Islamogauchisme: French education minister fans Islamophobia

From JNU to La Sorbonne: Intellectuals under attack


February 26, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

Islamogauchisme: French education minister fans Islamophobia

French higher education minister Frederique Vidal attacks French universities accusing them of being controlled by a left-wing cabal

French education minister’s comments about 'support for radical Islam' in the academic world of France has raised a storm across universities.

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At first appearance, the drama could very well be playing out in India’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). Ruling party members and none less than the education minister accuses campuses across the nation, especially the most prestigious ones, of being ‘infested’ by scholars sympathising with radical Islam. The minister goes further and orders the top research institute to audit research being done in the country to differentiate academic research from militantism and opinions.

But alas, the drama that has played out in India for the past seven years is now being seen in France as the French higher education minister Frederique Vidal attacks French universities accusing them of being controlled by a left-wing cabal that sympathises with radical Islam and postcolonialism. Calling them islamogauchists, Vidal accused intellectuals of ‘infesting’ French universities. “I think that Islamo-leftism is eating away at our society as a whole, and universities are not immune and are part of our society,” Vidal told a rightwing television channel, often compared with the American FoxNews, in France.

Incensed by the minister’s inflammatory remarks, the French academicians did not hold back their fire on the minister. “What is eating up our society? It is discrimination, it is ghettoization and it is social inequality,” president of the Sorbonne University, Jean Chambaz responded to the higher education minister.

Vidal then asked the leading research institution of France, CNRS, to conduct a study to see which research papers relate to academic work and which to spread Islamic fundamentalism. The statements were received with the expected outrage as heads of universities almost collectively told off the minister and the CNRS too responded to the minister that the term ‘islamogauchism’ did not correspond to any scientific reality. The term, meant to be highly derogatory, is frequently used to accuse people on the left of being blind to Islamist extremism and overly worried about racism and identity.

But Vidal was not the first French minister to refer to the influence that leftist intellectuals were supposed to have in French research institutions. Last year, Vidal’s colleague in education, Jean Michel Blanquer had also spoken of the spread of ‘Islamo-leftism’ in French academic institutions, saying that it was wreaking havoc in the academia in France.

Another minister, Gerald Darmanin, the acerbic and highly controversial interior minister, waded into the controversy a few days later saying that the far-left party, La France Insoumise (Unsubmissive France) had also become linked to an “Islamo-leftism that is destroying the Republic”.

Macron takes a hard right turn

This kind of concerted attack on intellectuals by different ministers of the French government is not coincidental. Over the past few months, the public discourse of French President Emmanuel Macron has taken a sharp turn rightwards as he prepares for re-election in 2022. Macron’s strongest challenger this time, as was the case in 2017, is Marine Le Pen, head of the far-right Rassemblement Nationale, as the rechristened Front National is now known.

With the centre-right League Republicain and the centre-left Socialist Party continuing to be rudderless and listless even four years after their historic rout in 2017, the challenge for Macron is set to emerge from either far left or far right, with the latter looking a far realistic opponent.

Thus, in preparation for his campaign for a second term, Macron has been pushing the envelope of political debate and discussions on the extreme right, hoping to win over some of the centre-right voters who may be moving towards extreme rightwing.

Macron has been widely roasted by the French press, not just for the statements of his ministers, but even his own speeches which have begun to increasingly sound like the masculine version of Le Pen.

Le Monde, a popular centrist newspaper, was blunt about it. “The demand by the minister (to CNRS) is unjustifiable as it is a frontal attack on academic liberty, an inestimable outcome of democracy that she should be protecting and it is not for the State to regulate social science debates,” says Le Monde reserving harsher language for Macron for having let his ministers speak out of turn and fan Islamophobia in France. “Emmanuel Macron is playing with fire. The country, already shaken by the unprecedented pandemic that threatens to stretch into an electoral campaign, needs clear debates over issues that will determine its future. It does not need dirty manoeuvres by demagogic or irresponsible politicians. And even lesser, flirting with the far-right,” says the newspaper.

The tenor and language being used by Macron’s ministers are indeed extremely worrying and divisive. Ever since France was hit by a series of terror attacks, mounted by Islamic State terrorists, from 2013 onwards, the debate over Islam’s true place in the French society has become very acerbic and sharp-edged, with a deep cleavage running in between the two positions.

In this context, the statements of a number of senior ministers of the French government on Islamogauchisme have gone a long way in creating a storm in the teacup over the perceived or imagined Islamo-leftism that is supposed to be all-pervasive on French campuses. That is indeed very similar to whatever has been happening in Indian campuses also as extreme rightwing elements see ghosts of Islamic fundamentalism in every student and teacher in the leading universities of India.

Demonising of intellectuals in India may be very similar to what’s happening in France, but fortunately for France, the institutions have stayed resolutely against the executive, with both the universities as well as most of the media lambasting the government and the President for creating further divisions in a society already aflame over Islam. The French Parliament is also currently debating two laws that would have far-reaching consequences on not just the relations that the French society and government would have with Islam and its place in the country, but also the freedom of the press to operate without any government control.

That the media and the academia were able to stand up to the government is perhaps the only difference in the developments in New Delhi and Paris following the attacks on JNU and La Sorbonne. Yet, it is a big difference which India would perhaps live to rue for a long while.



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