Free Speech, recent, Regressive Left

Against the Militancy of the French ‘Decolonial’ Movement

The following statement was published in Le Point on 28 November, 2018 and is reprinted here with their kind permission. Translation by Holly Haahr.

The militant initiatives of the “decolonial” movement and its related associations1 are multiplying at the rate of several university and cultural events per month. These different groups are hosted in the most prestigious academic institutions,2 theatres and museums.3 One such example was the seminar “Gender, Nation, and Secularism,” hosted by the Maison des sciences de l’Homme at the beginning of October, which was presented with the racialist references “gender coloniality,” “white feminism,” “racialization,” and “gendered racial power” (i.e: the power exercised by “whites,” which is systematically prejudicial to the individuals they call “racialized”).

However, while presenting themselves as progressive (anti-racists, decolonizers, feminists…), for the last several years these movements have been diverting their efforts away from individual emancipation and freedom in favor of objectives that are completely at odds with republican universalism: racialism, differentialism, and segregationism (according to skin color, sex, and religious practice). They go so far as to invoke feminism to legitimize the wearing of the veil, secularism to legitimize their religious claims, and universalism to legitimize communitarianism. Finally, they denounce, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, the “state racism” of France: a state from which, at the same time, they demand—and obtain—benevolence and financial support through public subsidies.

The strategy of these “decolonial” militants and their fellow travellers is to present their ideology as scientific truth and to discredit their opponents by calling them racist and Islamophobic. Hence, their frequent refusal to engage in debate, and even the demonization of attempts to discuss these issues. Hence, also, the use of methods of intellectual terrorism that recall what Stalinism once did to the most far-sighted European intellectuals.

Thus, after the attempts to ostracize historians (Olivier Pétré-Grenouilleau, Virginie Chaillou-Atrous, Sylvain Gouguenheim, Georges Bensoussan), philosophers (Marcel Gauchet, Pierre-André Taguieff), politicians (Laurent Bouvet, Josepha Laroche), sociologists (Nathalie Heinich, Stéphane Dorin), economists (Jérôme Maucourant), geographers and demographers (Michèle Tribalat, Christophe Guilluy), writers and essayists (Kamel Daoud, Pascal Bruckner, Mohamed Louizi), it is now the turn of people in the literary and theatrical world, with Alexandre Gefen and Isabelle Barbéris being targeted. In the cultural world, some of France’s most renowned artists have been persecuted for holding fast to universalist ideals and criticizing differentialism and racialism.

The method is tried and tested: these “non-compliant” intellectuals are placed under surveillance by the enemies of debate, who wait for the slightest pretext to isolate and discredit them. Statements they’ve made are taken out of context and these dissenters are then linked to the extreme Right, accused of all manner of “phobias,” and have targets pinned to their backs. Sometimes, their thought crimes are dredged up by the media, who then put them on trial for racism. At other times, they are mobbed on social media by these “anti-Enlightenment” zealots.

Now our cultural, academic, and scientific institutions (not to mention our high schools) are being targeted. Under the guise of denouncing discrimination of “colonial” origin, these militants seek to undermine the principles of freedom of expression and universality that we’ve inherited from the Enlightenment. “Decolonial” conferences, exhibitions, shows, films, and books resurrecting discredited ideas about “race” continue to exploit the guilt of some and exacerbate the resentment of others, feeding inter-ethnic hatred and divisions. This is the activists’ entry strategy into higher education and culture.

The situation is alarming. The intellectual pluralism that advocates of “decolonialism” seek to neutralize is an essential condition for the proper functioning of our democracy. Moreover, the spread of this ideology in France’s universities has come at the price of renouncing the centuries-old requirement of quality that earned them their prestige.

We call on public authorities, heads of cultural, academic, scientific, and research institutions, but also the judiciary, to pull themselves together. The basic criteria of science must be respected. Robust debate must be allowed to take place. The institutions for which they are responsible must no longer be used against the Republic. It is up to each and every one of them to ensure that this destructive misuse of the values of freedom, equality, and fraternity that underpin our democracy is stopped once and for all.

THE SIGNATORIES

Waleed Al-Husseini, essayist; Jean-Claude Allard, former research director at Iris; Pierre Avril, professor emeritus of the University Panthéon-Assas; Vida Azimi, research director at CNRS; Elisabeth Badinter, philosopher; Clément Bénech, novelist; Michel Blay, historian and philosopher of science; Françoise Bonardel, philosopher; Stéphane Breton, ethnologist and filmmaker; Virgil Brill, photographer; Jean-Marie Brohm, sociologist; Marie-Laure Brossier, elected official from Bagnolet; Sarah Cattan, journalist; Philippe de Lara, philosopher; Maxime Decout, lecturer and essayist; Bernard de La Villardière, journalist; Jacques de Saint-Victor, university professor and literary critic; Aurore Després, lecturer; Christophe de Voogd, historian and essayist; Philippe d’Iribarne, research director at the CNRS; Arthur Dreyfus, writer, film instructor; David Duquesne, nurse; Zineb El Rhazaoui, journalist; Patrice Franceschi, adventurer and writer; Jean-Louis Fabiani, sociologist; Alain Finkielkraut, philosopher and academician; Renée Fregosi, philosopher and political scientist; Jasmine Getz, academic; Jacques Gilbert, university professor; Marc Goldschmit, philosopher; Philippe Gumplowicz, university professor; Claude Habib, university professor and essayist; Noémie Halioua, journalist; Marc Hersant, university professor; Marie Ibn Arabi, professor of philosophy; Pierre Jourde, writer; Gaston Kelman, writer; Alexandra Lavastine, philosopher; Françoise Lavocat, professor of comparative literature; Barbara Lefebvre, teacher and essayist; Jean-Pierre Le Goff, sociologist; Damien Le Guay, philosopher; Noëlle Lenoir, lawyer at the Paris Bar; Anne-Marie Le Pourhiet, professor of public law; Laurent Loty, researcher at the CNRS; Catherine Louveau, professor emeritus; Yves Mamou, journalist; Laurence Marchand-Taillade, president of Forces Laïques; Jean-Claude Michéa, philosopher; Isabelle Mity, professor; Yves Michaud, philosopher; Franck Neveu, university professor of linguistics; Pierre Nora, historian and academician; Fabien Ollier, director of the publishing house QS; Mona Ozouf, historian and philosopher; Patrick Pelloux, doctor; René Pommier, academic and essayist; Celine Pina, essayist; Monique Plaza, doctor of psychology; Michaël Prazan, filmmaker, writer; Charles Ramond, university professor and philosopher; Philippe Raynaud, university professor and political scientist; Dany Robert-Dufour, university professor, philosopher; Robert Redeker, philosopher; Anne Richardot, university lecturer; Pierre Rigoulot, essayist;  Jean-Pierre Sakoun, president of the Comité Laïcité République; Philippe San Marco, essayist; Boualem Sansal, writer; Jean-Paul Sermain, university professor of French literature; Dominique Schnapper, political scientist; Jean-Eric Schoettl, lawyer; Patrick Sommier, man of the theatre; Véronique Taquin, professor and writer; Jacques Tarnero, researcher and essayist; Carine Trévisan, university professor of literature; Michèle Tribalat, researcher and demographer; Caroline Valentin, lawyer and editorialist; André Versaille, writer and publisher; Ibn Warraq, writer; Aude Weill Raynal, lawyer; Yves Charles Zarka, university professor of philosophy.

Notes:

1 For example: Parti des Indigènes de la République, Collectif contre l’islamophobie en France, Marche des femmes pour la dignité, Marches de la dignité, Camp décolonial, Conseil représentatif des associations noires, Conseil représentatif des Français d’outre-mer, Brigade antinégrophobie, Décoloniser les arts, Les Indivisibles (Rokhaya Diallo), Front de mères, collectif MWASI, collectif Non MiXte.s racisé.e.s, Boycott désinvestissement sanctions, Coordination contre le racisme et l’islamophobie, Mamans toutes égales, Cercle des enseignant.e.s laïques, Les Irrécupérables, Réseau classe/genre/race.
2 For example: Collège de France, Institut d’études politiques, Ecole normale supérieure, CNRS, EHESS, Université Paris-VIII Vincennes-Saint-Denis, Université Paris-VII Diderot, Université Panthéon-Sorbonne Paris-I, Université Lumière-Lyon-II, Université Toulouse-Jean-Jaurès.
3 For example: Philharmonie de Paris, Musée du Louvre, Centre dramatique national de Rouen, Mémorial de l’abolition de l’esclavage, Philharmonie de Paris, Musée du Louvre, Musée national Eugène-Delacroix, scène nationale de l’Aquarium.