Open letter for critical and emancipatory reflection in research and higher education in France

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When Samuel Paty, professor of history and geography, after showing his students caricatures published in the weekly Charlie-Hebdo, was brutally murdered by a terrorist on October 16 in a Parisian suburb, the French government, joined by some academics and intellectuals, immediately took the path of war against Muslims and what some call in the “Manifesto of the Hundred” the “Islamo-leftists” (“Islamo-leftists”). The latter, they settled in French universities and associations, accusing them of being conciliatory towards the terrorists. It opened up a huge prospect for the far right.the education Minister extended the blame and responsibility for violence to ‘intersectionality’ as a concept and perspective, described as’ an intellectual matrix […] coming from the USA ”. This attack on freedom of speech in academia and all forms of critical thinking came at a time when the Minister of Research was preparing a new law which, if passed, threatened to end free research.

The far right is increasing threats against what it considers “the enemy”. Prominent sociologist Eric Fassin has received death threats and journalists from critical online media Mediapart, violent threats. At the same time, the Minister of the Interior is preparing a new public security law which paves the way for a police state. For example, it will be banned (and banned) from posting images and videos of police officers committing violence. Researchers, academics, intellectuals and civil society have reacted vigorously, exposing these dangerous lies and defending the freedom of research and expression. This open letter was signed by more than 2,000 French academics.

A response to the ‘Manifesto of the Hundred’

We read the agonizing text entitled “The Manifesto of the Hundred”. We are well aware that we will not be able to convince those who signed it: we could have just let them speak and observe what they are trying to do. Their summons to police thought within universities, however, cannot be left unchallenged. The vocabulary they adopt from the extreme right cannot either, in connection with Jean-Michel Blanquer, the French Minister of National Education, who tampers with the imagery of “gangrenization”. “Islamo-leftism”, the insult of which they boast instead of arguing, evokes other insults, notably “Judeo-Bolshevism”: we must not give up any ground in the face of such dark times and such censored attacks.

The academics wrote this text, and they should have known that brandishing disqualifying terms like “doxa” or “sermonizing babble” in place of proof makes no argument. There is a great risk that these conditions will be applied to those who have signed them. A little care and thoroughness would have been wise before making accusations of “intellectual conformism”, “fear” and “political correctness”: each seems quite applicable to those who have claimed them.

At the basic level, the text proposes a “thesis”: a current of study and reflection is developing in French universities which feeds “hatred of“ whites ”and of France”. It is an astonishing statement. How does the search for multiple and intersecting identities, forms of domination and struggles for emancipation produce exactly such feelings? We know the history of France, in all its diversity. It is full of commitments to empowerment, equality and what is right; it also has its share of horrors, colonial violence, social violence and shocking forms of repression. None of these are its “essence”.

Another dark accusation permeates the word “racialist,” intended to define an “ideology” that is supposed to spread in universities. The fact that some researchers include in their study the assessment of social, sexist and racist oppressions, we are told, means that they are “racist”. The epithet is despicable: it describes racist thought and regimes, based on a fabricated hierarchy of races. The signatories are well aware of the truth: sociological and critical approaches to racial issues, just like the often-criticized intersectional approaches, are committed to combating racism, through analyzes of the oppression it produces.

The text identifies yet another stigma: this way of thinking was imported from “North American campuses”. Such an “accusation” is almost laughable, except that it implies that any form of reflection which is inspired or nourished elsewhere is a priori suspect. But beyond that, the methods in question for studying society emerge from all continents – including, it should be noted, the American and Caribbean continents. It is a wonderful thing.

The “Manifesto of the Hundred” has two proposals: a whole current of social analysis must be tracked down and fought as dangerous; a control agency to defend academic freedom must be created. Its signatories seem to ignore the deep contradiction between the two proposals. How many freedoms will surely be set aside when we summon the powers that be to denounce research and reflection? Fighting to censor the expression of academic work is more than unacceptable: it also belittles the very principles that “the call of the hundred” claims to defend: the republic and freedom.

We are troubled that, even as the terrorist attacks force us to cry again, just as reminders of the need for free speech are so pressing, a group of academics is seizing on these despicable assassinations to sort out accounts and accuse their colleagues of complicity. It is unworthy, unworthy of the situation.

We will continue to defend the need for an open, critical and tolerant approach, which refers to emancipation and dignity by imparting knowledge, as a salutary contribution to the fight against violence and hatred.

The list of signatories can be found on this site.

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