November 15, 2021 - 4:00pm

The French far-Right pundit and likely presidential candidate, Éric Zemmour, offended against good taste and the unwritten rules of political life last week by using the anniversary and site of the Bataclan terrorist attacks in Paris to advance his election campaign.

On Saturday — the sixth anniversary of the Bataclan and other Islamist terrorist attacks in Paris which killed 130 people — Zemmour invited TV cameras to film him outside the concert hall in the French capital where 90 concert-goers were murdered on 13 November 2015.

He accused former President François Hollande of making a “criminal decision” earlier that year to allow Syrian refugees to enter France although he knew that terrorists were hiding among them.

Zemmour has since been accused by the survivors’ association, Life for Paris, of “crossing a new frontier of ignominy” and “profaning tombs”. He has also been attacked by politicians of almost all persuasions for breaking a taboo against using the Bataclan anniversary and site for political advantage. That includes his hard Right rival, Marine Le Pen.

Le Pen is often accused by Zemmour’s supporters of being too vulgar or too limited intellectually to appeal to educated, middle-class French voters. On France-Info TV this morning she turned the tables on the man who threatens to tip her out of the two-candidate second round of the presidential election next April. She said:

The problem with Éric Zemmour is that he is only a polemicist… There are places which are places of suffering and martyrdom. They are not places to make polemics.
- Marine Le Pen

Is Zemmour right that Hollande kept frontiers open knowing that terrorists would enter France? Technically, yes, but his accusation is — as is often the case with him — vastly exaggerated.

Ex-President Hollande was called to give evidence last week to the trial of 20 people accused of planning or aiding the Bataclan and related attacks. The enormous proceedings – 300 lawyers, 200 witnesses, 1,800 civil complainants, 46,000 witness statements – have become not just a trial of the accused but a kind of Nuremberg Trial of Islamist terrorism, the French security services and the actions of the Hollande presidency.

The former President told the court that he was aware that terrorists would probably use the Syrian refugee crisis to enter the European Union and therefore France.

Yet almost all the terrorists who carried out the attack were French or Belgian citizens. Only the presumed operational leader, the Belgian Abdelhamid Abaaoud, killed several days after the murders, is thought to have re-entered Europe as part of the flood of people displaced by Syrian civil war.

But there is also another question that arises from this stunt: will Zemmour — or his supporters — care that he is accused of being a vulgar profaner of public standards by a political establishment which he despises? 

The controversy comes at a pivotal moment in a Zemmour campaign (which has not yet been declared but will be soon). For the first time since he zoomed in September from 0% to 17-18% of first round voting intentions, Zemmour has fallen by 2 percentage points in two polls.

Doubts are beginning to be expressed even by some of his supporters about his egregious re-writing of French history (“The Vichy regime was kind to French Jews; D-day was a colonial invasion by the US.”)

The next wave of polls will be interesting. The Zemmour bubble will not burst easily, but it may have stopped growing.

John Lichfield was Paris correspondent of The Independent for 20 years. Half-English and half-Belgian, he was born in Stoke-on-Trent and lives in Normandy.