Islam and French identity.”
But her ideological ally will cause as much discriminatory havoc, according to critics.
In a nation where Muslims have faced pressure over their religious beliefs – especially the donning of face and hair coverings – Zemmour could potentially act with more impunity than his predecessors.
Historian Robert Zaretsky wrote in Haaretz this week: “A far right pundit, vile misogynist, racist conspiracist and potential contender for the presidency, Zemmour is the Jewish heir to a particularly vicious French brand of antisemitic nationalism – repurposed to target other minorities.”
“Zemmour’s central contention is that a ‘great replacement’ is underway whereby white Europeans are being supplanted by immigrants, with France’s Christian culture under assault from Muslim ‘colonisers’,” Professor Shields said.
“Zemmour calls for an end to French nationality through birth on French soil and to family reunification; he also argues for cutting state benefits for immigrants and expediting deportations.
“One of his signature proposals is to make it illegal to give children non-French first names. Some of these policies overlap with Le Pen policies past and present, but they are advocated by Zemmour in a way that shows no regard for courting mainstream respectability.”
The pair are currently neck-and-neck in the polls, and must fight off any Les Republicains candidate to stand a chance of reaching the second round. But whoever leads France’s far-right into 2022 presents a grave danger for the nation’s minorities.
Professor Rainbow Murray is a Professor of Politics, and Director of Graduate Studies at Queen Mary University.
Professor Jim Shields is an Honorary Professor in French Studies at the University of Warwick.
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