French Election: Rise Of The Far-Right Is Scrambling French Politics

With about six months to go, the 2022 presidential election is already the main talking point in France. The majority of the French media is no longer focused on Emmanuel Macron’s chances of becoming the first president to be re-elected since Jacques Chirac in 2002, but rather on the rise of the far-right. On October 12th, NY Times reported that the rise of Éric Zemmour, a far-right essayist, political journalist, and TV pundit, has turned France’s politics upside down. 

According to Al Jazeera, the journalist expressed his latest anti-Muslim remarks while appearing on the television segment “We are Live” to discuss the end of his time as a pundit and continued to discuss a possible presidential run for the 2022 election. He claimed that many people “are pushing me to be a candidate, as they think that it is I who has the good ideas for France.” When asked what policies he would implement if elected, the far-right commentator laid out his unmistakably anti-Islam platform. He said one of the first policies he would implement upon being elected president is to ban the first name “Mohammed,” because “it is not a French name”, saying that Arab first names and other aspects of Arab culture are making French society less French. According to Aurelien Mondon, a politics professor who researches racism and the far right: “Zemmour is not expecting to become president, what he wants is to kind of move the discourse to the far-right … He wants to win the battle of ideas.” NY Times reports that Zemmour already holds convictions for inciting hatred, and is now being largely criticized by French media for his far-right extremism. 

Rather eager to make a name for himself ahead of the 2022 elections, Zemmour seems more than ready to materialize his ideas and thoughts into laws and bills protected by the constitution. As we now reckon with the undeniable reality of rising far-right extremism globally, it is crucial for politicians and voters to take responsibility for not supporting his ideas and behavior. It is critical now more than ever to educate people about politics and society throughout all institutions. Emphasizing the value of diversity and acceptance is key to a safer nation and must be highlighted by French authorities. Addressing extremism is crucial and requires taking a hard look at the foundational structures that may create enabling environments to thrive in any given society. This includes ensuring full teaching of difficult histories related to imperialism, colonialism, slavery, and genocide. It also means understanding the ways in which white supremacist extremism rests on a historical foundation of white supremacy. For example, Germany’s enforced a new approach explained as 89 measures in the fight against racism and right-wing extremism, which shows that addressing extremism has to go hand-in-hand with ensuring that democracy is truly equitable and inclusively diverse. 

In its history, France has always had a strong cultural identity, but now there’s deep anxiety about that identity, as well as about how the perception of culture and the political system are all changing. Éric Zemmour is undoubtedly shaking up France’s presidential race before it’s even begun, and similar to the former U.S President Donald Trump, the media is constantly criticizing his ideas but his scandals only seem to make him more popular. His popularity seems to have risen through the French television channel CNEWS, a Fox-style news network, which has given him a platform to expand on his views every evening. Additionally, in their own bid to attract far-right voters, many leaders on the traditional right have flirted with Zemmour, excusing or overlooking the fact that the writer has been sanctioned for inciting racial hatred. 

The traditional right is now looking for ways to distance itself from the TV star without alienating its supporters. However, Zemmour seems to be benefiting from divisions within the traditional right on issues like immigration, making it critical for other politicians to show a united front against the anti-Islamist ideas Zemmour is presenting. He is aiming to blame all societal issues on immigration, a dangerous tactic that would have long-term damage on French Politics and French society. Strengthening democracy is the key to preventing far-right extremism. Zemmour’s ideas would only bring more division, as he is suggesting nationalistic ideas portraying the opposite of what should unite us; humanity. 

Olivia Berntsson