French right-wing media pundit in ‘Muslim deportation’ row
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French anti-racists are taking a controversial media commentator to court, accusing him of stirring up hatred against Muslims. Eric Zemmour, a best-selling author and right-wing pundit, hit headlines after appearing to back the deportation of France’s Muslim population.
The French black organisations’ umbrella group, Cran, has been joined by the Jewish students’ union and several other anti-racist groups in filing complaints against Zemmour for incitement to racial hatred.
Zemmour, who has regular spots on two TV stations and one radio station and a column in the right-wing Le Figaro Magazine, frequently stirs up controversy with attacks on immigrants, Muslims, feminists and the left.
The latest storm comes after an interview with the Italian paper Il Corriere della Sera, in which he accused Muslims of becoming a “people within the people”, living separately in working-class suburbs which “the French have been obliged to leave”.
Asked by Corriere’s Paris correspondent Stefano Montefiori whether it was realistic to think of putting “millions of people in planes” in order to “drive them out” of the country, he replied, “I know it’s unrealistic but history is surprising. Who would have thought in 1940 that a million pieds noirs [European settlers] would have left Algeria to come back to France 20 years later?”
Zemmour later called the row a “fantastic manipulation” because Montefiori did not use the term "deportation" in the interview but did in his article.
French citizens could not be deported but that the country has the right to tell foreigners “Now go home”, Zemmour explained, going on to say that a “civil war between communities” could take place.
“We want him to be judged and we want justice to recognise that the limits of freedom of speech have been overwon [breached] by Zemmour,” Lawyer Sabrina Goldman, who is also vice-president of anti-racist group Licra, told RFI on Thursday. “Even if he didn’t pronounce the word deportation, first of all he answered a question mentioning that horrible example and second he said that the presence of Muslims within the French population will lead to chaos and civil war and that constitutes an incitement to racial hatred.”
On top of the legal action, a group of NGOs and celebrities have written an open letter to the country’s media watchdog, the CSA, calling on it to stop him broadcasting his “overtly racist and anti-egalitarian ideology”.
On Wednesday journalists at RTL radio, where he has a twice-weekly broadcast, issued a statement claiming that his opinions “tarnish the values” of the station.
In June the CSA issued a warning to RTL about Zemmour’s on-air statements after he claimed that “gangs of foreigners” were “robbing, attacking and pillaging” across the country.
On Tuesday Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve expressed his support for “all the Muslims of France who have been so odiously attacked” and called on “republicans to react and demonstrate their solidarity”, leading Zemmour to complain that he had called on people to demonstrate against him.
“What will they do next?” he asked. “Put my readers in prison?”
Zemmour’s book, Le Suicide Français (France’s suicide), shot to the top of the best-seller list when it came out in October, and had sold about 400,000 copies by the beginning of December, according to press estimates.
It claims that France has suffered a tragic decline for the past 40 years, largely because of the effect of the May 1968 uprising against the government of General Charles De Gaulle.
The book has been criticised for, among other things, claiming that the true number of “foreigners” in France is 12 million and that Marshal Philippe Pétain’s collaborationist regime during World War II saved 95 per cent of “French Jews”.
While promoting his book, Zemmour, himself of Algerian-Jewish origin, has spoken to large audiences, notably in towns like Béziers where the far-right Front National (FN) and its allies did well in this year’s local council elections.
His fan base would appear to be the sort of voters targeted by FN leader Marine Le Pen in her efforts to shed the party’s reputation for indulging certain prejudices, such as anti-Semitism, while maintaining anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric.
Another book Zemmour’s admirers might enjoy is Soumission (Submission) the latest novel by Michel Houellebecq, the Goncourt-prize-winner now resident in Ireland who has also been accused of Islamophobia and racism.
It imagines a candidate of the “Muslim Fraternity” beating the FN in a second-round presidential vote thanks to the support of the mainstream left and right and its hero, François, is faced with the choice of converting to Islam or losing his job at the “Paris-Sorbonne Islamic University”.