Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Monday, November 22, 2021

Will a Far-Right Candidate Take France’s Presidency?

 By Henry Srebrnik, [Moncton, NB] Times & Transcript

French presidential elections are held in two stages. If in the first round no candidate wins an absolute majority, the two leading candidates face one another in the second.

A new poll sees French right-wing pundit Eric Zemmour making it to the second round of the presidential election this coming April along with President Emmanuel Macron, confirming earlier polls that saw Zemmour overtaking far-right leader Marine Le Pen of the Rassemblement National (National Rally).

The chat show star, who has twice been convicted for inciting hatred, has dominated the French airwaves in recent months with provocative comments about Islam, immigrants and women.

Zemmour has now pulled ahead of Marine Le Pen, the leader of the Rassemblement National (National Rally). A Harris Interactive poll, published Nov. 9, projected Zemmour winning 18-19 per cent of first-round votes, widening the gap over Le Pen, who slipped to 15-16 per cent. Macron remained in the lead, with an unchanged 23-24 per cent.

All this despite the fact that Zemmour does not lead or belong to a political party and has not even officially announced his candidacy. But that is not necessarily a hindrance.

Political parties have often been set up as the vehicles of a politician, and on two occasions during the postwar years it has led to the candidate’s election: Charles de Gaulle’s Rassemblement du Peuple Français (Rally of the French People) and Macron’s own La République en Marche (The Republic On The Move).

Zemmour wants to ban all immigration; he claims Muslims have “colonized” entire swaths of French cities; he considers France to be in a state of civil war with its Muslim population. Islam, for him, is by its nature a religion of terror.

He attacked ex-president Francois Hollande’s migration policy on Nov. 13 during commemorations marking the 2015 attacks by Islamic State on the Bataclan theatre and other locations in Paris, which left 130 people dead.

Zemmour is a proponent of the “great replacement” theory, which purports that the French establishment wants to eventually replace whites with non-European Muslims from Africa and the Middle East.

Of France’s estimated six million Muslims, close to 10 per cent of the population, he has argued they should “be given the choice between Islam and France.” He declared that he would ban all “non-French names,” like Muhammad.

Zemmour’s books, including his latest, La France n’a pas Dit Son Dernier Mot (France Hasn’t Had its Final Word), published this autumn, present a France facing decline, degeneration, and even national suicide by way of leftist ideology and the presence of large immigrant communities.

French universalism for Zemmour is an outgrowth of Christian universalism; and it is Catholicism that is the founding doctrine of the French nation.

This makes him a most unlikely flag-bearer for a far-right candidacy, because Zemmour is a Jew of Algerian ancestry, the son of observant Jews who fled Algeria in 1958 during that country’s war of independence.

Yet in his 2014 bestseller, Le Suicide Français (France’s Suicide), Zemmour asserted that the Vichy government of 1940-1944 that collaborated with the Nazis actually protected French Jews.

“Vichy protected French Jews and gave the foreign Jews,” Zemmour said in September on CNews, a right-wing television channel, suggesting that the wartime government of Marshal Philippe Pétain that sent more than 72,500 Jews to their deaths was not so bad after all.

Zemmour has also reopened the Dreyfus Affair, which rocked France from 1894 until its resolution in 1906, contending last year that the innocence of Alfred Dreyfus, the French Jewish army officer falsely accused of treason, “was not evident.”

“He is dangerous, and he insults Jewish morality,” Bernard-Henri Lévy, a leading Jewish author and intellectual, said in an interview.

“There is a part of the Jewish community that sees in him the man who will resolve problems of security and violent Islamism,” Francis Kalifat, the president-elect of the Conseil Représentatif des Institutions Juives de France (Council of Jewish Institutions in France), has remarked.

Why does Zemmour make such claims? For Zemmour there is only one France, one of eternal grandeur and glory. He thus despises any form of ethnic particularism and any claims to victimhood at the hands of the French nation.


Tuesday, November 16, 2021

In France, A Most Unlikely Presidential Candidate

 By Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottown, PEI] Guardian

Polls in France have identified a new potential candidate who could break through in next April’s presidential election. The latest surveys show that the French columnist and journalist for Le Figaro, Eric Zemmour, is shaking up the race before it's even begun by taking up all the political energy on the right.

French presidential elections are held in two stages. If in the first round no candidate wins an absolute majority, the two leading candidates face one another in the second.

Zemmour has now pulled ahead of Marine Le Pen, the leader of the Rassemblement National (National Rally). A Harris Interactive poll, published Nov. 9, projected Zemmour winning 18-19 per cent of first-round votes, widening the gap over Le Pen, who slipped to 15-16 per cent.

If the election were held now, the run-off would include not Le Pen but Zemmour against President Emmanuel Macron.

He is the only right-wing candidate to win the sympathies of two groups that have been split between the Rassemblement National and the liberal-conservative Les Républicains (the Republicans) so far, gathering support both among peripheral classes who had been voting for Le Pen, and the conservative bourgeoisie, which has until now voted for Les Républicains.

His new book La France n’a pas Dit son Dernier Mot (France Hasn’t Said its Final Word) was published recently and serves as his manifesto. A confirmed nationalist, he states that “one must choose the side on which one will fight in the clash of civilizations that is taking place on our soil.”

Zemmour comes from a family of Algerian Jews – not people one expects to support the far right. His father, born in Algeria, admired Charles de Gaulle, and, even though the general had separated Algeria from France, he voted for him with conviction.

Zemmour confesses that he had always regarded the fact that Algeria had been conquered by France, in consequence of which he had been incorporated into the French nation, as “an enormous privilege.”

That is why he watched with such dismay, he writes, how the French suburbs, the banlieu, once full of those who understood the privilege of being French, were changing. Decades of immigration have transformed beyond recognition familiar places where Zemmour grew up. “They ceased to be France,” he maintains.

He is a fervent enemy of the European Union. The Single European Act of 1986, initiated the processes of deindustrialization and relocation that left masses of immigrants unemployed, Zemmour insists, worsening their situation and increasing the tensions between them and the society that received them.

Liberal ideology, according to Zemmour, is one of the major causes of the anomie into which France is descending. For him, protectionism is the only healthy economic policy.

In Zemmour’s view, the adoption of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, creating the modern European Union, was when France “said goodbye” to sovereignty, and democracy became largely a façade. A new political divide was born: the political establishment, the media, and the artistic and financial elites, the winners of globalization on one side; on the other its forgotten losers.

The 2005 referendum on the European Constitution sealed the fate of France, for Zemmour. The voters rejected the European Constitution, and the “no” side won. But they were not listened to. President Nicolas Sarkozy would later adopt the Lisbon Treaty without asking the French for their opinion. It was, he maintains, the last nail driven into the coffin of French democracy.

Zammour  sees the European Union as the ultimate expression of the oligarchic tendencies of an elite full of contempt for its own people. It is governed by dignitaries who have not been elected in any way, by officials who feel accountable to no one.

On Islam, Zemmour is uwavering in his view that there is an irremediable clash between French and Islamic civilizations. At a recent rally in the small southern town of Béziers, Zemmour told his audience that France is being “submerged” by migrants, and parents should be forced to give their children “French names.”

As for the French media, he dismissed them as “a propaganda machine” that hates France. “They spit on French history and culture, and they spit on the French people, whom they want to see disappear.” The mayor of Béziers, Robert Ménard, is politically close to Marine Le Pen and is pressing her to join forces with Zemmour to defeat Macron.

Should this man retain the popularity he now seems to enjoy, 2022 could become a very important year for France. However, unlike during earlier crises in France’s history, there seems no hint that the Fifth Republic itself is in any danger.

During the last years of the Third or Fourth Republics, insurgent movements on the right attacked their very constitutional foundations. But Zemmour (and Le Pen) claim they are defenders of the current constitution, not its subversives.



Monday, November 15, 2021

Abdulrazak Gurnah Wins the Nobel Prize for Literature

 By Henry Srebrnik, [Moncton, NB] Times & Transcript

Abdulrazak Gurnah, the Zanzibari British novelist and literary critic, has won the 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature for “his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents.”

An emeritus professor of English and Postcolonial Literatures at the University of Kent in England, Gurnah was born on the island of Zanzibar, then a British colonial protectorate, in 1948. It was long an Arab-ruled island.

In 1698, Omani ruler Said bin Sultan moved from the Omani city of Muscat to what became known as Stone Town on Zanzibar Island. He established a ruling Arab elite and encouraged the development of clove plantations, using the island’s African slave labour.

Until 1884, the sultans of Zanzibar controlled a substantial portion of the Swahili Coast, the Indian Ocean region running from Kenya to Mozambique. For centuries, Arab Muslims in east Africa sold captured Africans to the Middle East and the Sultanate was the centre of the east African slave trade.

The slave trade really took off from the 17th century as more merchants from Oman settled in Zanzibar. The island took on an even more important role in the international trade of goods and consequently also in the slave trade. This is how the largest slave market in East Africa was created.

Senegalese author Tidiane N’Diaye estimates that 17 million east Africans were sold into slavery: “Most people still have the so-called Transatlantic trade by Europeans into the New World in mind. But in reality the Arab-Muslim slavery was much greater.”

It was not until 1873 that Sultan Seyyid Barghash, under pressure from Great Britain, signed a treaty that made the slave trade in his territories illegal. That decree was not enforced effectively and it was not until 1909 that slavery was finally abolished in east Africa.

A military coup in 1964 overthrew the Arab-controlled Sultanate a year after the country gained its sovereignty. It led to the persecution of its Arab minority, which until then had been the island’s ruling class.

As part of the process of decolonisation, political parties were established in 1961. They were primarily organised along ethnic lines: the Arab-led Zanzibar Nationalist Party (ZNP), the African-dominated Afro-Shirazi Party (ASP) and the Afro-nationalist Zanzibar and Pemba People’s Party (ZPPP).

Parliamentary democracy did not last very long. Sultan Jamshid bin Abdullah was overthrown in a bloody revolution that brought the Black African majority to power, and the Sultanate was replaced by the People’s Republic of Zanzibar and Pemba.

The new president, Abeid Amani Karume, targeted the Zanzibari Arabs. The following months were dominated by deep division, tensions and vengeance.

The killing and expulsion of most of the island’s Arabs and the nationalisation and redistribution of land following the revolution did not solve the underlying problems that punctuated post-revolution Zanzibar. The existence of this short-lived socialist republic was ended with its union with mainland Tanganyika, also a former British colony, to form the new entity known as Tanzania.

Gurnah moved to Great Britain as a refugee not long afterwards and has lived in Britain ever since. He has written exclusively in English, his second language. He is a native speaker of Swahili. His novels explore themes of memory, migration, and the legacy of colonialism.

His best-known, 1994’s Paradise, recounts the story of Yusef, an African boy sold into slavery by his father to a powerful Arab merchant named Aziz. Yusuf joins the trader as they travel into central Africa and the Congo basin and are thrown into a world of war and violence. I have included Paradise in a course on African politics that I teach.

Gurnah is the first writer from Africa to win the Nobel Prize in literature in more than a decade and most articles about him call him a Tanzanian or Black African. That doesn’t really describe a person of Arab descent who grew up on an island that had been governed by an Omani royal family from the Arabian peninsula, and who has lived and worked outside Africa for 53 years. Some Tanzanians agree.

Today, Zanzibar remains a semi-autonomous jurisdiction with its own president and government, in an uneasy relationship with Tanzania’s mainland.