Raise the stakes
But what followed Paty’s murder takes things to a new level, with the government at the forefront of Islamophobic controversies, and with changes to the law, the constitution and the very definition of secularism, proposed to fight the terrorist. threat, as well as the restrictions on freedom of expression suggested as a necessary step to defend… freedom of expression! Instead of a healthy debate about what the state could have done better to prevent the killings, the traditional political and media consensus has been to scapegoat those they say simply deny the threat posed by veils and people who do not eat pork, and especially those who criticize Islamophobia and Charlie Hebdo – a wide range of people to whom they refer under the generic term of “Islamo-leftists”. Journalist Rokhaya Diallo (black, Muslim and leftist!) Was recently accused by the “new philosopher” Pascal Bruckner, for example, of having blood on his hands for using the “privilege” granted to him by being a black and muslim woman to incite hatred against Charlie Hebdo.
In the aftermath of Paty’s murder, the police raided the homes and offices of many people and more than 50 associations who, in the words of Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, “had no connection with Paty’s murder. “; instead, the goal was to “send a message”. Far from being Islamists or suspected terrorists (as suggested The Guardian), they were in most cases simple Muslims and associations that provide legal advice to Muslims or protest against anti-Muslim discrimination: the charity Barakacity, a faith-based association providing drinking water in Africa and helping the homeless and refugees in France, was banned a few days ago because of its Muslim affiliation (Catholic charities like Secours Catholique do not, however, represent such a threat to secularism); and the Collective against Islamophobia in France (CCIF), a small organization with the status of a UN consultant which organizes mediation and helps to provide lawyers to those who defend themselves against Islamophobic discrimination, has been declared “enemy of the Republic” and also threatened with dissolution – he has since taken steps to expand his business internationally as he no longer feels safe in France.
Darmanin also launched a media offensive to blame: the existence of halal (and kosher) food sections in supermarkets; journalists, left-wing politicians and charities such as Amnesty International and La Ligue des Droits de l’Homme for their denunciation of allegedly non-existent Islamophobia or police violence; and academics to deliver “Anglo-Saxon” courses on racism (as well as gender, sexuality, and intersectionality) – all of which apparently contribute to “communalism”, “separatism” and ultimately Islamist terror. This weekend, he also announced his intention to impose a fine of up to 75,000 euros and send to prison for up to 5 years anyone who refuses to see a doctor of the opposite sex.
Jean-Michel Blanquer, the Minister of Education, also spoke out against the veils, which, although technically legal, are “not desirable” or “compatible with republican values”, as well as against corrupting influence of Anglo-Saxon academic concepts such as intersectionality. For Blanquer (and, more embarrassingly, many academics in France), such work essentializes minorities (and is therefore itself racist and sexist) and inevitably fragments society, unlike the French republican tradition in which everyone is equal and everyone just gets along. well.
Yesterday, on the occasion of the anniversary of the first day of the Algerian war, Jean Castex, the Prime Minister, spoke of the need for the French public to no longer criticize the colonial history of France (which the France has never really started to do it), and on the contrary to be proud of the “roots”, of the identity and of the freedom of France. At the same time, and in the face of the boycott of French products in certain predominantly Muslim countries, Macron tells the international media how much France is really tolerant of Muslims, offering a very different discourse from that aimed at French Muslims.
The recurring theme in such debates is the supposed conflict between freedom of expression and secularism on the one hand (where Muslims seem to be little more than convenient ridicule), and Muslims and anti-racists from on the other hand (who wrongly insist that Muslims have the right to have a voice). This fabricated conflict depends on a curious neoconservative redefinition of secularism and a libertarian fetishization of absolutist freedom of expression.
From this point of view, nothing could symbolize the beauty of republican freedom more than an anti-religious satire such as Charlie Hebdo depictions of Muhammad as a terrorist or a representative of a student union wearing the veil or of other Muslims as animals. Suggest that these images are more Islamophobic and racist than they are representative of freedom of expression (as the European Court of Justice did, arguing that representations of Muhammad are not covered by the Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights), is not just seen as an affront to freedom of expression and to the French tradition of anti-religious satire, but contrary to the very principles of secularism.
While the Observatory of Secularism has sought to calm tensions in recent years by explaining that secularism simply means that the state must be neutral and that the public must be free to practice the religion they want, figures of the (so-called) intellectual (so-called) left, like the Republican Spring and former Prime Minister Manuel Valls, sought to push an alternative conception of secularism where it is the public which is supposed to be neutral (therefore, no more veils, no more being too Muslim). In recent years, they have been waging a war with the Observatory (a neutral organization whose task is essentially to explain neutrality) which they see as ideologically influenced, partisan and unnecessary in the fight against the Islamist threat. On the other hand, Laurent Bouvet, the perfectly neutral leader of the Republican Spring, recently posted on Twitter photos of bacon masks, which were sent to him as a gift in the fight against the double pandemic of Covid and Islam. This version of freedom of expression and secularism is the one that wins the war, with the government now turning to the Observatory and threatening to “renew” its staff and role next year.
Provocateurs of freedom of expression
But it’s almost as if fearless advocates of free speech believe that only speech stigmatizing Muslims should be free. Government ministers who are so adamant about the need to celebrate the content of Charlie Hebdo as an example of free speech have no problem filing defamation complaints against Mediapart, an independent online newspaper, for the user-generated blog content it hosted criticizing police violence. A hundred academics have also just signed a letter starting from the reactionary side of the reactionary remarks of the Minister of Education against intersectional studies, asking the state to intervene to prevent students from wearing the headscarf and put an end to teachers who teach such subjects. A few days ago, the Senate passed an amendment to force academics to conduct their research “within the framework of Republican values,” which could be perfectly trite and vague wording, but which could also be the end of freedom. academic, at least for those who do “criticism” and “studies” (ie cultural, postcolonial, queer, etc.).
I myself had difficulty organizing a conference on Islamophobia, racialization and the “Muslim problem” when I was (very inconvenient) forbidden to use the words Islamophobia, racialization and “Muslim problem” because they were too “provocative” (a favorite word of free speech fetishists when they try to limit the freedom of speech of others) and my university was too afraid to offend Republican Spring ( Bouvet is a professor at the same university). I was also banned for the same reason from using the image of a woman wearing a tricolor veil to illustrate the event, and instead was asked to use orientalist images of Muslims as people from another continent and another century – I refused, but one person’s offense is clearly another person’s freedom.