French Academics Fear Becoming Scapegoats in War on Terrorism

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tags: France, racism, secularism, immigration, academic freedom

French academics fear being targeted by politicians from across the political spectrum in the run-up to the 2022 presidential election after the country’s education minister accused universities of creating an intellectual breeding ground for Islamic terrorism.

Following the beheading in mid-October of a teacher who showed pupils cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, researchers who focus on areas such as racism, Islamophobia and French colonialism have come in for unprecedented attack from parts of Emmanuel Macron’s government -- which was initially seen as a bastion against right-wing populism -- and from fellow academics.

“Linking all this to terrorism is what’s new,” said Simon Dawes, a media lecturer at the Université de Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines.

Academics have been accused of having “blood on your hands” for conducting certain types of research, argued Dawes, who has warned that academic freedom of speech could be under threat.

In the aftermath of the murder of the teacher, Samuel Paty, Jean-Michel Blanquer, the education minister, claimed that “left-wing Islamism” was “wreaking havoc” in French universities.

Doubling down on these comments, he later said it was necessary to “fight” intellectual currents coming from U.S. universities that viewed society through the lens of ethnic origin, religion or gender -- rather than the French republican ideal of equality -- because they risked the “fragmentation” of society and created a “vision of the world which converges with the interests of the Islamists.”

France’s Conference of University Presidents (CPU) was forced to hit back, denying that universities were complicit in terrorism.

Since then, 100 academics have publicly backed Blanquer’s comments, accusing “racialist” and postcolonial scholars of “feeding an anti-white racism and a hatred of France.”


One of the academics backing the minister is Nathalie Heinich, research director for sociology at the EHESS. The issue was not that universities studied areas such as racism and French colonialism, which was as it should be, she said. Instead, the problem was “activist” academics who used research to create “a victim mentality” among minorities in France.

“The problem is now in French universities there has been a fashionable importation of American identity politics,” she said. Claims by academics of “systematic racism” and “state racism” were “a direct encouragement to terrorism,” she told Times Higher Education.

Still, there is no evidence of any link between universities and Paty’s killer, 18-year-old Abdullakh Anzorov, a Russian of Chechen origin who moved to France as a child refugee, nor the Tunisian man who stabbed three people in Nice later in October.

“I don’t think if you take someone who’s beheaded someone, they’re avid readers of Judith Butler,” remarked Dawes, referring to the pioneering American gender theorist.

Read entire article at Inside Higher Ed