Fassin argues that in recent decades seemingly leftist governments have taken up these battles and allied themselves with the right. Last fall, Macron’s education minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, founded the Laboratoire de la République, a government-organized think tank intended to promote the ideals of secularism, proclaiming that “the veil in itself is not desirable in French society” and decrying “wokism” as an American import. In 2013, Manuel Valls, interior minister under Socialist President François Hollande, called for the systematic expulsion of Roma, European Union citizens, from the country. Under Valls, the state was successfully sued for racial profiling in policing, but Valls appealed the decision arguing that the practice was justified because blacks and Arabs are more likely to be foreigners and therefore in the country illegally. It’s not that far from what Zemmour was saying, Fassin noted. (In 2011, Zemmour was convicted in court of inciting racial hatred for saying on television that police disproportionately arrest minorities because “most dealers are black and Arab.”) Fassin said continued: “So if we want to understand why Zemmour can say what he says, you have to watch this.
The left has demanded the maintenance secularism was needed to oppose Islamist extremism, as the right stopped claiming that secularism was neutral at all. Conservatives like Zemmour openly use the doctrine as a tool to delegitimize Islam. He tells his audience that under his presidency, he “wouldn’t want to hear the voice of the muezzin,” the person who makes the Islamic call to prayer, while simultaneously extolling France’s “Christian heritage”. Part of the waning enthusiasm for Marine Le Pen is due to her insistence that “Islam has no right to express itself in the public sphere, but neither does Christianity,” de Guillebon said. , now editor of the right-wing magazine. The Incorrect, told me.
As leftist politicians have moved to the right, the right has become virtually indistinguishable from the far right. In early November, Les Républicains, the supposedly centre-right majority party, held its first primary debate. Opening a segment on immigration, the moderator asked contestants if they would use the term “great replacement.” Some hesitated, but not a single candidate ruled out the idea. “Sixty-seven percent of French people use it,” shrugged Éric Ciotti, a rather conservative MP from the south. “There is no point in denying reality.” The host continues to insist: is France witnessing the replacement of one population by another population? “I don’t like that expression,” said Michel Barnier, the former Brexit negotiator for the EU, but admitted that the French sometimes felt they were “not at home” anymore. Valérie Pécresse, who went on to win the Republican nomination, said she didn’t like the phrase because it “implies we’re already screwed”.
The trauma of the ongoing terrorist attacks has created a very charged environment. In October 2020, Samuel Paty, a college teacher in the Paris suburbs who, in a lesson on freedom of expression, showed his students the Muhammad cartoons from Charlie Hebdo, was beheaded by an 18-year-old Chechen Muslim refugee. who had recently obtained permission to stay in France for 10 years. A few weeks later, a Tunisian fatally stabs three people in a church in Nice; the man entered France a few days earlier with documents identifying him as a refugee. It was an environment in which “reasonable people decided that to be reasonable you had to agree with unreasonable people,” Fassin said. They were made to feel that if they weren’t against so-called Islamo-leftists, a way of labeling those on the left as Islamophiles for warning against anti-Muslim fanaticism, then they were “accomplices of the terrorism,” Fassin said. “And, of course, that has consequences. Intimidation, basically.
The left had failed to articulate what it meant to be on the left, Fassin said, to offer a different vision in response to real challenges. “The ideas of humanism and solidarity have weakened in public debate,” Vincent Martigny, professor of political science at the University of Nice, told me. From the left, d’Ornellas said: “They refused to address issues of security, immigration or Islam. Whenever these topics come up, they say, “These are right-wing topics.” So people are like, ‘OK, so I’m right-wing.’ For the left, says Fassin, the absence of borders is fatal: “If you are on the left, you have to make sure that people see that the left is different from the right. If you’re on the right, you don’t need it. On the contrary, it is better if it is blurred. As a result, the far right was able to set the terms of the debate. “We’re still a long way from being dominant,” d’Ornellas told me. “But you could say at least that for the first time we are able to challenge liberal cultural hegemony.”
Marshal and Zemmour have long been proselytizing for what they call union of rights, the regrouping of disparate right-wing factions behind a single leader. This could be done either by merging the centre-right party and the far-right parties, although this is considered highly unlikely, or, more likely, by joining voters more to the right of the center with those of the far-right .
Polls suggest that the way to win over all conservative voters, urban and bourgeois as well as the working class, is to talk about, or more precisely speak out against, immigration. It’s something that Zemmour has always done. He’s an ideologue, and he’s built his career on a singular obsession. It is difficult to say what the electoral strategy is and what Zemmour is Zemmour.