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French suicide: 'Racist' author taps into malaise

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A French right-wing author's new book is selling lots and lots of copies, but why? Photo: Pierre Verdy/AFP
17:46 CEST+02:00
A controversial new book by French polemicist Eric Zemmour is flying off the shelves and shows no sign of stopping. The notorious right-wing writer and polemicist appears to have struck a chord with a French public feeling disillusioned and "lost".

Who is Eric Zemmour?

He’s a journalist, author and TV personality whose new book “Le Suicide Français - Ces quarante années qui ont défait la France” (The French suicide - the 40 years that defeated France) has been selling an average of 15,000 copies per day, since it was released on October 1st. 

He is seemingly everywhere at the moment with appearances on radio, TV and in person with his book's on track to sell 500,000 copies. In France's that's considered a lot of books.

So what's the gist of his book?

As France struggles under record unemployment, historically unpopular leadership and increasingly angry populace, Zemmour's tome claims to provide an explanation for what’s wrong with the country.

And right now everybody wants to know what’s wrong with France.

In the book Zemmour argues the May 1968 student rebellion set France on a path to failure and impotence, which is now being exacerbated by immigration.

Though he is Jewish and born to immigrant parents from Algeria, Zemmour says one of France’s fatal errors in the past 40 years was the 1974 immigration law that allowed for immigrants to bring over their close family members.

So why all the buzz around the book?

In a country where the anti-EU, anti-immigrant National Front party has won historic election victories this year, Zemmour’s far-right ideas are tapping into the zeitgeist of the moment.

His book decries the ‘halalization’ of France, which is characterized by the creation of “Islamic republics in certain neighborhoods in France.”

He also charges that masculinity, as he has in previous books, has been undermined in France to great negative effect. He believes French society has become too feminine.

“'(There is) sexual hopelessness among young, white men in comparison with their Arab and black competitors...Virility is valued in African and Arab-Muslim families. White men have been symbolically castrated.”

What does the book's popularity say about France?

Bruno Cautres, a political expert at the research institute at France's prestigious Sciences Po university told The Local the sales reveal a French populace looking for answers and clear messages.

"Things in France are not going well at the moment. We are in some collective syndrome of depression. Between the bad economic results, there is feeling of being lost at the moment in France," said Cautres.

But Zemmour is unafraid--whether you agree with him or not--to speak his position clearly and unapologetically.

“Even people who think that Zemmour is an unbearable racist at least recognize that he states his ideas clearly and knows very clearly who he is,” said Cautrés.

“When one buys his book there is no risk of being surprised, like after having voted for the “enemy of finance” and ending up with the brilliant Emmanuel Macron,” Cautrés said, referring to President François Hollande’s campaign theme of battling financiers, before eventually choosing an ex-banker to fix the country’s economy.  

What did he say about the Holocaust?

As if the general tone of the book wasn’t controversial enough, Zemmour also took on one of the thorniest subjects in modern France: its role in the Holocaust.

Zemmour claims General Philippe Petain, whose government collaborated with the Nazis, saved French Jews by sending foreign Jews in their place to the Nazi-run death camps.

Of the 76,000 Jews sent on French-state owned trains to the deaths, about a third were French and the rest were foreigners.

Many historians have disputed Zemmour’s account argument, noting that Petain’s government aided in genocide regardless of the nationality of the people it helped the Nazis kill.

Has he ever been in trouble with the law?

Zemmour has long been known for his controversial stances on sensitive topics, like gender equality, race, gay rights and immigration.

In 2011 his comments on national TV that black and Arabs are rightly profiled by police because “most traffickers are blacks and Arabs...it’s a fact,” earned him a conviction for racist speech and a €2,000 fine.

The conviction came despite numerous people speaking up for him, such as Reporters Without Borders co-founder Robert Menard. Some three years later Menard has won the mayorship of the southern France town of Béziers on a National Front-backed candidacy.

Ménard and Zemmour appeared together on stage in Béziers in front of a crowd of some 1,600 people. 

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