Originally published by Jadaliyya on February 19, 2021. https://www.jadaliyya.com/Details/42400.
Under the rule of Emmanuel Macron, the French state has revealed its true nature. That of a paternalistic and racist machine, which brutalizes its citizens and vilifies its largest minority. Not that this state has ever been anything else, but Macron’s arrogance makes him unable to hide it.
Since his very first day in office, Macron’s only agenda has been to further the process of neoliberalization at work in the country by any means necessary, including police violence. Unable to propose anything that resembles a coherent social project, and confronted with the lasting effects of the Yellow Vests crisis, he and his goons have increasingly relied on Islamophobia to attract popular support. To be clear, Macron is not responsible for racism in France. But he is riding the wave shamelessly. The law on separatism that is currently being debated in Parliament is a blatant attempt to instrumentalize widespread Islamophobia, in the name of fighting a phony “Islamist” threat. This is an anti-Muslim law. Period.
“To be clear, Macron is not responsible for racism in France. But he is riding the wave shamelessly. The law on separatism that is currently being debated in Parliament is a blatant attempt to instrumentalize widespread Islamophobia, in the name of fighting a phony “Islamist” threat. This is an anti-Muslim law. Period.”
But this is not my main concern. I am writing in anger, after the French minister of Higher Education, Frédérique Vidal, has ordered an investigation to identify “Islamo-Leftist” elements at the university. Surely, the sector of education in France has long been in the crosshairs of heated debates on terrorism, neoliberal restructuring, and structural racism. After the terrorist attacks of 2015, former Prime minister Manuel Valls infamously attacked social scientists who dared to study Islamophobia or postcolonial theory, and claimed that “explaining is already looking for excuses.” More recently, the current minister of Education, Jean-Michel Blanquer, denounced the rise of “Islamo-leftism” in French universities, arguing that some researchers had imported foreign ideas that fueled radicalism and could lead to terrorism. “The fish rots from the head,” he prophesied grimly. Now, with the complicity of a narrow clique of powerful white professors who seek to suppress postcolonial, ethnic and critical race studies from their universities, Vidal aims to identifying and getting rid of the troublemakers.
Beyond the intellectual conservatism that has become a trademark of French ruling elites since 1968, the two political reasons behind this move are obvious. First, the public university is a primary target of the process of neoliberalization, whose means have been increasingly eroded in the name of efficiency and competition. After decades of restructuring, the public mission of the institution is now reduced to that of a waiting-room for the working-class youth. There is no place for you on the job market? Why don’t you waste two or three years in an amphitheater? And work two jobs on the side while you’re at it.
The second reason follows logically. One major problem with the transformation of French public universities into pedagogical dead-ends for those who are not worthy of admission in a grande école is that some professors still think critically. Even worse, they also try to teach. Thus, when dealing with their cattle-like students, they might speak about race, colonialism, or about the link between urban segregation and immigration. They might unveil the sociological connections between colorblind racism, economic vulnerability and police brutality. All this at a time when a growing number of students unable to work their precarious jobs have to queue for donated food. But no, by Jupiter, this won’t happen. The government has found a way to legitimize a crackdown on these unreliable scholars by labeling them as “Islamo-leftists.”
“What is Islamo-leftism, you may ask? According to the National Center for Scientific Research, which wrote a swift rebuke to Vidal’s infamous order, it is simply another political anathema without scientific value. Politically though, it echoes longstanding antisemitic tropes in Europe, most notably the attacks on so-called “Judeo-Bolsheviks” in the inter-war period.”
What is Islamo-leftism, you may ask? According to the National Center for Scientific Research, which wrote a swift rebuke to Vidal’s infamous order, it is simply another political anathema without scientific value. Politically though, it echoes longstanding antisemitic tropes in Europe, most notably the attacks on so-called “Judeo-Bolsheviks” in the inter-war period. The sad irony is that some of Vidal’s enablers are prominent scholars of antisemitism who support this witch-hunt in the name of fighting the “new antisemitism” that they amalgamate with decolonial and pro-Palestinian commitments.
But who is the Islamo-Leftist?
If being opposed to the stigmatization of my fellow citizens because they happen to be Muslim means that I am an Islamist, then I am an Islamist. And a proud one.
If being opposed to the banalized use of police brutality and the neoliberal restructuring of universities means that I am a leftist, then I am a Leftist. And a relentless one.
If being an Islamo-Leftist means that the French state sees me as a threat for the Republic and that I will never get a job in a French university, so let it be. I’ll shut the door on my way out.
But wait. Before leaving, I would like to say one last word. You see, there is one thing that Emmanuel Macron hates more than anything: being exposed as a racist abroad, especially in the Anglophone world. Macron and his goons see themselves as enlightened leaders, as precursors, as a progressive vanguard. So here is what you can do to help your French colleagues: Here is the template of a letter that you, my dear readers could send to the French embassy in your country. This letter denounces the witch-hunt launched by the Ministry of Higher Education, the paranoid rejection of the influence of North American campuses, and the attempts to establish ideological control over academia. Even better, it compares this project to the worst hours in European history. They will hate it, for sure. So please, go ahead, download the template, sign it, and send it to the French embassy of your country. Here is a shortlist:
“Cultural Counselor of the French embassy in the US:
Gaëtan Bruel – email
Cultural Counselor of the French embassy in the UK:
Bertrand Buchwalter – email
Cultural Counselor of the French embassy in Canada:
Brigitte Proucelle – email”
Thomas Serres has a PhD in political science from the EHESS. He is currently an associated researcher with Développement & Société in Paris and an Adjunct Professor at the University of California-Santa Cruz. His research focuses on the politics of crisis and trans-nationalization in Algeria.
Cover Image: Celette, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons