As a Cultural War Continues to Cause Waves in France, Art Has Become a Lighthouse for Progressive Views

More of France’s “culture war,” this time with respect to the arts sector:

Accused of pandering to the far-right ahead of France’s federal election in 2022, President Emmanuel Macron attempted a balancing act. In January 2021, the leader’s party said it would create a “memories and truth” commission on France’s painful colonial history and war with Algeria. In March, it released a report on the positive contributions of individuals of immigrant backgrounds called “Portraits of France.”

These initiatives are part of a broader effort to find alternative solutions to growing demands for the removal of statues and street names honoring historical figures that are connected to France’s colonial past, including its slave trade. Yet, at the same time, Macron and some of his ministers have been igniting emotions as they publicly denounce forces that they see as stoking so-called “separatism,” including what many see as US-style political correctness and cancel culture—the latter of which is a largely unpopular but growing concept in France—as well as a perceived US-version of multiculturalism.

Recent events within and outside of France have further stoked this fire. The #MeToo movement has been met with uneven hostility. The October decapitation of a teacher who showed cartoons of the prophet Muhammad during a course on free speech has led to a new bill “against separatism,” which aims to combat Islamic radicalism. And the protests in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in the US last year have prompted renewed conversation about the nature of racism in France, and put the country’s old ways of cultural assimilation on trial.

Against this backdrop of a culture war that shows little signs of abating, artistic projects remain a powerful place for progressive discourse in France—even as some factions in the country move to denounce what many have called an “importation” of America’s discourse on identity politics.

Art and Politics

As warring factions argue over how to integrate populations of citizens descended from former colonies, a new resurgent left, notably marked by young people from within the very populations at the center of the issue, has been pushing back against the country’s “universalist” social model, which traditionally downplays—some would say ignores—cultural differences between citizens. The traditional style of governance aims to avoid what is often viewed as an Americanized version of warring ethnic and religious groups.

In a Le Monde editorial from March, supporters of the president’s “Portraits of France” project said that playwrights, filmmakers, and painters should “seize upon these life stories and make works of art out of them that speak to our society and our world.” They added that “by ignoring a part of our shared past, we have made it harder to understand our present and to write our future.”

But these cultural in-roads are not always met with open arms. The executive branch of French government has specifically singled out academia, including the social science fields of post-colonial and intersectional studies, saying that these areas are under risk of influence from radical agendas that are pitting communities against each other. It also announced in February a sweeping investigation into the presence of “Islamo-gauchisme”—a term loosely referring to extreme-left activists who are “complacent” toward radical forms of Islamism or who apologize for terrorism—in universities. As a result, many are worried about censorship in schools and that scholarly research into the darker chapters of France’s history is under threat.

This debate spewed over into the art world when a government-commissioned portrait series of women publicly displayed in March in Paris, which was designed to celebrate diversity by featuring images of professionals from an array of different fields, sparked a vicious response. The photographs in “109 Mariannes” became fodder for controversy due to the inclusion of the young astrophysicist Fatoumata Kébé who was singled out for her headscarf. Angered that Kébé was chosen to emblematize “Marianne,” the personification of the French Republic often seen interpreted in art or on stamps, former spokesperson for the right-leaning Republican party, Lydia Guirou, was among the angry tweeters: “Marianne is not and will NEVER wear the headscarf!”

The sentiment dovetails with a draft bill that the Senate amended this month to forbid chaperones on school field trips from wearing Muslim headscarves. The bill has been strongly criticized for stigmatizing Muslims and called an overreach of France’s already strict secular laws, which forbid the wearing of clearly visible religious symbols in schools, and by civil servants.

The Faces of the Republic

Despite instances of incendiary reactions, the cultural sphere is being won over by a new wave of progressive viewpoints and views are indeed changing. A younger generation has become eager to more openly focus on the topic of race and difference. French citizens of immigrant descent are raising their voices to say that, in practice, their identities are under-represented in a society that discriminates against them for their inherent differences. With a sense of irony, they describe a society which claims to be blind to those differences while demanding that any outward signs of that difference—for example, hijabs—are avoided, to best fit a cultural mold.

“We like the idea of ‘universalism,’ because it’s a kind of utopia… But it’s easier to go to Mars than to the land of universalism,” Nadine Houkpatin told Artnet News. She is co-curator with Céline Seror of a show that includes work by artists from Africa and its diaspora called Memoria: accounts of another History that is on view until November at the Frac-Nouvelle Acquitaine MECA in Bordeaux. Houkpatin notes that while a new generation has indeed been “inspired” by some of the “woke” political ideas stemming from the US, the theorists behind many of these left-leaning ideas are often of French origin.

The curators of the Bordeaux show surmise that, when it comes to discussing these issues through art, people have an easier time accepting more progressive, controversial topics. “I think that through art, we can address these questions that are essential,” said Seror. Art “gives a certain liberty that enables us to express ourselves about these subjects,” she added.

Indeed, it seems that the art world has been somewhat shielded: Responses were overwhelmingly positive to the two shows, despite the debates going on in the public realm. The show at Musée d’Orsay even received a nod from a critic who supports the government’s investigation into academics. “I saw the exhibition, and very much appreciated it,” said Nathalie Heinich, a sociologist who has published work on contemporary art.  She is in favor of the French government’s recent stance against “radical” intellectual currents “that come from elsewhere” and a signatory in an editorial in Le Monde that described them as “feeding a hatred for ‘whites.’”

Pap Ndiaye, the historian and new director of France’s immigration museum, the Palais de la Porte-Dorée, recently told reporters that he too is concerned by the pushback on academia. “It comes at a moment when post-colonial and intersectional questions are beginning to find their very small space in French universities,” he said. “If we stop teaching them, where will the students go?” The Paris museum he oversees is currently showing an exhibit on the immigrant experience that includes 18 artists from Africa and its diaspora—it is a poignant exploration of artistic diversity and it falls on the 90th anniversary of the museum, which infamously opened with an exhibition to celebrate the colonies and included human exhibits.

The title of the show at Ndiaye’s museum, “Ce qui s’oublie et ce qui reste,” which translates to “What is forgotten and what remains,” also seems to ask what traces of this dark past remain in the popular subconscious today. It is on view until July.

While the government and certain factions of the population continue to rail against the universities, art institutions are set to become an increasingly singular voice for pressing questions about post-colonialism in France. “When an artist presents [their work] in a museum that is open to the public, then we can start talking about colonialism, decolonization, and its impact on society,” said curator Seror. “That’s the power of art.”

Source: As a Cultural War Continues to Cause Waves in France, Art Has Become a Lighthouse for Progressive Views

Un Français qui a échoué à un test de français pour immigrer au Québec dénonce un processus «trop sélectif»

Not aware of similar circumstances with English test but anecdotally I have heard immigrants with advanced English knowledge have bristled at having to pay for testing to become citizens:

Yohan Flaman est français et a fait toute sa scolarité en français. Arrivé au Québec en 2018, il a pourtant échoué à une partie du test de français pour obtenir sa résidence permanente. Il dénonce « un processus beaucoup trop sélectif », trop cher et « contre-productif », symptomatique selon lui des autres cafouillages récents du système d’immigration dans la province.

« Sincèrement, on dirait que c’est un examen qui est fait pour être raté », lance-t-il aujourd’hui après avoir réussi le test à son deuxième essai et déposé sa demande de résidence permanente. « Je m’étais dit que c’était dans la poche, mais les consignes sont tellement longues et certaines questions sont tirées par les cheveux. » Chaque section du test est également minutée de manière très serrée, ajoute-t-il.

Pour être sélectionné comme immigrant permanent à travers le Programme de l’expérience québécoise (PEQ), un candidat doit en effet démontrer sa maîtrise du français. Il y a plusieurs façons de le faire : en ayant une scolarité de trois ans en français de niveau équivalent au secondaire, en prouvant la réussite d’un cours de francisation de niveau 7 ou encore en passant l’un des tests reconnus par le ministère de l’Immigration, de la Francisation et de l’Intégration (MIFI).

Pressé par le temps

Le niveau 7 (sur un total de 12) est considéré par le MIFI comme un niveau intermédiaire. Il implique de pouvoir communiquer à l’oral dans des situations partiellement prévisibles à propos de besoins courants. Quant au test, le niveau à atteindre est « B2 », soit intermédiaire avancé, ce qui implique de pouvoir donner « des avis argumentés » et de converser ou de comprendre un discours « de façon claire et détaillée ».

La section mesurant la compréhension orale du français a particulièrement donné du fil à retordre à Yohan Flaman : il faut répondre à 60 questions en 40 minutes (y compris les consignes données à l’oral), ce qui équivaut à moins de 40 secondes par question. « Je n’imagine pas combien ça peut être difficile pour quelqu’un qui apprend le français en plus de son travail à temps plein, dit-il. Je comprends qu’il faut un minimum, mais la barre est trop haute. »

L’homme de 39 ans se porte ainsi à la défense d’autres collègues qui ne sont pas francophones. Si même un Français peut échouer, alors le Québec se met clairement « les bâtons dans les roues », dit-il. Il va sans dire qu’un échec à ce test, qui coûte 240 $, a un effet domino sur le reste du dossier.

Maintenant que sa demande est déposée, M. Flaman n’est tout de même pas au bout de ses peines. Le Devoir révélait la semaine dernière qu’il faut actuellement compter entre 27 et 33 mois pour obtenir sa résidence permanente. « Beaucoup d’amis et de collègues sont dégoûtés et retournent en France », raconte celui qui admet avoir lui-même songé à repartir avec sa femme québécoise.

Il déplore surtout le fait de n’avoir « aucun interlocuteur » pour faire le suivi de son dossier d’immigration. « La seule chose que l’agent d’immigration peut te dire, c’est que ton dossier est en traitement. Toi, tu as juste le droit de fermer ta gueule », laisse-t-il tomber.

Une question délicate

Le jeune homme met au défi les Québécois d’essayer de passer ce genre d’épreuve, tout en soulignant l’ironie que ces tests soient envoyés en France pour être corrigés. Les deux entités qui administrent la passation de ces examens sont en effet enregistrées de l’autre côté de l’océan, soit France Éducation internationale et la Chambre de commerce et d’industrie de Paris.

Camionneur de longue distance depuis son arrivée avec un permis de travail temporaire, Yohan Flaman fait régulièrement des voyages du Centre-du-Québec vers les États-Unis. « Je me débrouille en anglais et, même si c’est parfois limité, l’important est de se comprendre », explique-t-il.

Comme plusieurs autres travailleurs temporaires, il considère donc que de nombreux secteurs d’emploi ne nécessitent pas une connaissance aussi élevée du français pour fonctionner et s’intégrer.

En effet, Le Devoir rapportait jeudi que plusieurs travailleurs temporaires et associations d’employeurs demandent à Québec d’assouplir les exigences de français pour certains programmes d’immigration économique dans la province. « Ce n’est vraiment pas l’ouvrage qui manque », dit M. Flaman.

La protection du français fait l’objet d’un large consensus au Québec, mais les emplois occupés par les travailleurs temporaires ne nécessitent pas toujours un français avancé. « C’est presque tabou. Selon moi, c’est une forme d’aveuglement puisque les Québécois eux-mêmes tombent vite dans l’anglais dans certains milieux de travail », observe quant à lui Stephan Reichhold, directeur de la Table de concertation des organismes au service des personnes réfugiées et immigrantes.

Dans le cas où des immigrants temporaires ne parviendraient pas au niveau 7 en français, seul le ministère de l’Immigration, de la Francisation et de l’Intégration a le pouvoir de contourner cette règle.

Pour l’instant, seul un programme pilote pour les travailleurs en intelligence artificielle qui gagnent plus de 100 000 $ par année permet de déroger à cette règle du français.

Source: Un Français qui a échoué à un test de français pour immigrer au Québec dénonce un processus «trop sélectif»

English version below:

If someone from France can fail Quebec’s French test for immigrants, how hard is it for a non-francophone to pass?

Yohan Flaman, 39, a truck driver from Limoges, France, who came to Quebec in 2018 under the Quebec Experience Program, wasn’t too nervous about taking the French test set by the department of Immigration, Francization and Integration.

Source: Immigrant from France fails Quebec’s French test for newcomers

German professor under police protection for stance on Islamophobia

Making distinctions and nuance matter rather than shutting down discussion:

“Fascists in our lecture halls! Dismiss Professor Kinzler! Islamophobia kills,” read the large banners hanging at the University of Grenoble. Activists from the French student union Unef also posted the slogans online.

Five months after the brutal murder of history teacher Samuel Paty, being accused of Islamophobia is not something that is taken lightly in France. Following a debate that sparked outrage at the Grenoble Institute of Political Studies, two professors are under police protection.

Here’s how it happened: 3 1/2 months ago, students and teachers at the university were discussing the title of a planned seminar on the topic of equality. Should “Islamophobia” be included alongside “anti-Semitism” and “racism”?

Professor Klaus Kinzler, who teaches German language and culture at the university, felt that Islamophobia wasn’t comparable to anti-Semitism. Following his advice to not include the term “Islamophobia” in the title of the seminar, he was excluded from the email discussion.

Incidentally, the Stuttgart-born professor is married to a Muslim woman.

When another professor showed solidarity with Kinzler, the student union Unef also targeted him.

France’s interior minister for citizenship, Marlene Schiappa, reacted to the case: After the decapitation of the teacher Samuel Paty, the current hate campaign against the professors is “a particularly disgusting act,” said Schiappa in a TV interview. The Unef has actively “put the life of professors in mortal danger,” she added.

A reflection of France’s integration problem

German historian and author Philipp Blom sees in France’s current discussions on Islamophobia a reflection of social issues related to the country’s position as a former colonial power, where strong “functional racism” rules.

The integration of immigrants from North Africa has failed blatantly, points out Blom. “In the banlieues on the outskirts of Paris, it doesn’t feel like you’re living in France. You don’t have the same opportunities as other people,” Blom told DW.

Experiencing marginalization and humiliation, an entire generation has come of age in milieus in which petty criminals and radical Islamists vie for domination. “I can understand that this creates anger, including murderous anger,” says Blom.

People were already calling for change in the ‘banlieues,’ or the outskirts of French cities, in 2005

But that is not a specifically French problem, adds the historian, who is also a member of the Board of Trustees of the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade. Still, the experience of humiliation is “a very important political force.”

Identity politics and cancel culture

Klaus Kinzler told German newspaper Die Welt that there is a form of political activism in France that disguises itself as academia.

Similarly, political scientist Claus Leggewie points out that those activists aren’t fighting against the powerful, the establishment, the far-right or the real fascists, but against people whose views are seen as “not being pro-Islamic enough.”

Leggewie describes the case as being about “canceling” specific persons, silencing them, and “banning ideas and discussions.”

Social media has also become the echo chamber of social identity groups, which are increasingly excluding people with other ideas. By staging controversies online, members of these groups gain immediate media recognition, says Leggewie. “That is exactly what has happened in Grenoble, and with Samuel Paty basically too, and in his case it was fatal,” adds the political expert.

Islamophobia versus anti-Semitism

Klaus Kinzler has been a professor at the Grenoble Institute of Political Studies for 25 years now. He was “not surprised” by the slogans on the university building, since the student union Unef had already branded him as a right-wing extremist and Islamophobe in social networks.

Racism and anti-Semitism — which are both criminal offenses in secular France — have nothing to do with Islamophobia, in Kinzler’s view.”Anti-Semitism has resulted in millions of deaths. Genocide without end. Then there is racism, slavery. That, too, has led to tens of millions of deaths in history,” he told Die Welt. “But where are the millions of deaths linked to Islamophobia?” he asked, nevertheless clarifying: “I do not deny that people of Muslim faith are discriminated against. I just refuse to put it on the same level. I think this is an absurd deception.”

Kinzler was a “completely normal professor of German at a provincial institute” and had always enjoyed his work, he told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Before the controversy, his students told him that they appreciated that he defended free, liberal positions. “The exchanges were always enriching,” he said.

In the end, he says, he is less offended by the students who launched the hate campaign than by his colleagues, researchers and professors — who have distanced themselves from him without searching for dialogue.

Source: German professor under police protection for stance on Islamophobia

‘It’s so unfair’: life on the streets of the French town branded as ‘lost to Islam’

Good profile of the reality on the ground compared to the polemics:

The HairCoiffure salon on Rue Jean Jaurès, a short walk from Trappes station, is offering a cut-and-blow-dry for women at €18 (£15.50) and €15 for men, a banal observation at the centre of the latest battle in France’s toxic debate over religious extremism.

Hairdressers and their clients hit the headlines after local teacher Didier Lemaire claimed there were no mixed salons in Trappes – suggesting the town was in the stranglehold of Islamic radicalisation. He also claimed schoolchildren were banned from singing and some women barred from cafes. Lemaire has since been placed under police protection following alleged death threats.

The accusations came on the eve French MPs voted on a controversial bill to combat Islamist extremism, put forward after the brutal murder of teacher Samuel Paty last October.

But the claims have sparked anger and indignation from locals known as Trappists – the most famous of whom are the actor Omar Sy, footballer Nicolas Anelka and popular French comedian Jamel Debbouze. In an interview with the Observer, town mayor Ali Rabbeh hit back.

“We are being stigmatised,” he said. “Many of the people spreading lies, exaggerations and unjust accusations about Trappes have no idea what happens here. They have never set foot in the town.

“Yes, there are problems with drugs, delinquency and radicalisation. I have never denied that. But we’re working to resolve them and these sort of attacks don’t help. And of course our children sing: they sing in nursery, primary and secondary schools. We even have school choirs.”

Trappes, in the western suburbs of Paris near Versailles, holds a grim national record after more than 60 local young people left to join Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, making it a soft target in this political and ideological conflict.

It is also in the Yvelines department where Paty was beheaded last October. So when philosophy professor Lemaire, 55, claimed the town was under the yoke of Salafism and “definitively lost” to the republic, he had a captive audience. “There are no more mixed hairdressers, north African women can no longer go to cafés, there’s pressure on women over the veil … Trappes is no longer in France,” Lemaire told French TV. He claimed locals were “living in fear” and laicité – France’s cherished separation of religion and state – was defeated. (Lemaire later admitted his comments on hairdressers were “approximative” but doubled down on the rest).

Rabbeh, 36, the son of Moroccan migrants, responded angrily, accusing Lemaire and the media who gave him airtime of stoking division and making life even more complicated for locals. “Young people taking the baccalauréat this year tell me they’re worried sick about how they’re going to get places at good colleges and universities when they say they’re from Trappes,” Rabbeh said. “It’s so unfair on them. It’s as if every single time we get our head out of water, someone pushes us back under.” Like Lemaire, Rabbeh has also been given police protection.

On a chilly recent Friday, the snow-dusted streets of Trappes were calm. On one side of town, a cluster of men drank outside a bar near the station, on the other worshippers clutching prayer mats streamed from the local mosque. Yards from the Lycée La Plaine de Neauphle where Lemaire taught for 20 years, the window of another hairdressers, Saint Lou Coiffure, was clearly marked “Masculin – Feminin”. The town boasts a modern music and dance school, with subsidised classes for low-income families; the Trappes magazine carries pictures of December’s “Magic of Christmas” illuminations.

Inside the town hall, Rabbeh was fuming: “We know there is a problem with Islamism here but we have made progress. We are working to resolve these problems and someone comes along and attacks us with lies, exaggerations and unjust accusations. Sometimes I despair.”

He added: “Would a mayor with a different name be faced with this? Trappes is part of the French republic. It’s absolutely untrue to suggest otherwise.”

It would be easy to dismiss Trappes as yet another rundown, problem-riddled Paris suburb were it not for the fact that it has benefited from a vast urban renewal programme. Most of its dilapidated 1970s high-rise tower blocks have been demolished and the council estates renovated. More mixed private and public housing with flower beds and children’s playgrounds are gradually replacing low-rent housing. The streets are clean, local facilities modernised and Lemaire’s own lycée boasts the best results in the department. Unemployment is running at 5.6% of the active population – half of whom are under 30 – compared with 6.7% for Paris.

The picture is not all rosy, though: more than a quarter of Trappists live under the poverty line and Rabbeh says the Islamic radicalisation problem is “complex” and fuelled by a sense that the republic has abandoned local communities like Trappes.

When a TV crew made an unannounced visit locals crowded round to defend their town. Jacques Michelet who runs the Trappes basketball club rejected the suggestion it had been abandoned to Islamic extremism: “We’ve seen all ideologies, we’ve seen extremists and not just Islamists … but it’s a marginal phenomenon in Trappes.”

Father Etienne Guillet, the local Catholic priest, contested Lemaire’s suggestion that non-Muslim inhabitants have fled. His congregation boasts up to 700 people from 45 different countries. “When there are tensions, I meet with the local imams and we sort things out,” said Guillet. “It’s not easy for everyone to live together and there ’s always the temptation for communities to withdraw, but what I see in this town is things going well.”

Rabbeh said last week he was stepping back from the row, posting a quote by French socialist leader Jean Jaurès, whose statue stands outside Trappes town hall, on social media. It reads: “Courage is to seek the truth and tell it; it is not to be subjected to the law of the triumphant lie that passes, and not to echo, from our soul, mouth and hands to foolish applause and fanatical booing.”

Source: ‘It’s so unfair’: life on the streets of the French town branded as ‘lost to Islam’

Heating Up Culture Wars, France to Scour Universities for Ideas That ‘Corrupt Society’

Trying to outflank the right is never good policy, even if sometimes “good” politics:

Stepping up its attacks on social science theories that it says threaten France, the French government announced this week that it would launch an investigation into academic research that it says feeds “Islamo-leftist’’ tendencies that “corrupt society.’’

News of the investigation immediately caused a fierce backlash among university presidents and scholars, deepening fears of a crackdown on academic freedom — especially on studies of race, gender, post-colonial studies and other fields that the French government says have been imported from American universities and contribute to undermining French society.

While President Emmanuel Macron and some of his top ministers have spoken out forcefully against what they see as a destabilizing influence from American campuses in recent months, the announcement marked the first time that the government has moved to take action.

It came as France’s lower house of Parliament passed a draft lawagainst Islamism, an ideology it views as encouraging terrorist attacks, and as Mr. Macron tilts further to the right, anticipating nationalist challenges ahead of elections next year.

Frédérique Vidal, the minister of higher education, said in Parliament on Tuesday that the state-run National Center for Scientific Research would oversee an investigation into the “totality of research underway in our country,’’ singling out post-colonialism.

In an earlier television interview, Ms. Vidal said the investigation would focus on “Islamo-leftism’’ — a controversial term embraced by some of Mr. Macron’s leading ministers to accuse left-leaning intellectuals of justifying Islamism and even terrorism.

“Islamo-leftism corrupts all of society and universities are not impervious,’’ Ms. Vidal said, adding that some scholars were advancing “radical” and “activist” ideas. Referring also to scholars of race and gender, Ms. Vidal accused them of “always looking at everything through the prism of their will to divide, to fracture, to pinpoint the enemy.’’

France has since early last century defined itself as a secular state devoted to the ideal that all of its citizens are the same under the law, to the extent that the government keeps no statistics on ethnicity and religion.

France’s New Public Enemy: America’s Woke Left

As noted in the article, the irony is that “many of the leading thinkers behind theories on gender, race, post-colonialism and queer theory came from France:”

The threat is said to be existential. It fuels secessionism. Gnaws at national unity. Abets Islamism. Attacks France’s intellectual and cultural heritage.

The threat? “Certain social science theories entirely imported from the United States,’’ said President Emmanuel Macron.

French politicians, high-profile intellectuals and journalists are warning that progressive American ideas — specifically on race, gender, post-colonialism — are undermining their society. “There’s a battle to wage against an intellectual matrix from American universities,’’ warned Mr. Macron’s education minister.

Emboldened by these comments, prominent intellectuals have banded together against what they regard as contamination by the out-of-control woke leftism of American campuses and its attendant cancel culture.

Pitted against them is a younger, more diverse guard that considers these theories as tools to understanding the willful blind spots of an increasingly diverse nation that still recoils at the mention of race, has yet to come to terms with its colonial past and often waves away the concerns of minorities as identity politics.

Disputes that would have otherwise attracted little attention are now blown up in the news and social media. The new director of the Paris Opera, who said on Monday he wants to diversify its staff and ban blackface, has been attacked by the far-right leader, Marine Le Pen, but also in Le Monde because, though German, he had worked in Toronto and had “soaked up American culture for 10 years.”

The publication this month of a book critical of racial studies by two veteran social scientists, Stéphane Beaud and Gérard Noiriel, fueled criticism from younger scholars — and has received extensive news coverage. Mr. Noiriel has said that race had become a “bulldozer’’ crushing other subjects, adding, in an email, that its academic research in France was questionable because race is not recognized by the government and merely “subjective data.’’ 

The fierce French debate over a handful of academic disciplines on U.S. campuses may surprise those who have witnessed the gradual decline of American influence in many corners of the world. In some ways, it is a proxy fight over some of the most combustible issues in French society, including national identity and the sharing of power. In a nation where intellectuals still hold sway, the stakes are high.

With its echoes of the American culture wars, the battle began inside French universities but is being played out increasingly in the media. Politicians have been weighing in more and more, especially following a turbulent year during which a series of events called into question tenets of French society.

Mass protests in France against police violence, inspired by the killing of George Floyd, challenged the official dismissal of race and systemic racism. A #MeToo generation of feminists confronted both male power and older feminists. A widespread crackdownfollowing a series of Islamist attacks raised questions about France’s model of secularism and the integration of immigrants from its former colonies.

Some saw the reach of American identity politics and social science theories. Some center-right lawmakers pressed for a parliamentary investigation into “ideological excesses’’ at universities and singled out “guilty’’ scholars on Twitter.

Mr. Macron — who had shown little interest in these matters in the past but has been courting the right ahead of elections next year — jumped in last June, when he blamed universities for encouraging the “ethnicization of the social question’’ — amounting to “breaking the republic in two.’’

“I was pleasantly astonished,’’ said Nathalie Heinich, a sociologist who last month helped create an organization against “decolonialism and identity politics.’’ Made up of established figures, many retired, the group has issued warnings about American-inspired social theories in major publications like Le Point and Le Figaro.

For Ms. Heinich, last year’s developments came on top of activism that brought foreign disputes over cultural appropriation and blackface to French universities. At the Sorbonne, activists prevented the staging of a play by Aeschylus to protest the wearing of masks and dark makeup by white actors; elsewhere, some well-known speakers were disinvited following student pressure.

“It was a series of incidents that was extremely traumatic to our community and that all fell under what is called cancel culture,’’ Ms. Heinich said.

To others, the lashing out at perceived American influence revealed something else: a French establishment incapable of confronting a world in flux, especially at a time when the government’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic has deepened the sense of ineluctable decline of a once-great power.

“It’s the sign of a small, frightened republic, declining, provincializing, but which in the past and to this day believes in its universal mission and which thus seeks those responsible for its decline,’’ said François Cusset, an expert on American civilization at Paris Nanterre University.

France has long laid claim to a national identity, based on a common culture, fundamental rights and core values like equality and liberty, rejecting diversity and multiculturalism. The French often see the United States as a fractious society at war with itself.

But far from being American, many of the leading thinkers behind theories on gender, race, post-colonialism and queer theory came from France — as well as the rest of Europe, South America, Africa and India, said Anne Garréta, a French writer who teaches literature at universities in France and at Duke.

“It’s an entire global world of ideas that circulates,’’ she said. “It just happens that campuses that are the most cosmopolitan and most globalized at this point in history are the American ones. ’’

The French state does not compile racial statistics, which is illegal, describing it as part of its commitment to universalism and treating all citizens equally under the law. To many scholars on race, however, the reluctance is part of a long history of denying racism in France and the country’s slave-trading and colonial past.

“What’s more French than the racial question in a country that was built around those questions?’’ said Mame-Fatou Niang, who divides her time between France and the United States, where she teaches French studies at Carnegie Mellon University.

Ms. Niang has led a campaign to remove a fresco at France’s National Assembly, which shows two Black figures with fat red lips and bulging eyes. Her public views on race have made her a frequent target on social media, including of one of the lawmakers who pressed for an investigation into “ideological excesses’’ at universities.

Pap Ndiaye, a historian who led efforts to establish Black studies in France, said it was no coincidence that the current wave of anti-American rhetoric began growing just as the first protests against racism and police violence took place last June.

“There was the idea that we’re talking too much about racial questions in France,’’ he said. “That’s enough.’’

Three Islamist attacks last fall served as a reminder that terrorism remains a threat in France. They also focused attention on another hot-button field of research: Islamophobia, which examines how hostility toward Islam in France, rooted in its colonial experience in the Muslim world, continues to shape the lives of French Muslims.

Abdellali Hajjat, an expert on Islamophobia, said that it became increasingly difficult to focus on his subject after 2015, when devastating terror attacks hit Paris. Government funding for research dried up. Researchers on the subject were accused of being apologists for Islamists and even terrorists.

Finding the atmosphere oppressive, Mr. Hajjat left two years ago to teach at the Free University of Brussels, in Belgium, where he said he found greater academic freedom.

“On the question of Islamophobia, it’s only in France where there is such violent talk in rejecting the term,’’ he said.

Mr. Macron’s education minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, accuseduniversities, under American influence, of being complicit with terrorists by providing the intellectual justification behind their acts.

A group of 100 prominent scholars wrote an open letter supporting the minister and decrying theories “transferred from North American campuses” in Le Monde.

A signatory, Gilles Kepel, an expert on Islam, said that American influence had led to “a sort of prohibition in universities to think about the phenomenon of political Islam in the name of a leftist ideology that considers it the religion of the underprivileged.’’

Along with Islamophobia, it was through the “totally artificial importation’’ in France of the “American-style Black question” that some were trying to draw a false picture of a France guilty of “systemic racism’’ and “white privilege,’’ said Pierre-André Taguieff, a historian and a leading critic of the American influence.

Mr. Taguieff said in an email that researchers of race, Islamophobia and post-colonialism were motivated by a “hatred of the West, as a white civilization.’’

“The common agenda of these enemies of European civilization can be summed up in three words: decolonize, demasculate, de-Europeanize,’’ Mr. Taguieff said. “Straight white male — that’s the culprit to condemn and the enemy to eliminate.”

Behind the attacks on American universities — led by aging white male intellectuals — lie the tensions in a society where power appears to be up for grabs, said Éric Fassin, a sociologist who was one of the first scholars to focus on race and racism in France, about 15 years ago.

Back then, scholars on race tended to be white men like himself, he said. He said he has often been called a traitor and faced threats, most recently from a right-wing extremist who was given a four-month suspended prison sentence for threatening to decapitatehim.

But the emergence of young intellectuals — some Black or Muslim — has fueled the assault on what Mr. Fassin calls the “American boogeyman.’’

“That’s what has turned things upside down,’’ he said. “They’re not just the objects we speak of, but they’re also the subjects who are talking.’’

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/09/world/europe/france-threat-american-universities.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage

Macron’s Islamic charter is an unprecedented attack on French secularism

The best analysis I have seen to date:

Adopted last month by the French Council of the Muslim Faith at the behest of President Emmanuel Macron, a new 10-point “Charter of Principles” of French Islam will please all those who have been calling for a “progressive,” “reformed” or “enlightened”Islam – one consistent with democratic, egalitarian and liberal western values.

It also represents a significant personal victory for Macron, who for months had pressured the council to craft a document committing to a “French Republican Islam”. Non-Muslim authorities, governments, media and public intellectuals have been demanding this for years as a way to combat “Islamism” and “extremism”.

It very clearly aims to turn Islam into a quietist, ‘pacified’ religion whose practitioners remain docile and obedient to the political powers-that-be

The unprecedented charter can thus be seen as a clear assertion that Islam is indeed compatible with secular democracies in general, and with the French republic in particular. In a nutshell, the charter aligns Islam with France’s republican principles, including gender equality; non-discrimination, including sexual orientation; and freedom of conscience, including the freedom to leave Islam.

It condemns “excessive proselytism” and attests to the superiority of and obligation for all Muslims to recognise France’s laws, constitution, republican principles and “public order”.

Article two proclaims an obligation for Muslims to “conform to the common rules” of France, which “must prevail over any other rules and convictions, including those of our own faith”. Article eight recognises the French principle of laicite, or secularism.

But article six, the longest, is also the most loaded. It proclaims that no mosques or other Islamic places can have “political agendas” or engage in political and ideological discourse or activity; these are described as “an instrumentalisation” and “perversion of Islam”, whose sole and “true purpose is prayers and the transmission of values”.

It condemns “the propagation of nationalist discourses defending foreign regimes and supporting foreign policies that are hostile to France, our country”. It dissociates Islam from “political Islam” and prohibits signatories from engaging in the latter, including “Salafism (Wahhabism), the Tabligh and the Muslim Brotherhood”. This amounts to an excommunication of those Islamic trends and movements from legitimate or “true” Islam.

Crafted by the executive

There is no doubt that this charter was essentially crafted by the French executive itself – especially Macron and Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, who for years had been calling for the assimilation of Islam strictly within the limits, laws, principles and frameworks of France’s Fifth Republic. Darmanin even wrote a book about it.

The charter is not coming from Muslims. It is the brainchild of Macron’s campaign to force the French Muslim council to craft such a text, deploying against one religion a type of pressure, intimidation, threats, ultimatums and blackmail never before seen in French post-war history.

At the end of the signing ceremony, a close adviser to Macron explicitly threatened anyone who refuses to sign and live by the charter, saying: “Those who disagree will hear from us very quickly and see their operations inspected very, very closely by our services.” This, in a context where the interior ministry is banning Islamic NGOs, closing schools and shutting down mosques by the dozen.

This operation is an integral part of Macron’s crusade against “Islamist separatism”, for which he is using the French Council of the Muslim Faith as a facade, an alibi, a cover to circumvent a constitution that forbids state interference in religious doctrines. The charter is a word-for-word synthesis of all the injunctions and demands that Macron has addressed to Muslims over the past year.

Amazingly, article nine not only declares that state racism does not exist, but also that such an expression would constitute “defamation, and as such, a crime”. Its timing coincides with the introduction of Macron’s anti-separatism bill, and the Elysee Palace has stated that the charter was drafted within the framework of “technical workshops” presided over by the interior minister.

What are we to make of this operation? Firstly, it is an attempt, which some may find timely and even necessary, to align Islamic theology with the values, laws and principles of liberal, secular western states.

Secondly, it very clearly aims to turn Islam into a quietist, “pacified” religion whose practitioners remain docile and obedient to the political powers-that-be. Macron is trying to strip Muslims of their right to engage in oppositional and critical discourse and activism.

Thirdly, this hostile takeover is an attempt by the executive to assume control over the totality of Islam in France in order to “securitise” it from A to Z: its mosques, imams, institutions, NGOs, associations – even its theology. One should also expect that the repression and persecution of any Muslim deemed “Islamist” or “Salafist” will only get worse.

Fourthly, besides the extreme violations of freedom of religion and the brutalisation of Islam, the charter is also a glaring violation of French laicite – a principle the Macron government nonetheless claims to uphold. Based on the 1905 law on the separation of church and state, French laicite includes three sacred principles that are not open to interpretation: freedom of conscience and religion, the separation of church and state, and equal treatment by the state of all religions. Macron is trampling on all three pillars.

Uncertain fate

Only Muslims, and no other religions, are being summoned to craft a “charter” and implement principles such as gender equality, acceptance of homosexuality, and the prohibition of political discourse and activity. How about requiring the same from Catholics and Jews, some of whom oppose French laws on same-sex marriage or medically assisted procreation?

The attempt to delegitimise as “political Islam” and exclude from the religion several important Islamic trends under false pretexts, along with the persecution to which these Muslim groups are increasingly subjected, represents extreme violations of freedom of religion and human rights in general.

France has finally found its grand mufti: its (non-Muslim) president himself

The direct attempt by the executive to shape from above the organisation of Islam and its theology is by far the worst violation of the separation of church and state in the entire history of the Fifth Republic. It marks the end of French laicite and a regression to a crude form of quasi-medieval Gallicanism, when the state controlled, organised and narrowly defined religion.

The fate of the charter is more than a little uncertain. It will surely be weaponised, including as a divide-and-conquer tool. In the meantime, France has finally found its grand mufti: its (non-Muslim) president himself.

Source: Macron’s Islamic charter is an unprecedented attack on French secularism

Class-action lawsuit claims French police discriminate often

Indeed:

In a first for France, six nongovernmental organizations launched a class-action lawsuit Wednesday against the French government for alleged systemic discrimination by police officers carrying out identity checks.

The organizations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, contend that French police use racial profiling in ID checks, targeting Black people and people of Arab descent.

They were serving Prime Minister Jean Castex and France’s interior and justice ministers with formal legal notice of demands for concrete steps and deep law enforcement reforms to ensure that racial profiling does not determine who gets stopped by police.

The organizations, which also include the Open Society Justice Initiative and three French grassroots groups, plan to spell out the legal initiative at a news conference in Paris.

The issue of racial profiling by French police has been debated for years, including but not only the practice of officers performing identity checks on young people who are often Black or of Arab descent and live in impoverished housing projects.

Serving notice is the obligatory first step in a two-stage lawsuit process. The law gives French authorities four months to talk with the NGOs about meeting their demands. If the parties behind the lawsuit are left unsatisfied after that time, the case will go to court, according to one of the lawyers, Slim Ben Achour.

It’s the first class-action discrimination lawsuit based on or supposed ethnic origins in France. The NGO’s are employing a little-used 2016 French law that allows associations to take such a legal move.

“It’s revolutionary, because we’re going to speak for hundreds of thousands, even a million people.” Ben Achour told The Associated Press in a phone interview. The NGOs are pursuing the class action on behalf of racial minorities who are mostly second- or third-generation French citizens.

“The group is brown and Black,” Ben Achour said.

The four-month period for reaching a settlement could be prolonged if the talks are making progress, but if not, the NGOs will go to court, he said.

The abuse of identity checks has served for many in France as emblematic of broader alleged racism within police ranks, with critics claiming that misconduct has been left unchecked or whitewashed by authorities.

Video of a recent incident posted online drew a response from President Emmanuel Macron, who called racial profiling “unbearable.” Police representatives say officers themselves feel under attack when they show up in suburban housing projects. During a spate of confrontational incidents, officers became trapped and had fireworks and other objects thrown at them.

The NGOs are seeking reforms rather than monetary damages, especially changes in the law governing identity checks. The organizations argue the law is too broad and allows for no police accountability because the actions of officers involved cannot be traced, while the stopped individuals are left humiliated and sometimes angry.

Among other demands, the organizations want an end to the longstanding practice of gauging police performance by numbers of tickets issued or arrests made, arguing that the benchmarks can encourage baseless identity checks.

The lawsuit features some 50 witnesses, both police officers and people subjected to abusive checks, whose accounts are excerpted in the letters of notice. The NGO’s cite one unnamed person who spoke of undergoing multiple police checks every day for years.

A police officer posted in a tough Paris suburb who is not connected with the case told the AP that he is often subjected to ID checks when he is wearing civilian clothes.

“When I’m not in uniform, I’m a person of ,” said the officer, who asked to remain anonymous in keeping with police rules and due to the sensitive nature of the topic. Police need a legal basis for their actions, “but 80% of the time they do checks (based on) heads” — meaning how a person looks.

Omer Mas Capitolin, the head of Community House for Supportive Development, a grassroots NGO taking part in the legal action, called it a “mechanical reflex” for French police to stop non-whites, a practice he said is damaging to the person being checked and ultimately to relations between officers and the members of the public they are expected to protect.

“When you’re always checked, it lowers your self-esteem,” and you become a “second-class citizen,” Mas Capitolin said. The “victims are afraid to file complaints in this country even if they know what happened isn’t normal,” he said, because they fear fallout from police.

He credited the case of George Floyd, the Black American whose died last year in Minneapolis after a white police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck, with raising consciences and becoming a catalyst for change in France.

However, the NGOs make clear that they are not accusing individual police of being racist because “they act within a system that allowed these practices to spread and become installed,” the groups said in a joint document.

“It’s so much in the culture. They don’t ever think there’s a problem,” said Ben Achour, the lawyer.

Source: Class-action lawsuit claims French police discriminate often

France Fast-Tracks Citizenship for Frontline Workers

Broader in scope than Canadian measures. Something for Canadian policy makers and politicians to consider:

Nine months after its president declared “war” against the coronavirus, France announced Tuesday that it has fast-tracked hundreds of citizenship applications from foreign frontline workers who have distinguished themselves in the battle.

“Foreign workers gave their time and swung into action for all of us during the Covid crisis,” said Marlène Schiappa, France’s junior minister for citizenship. “It is now up to the Republic to take a step toward them.”

The beneficiaries include not just health care workers but also garbage collectors, housekeepers and cashiers, Ms. Schiappa said.

The fast-tracking measure is a notable departure for a country that has adopted increasingly tight immigration rules. Caught in the clog of paperwork, citizenship applications can take years to complete, and the number of naturalizations has been decreasing over the years.

Some 48,000 people acquired French nationality through naturalization last year, or about 18 percent fewer than in 2015, according to statistics from the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies.

France’s Treatment of Its Muslim Citizens Is the True Measure of Its Republican Values

Good analysis and commentary:

Since the 2015 terrorist attacks against the staff of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, France has faced a succession of such attacks by Muslim extremists, the most recent of which saw the October beheading of teacher Samuel Paty and the murder of three people at Notre Dame Basilica in Nice. The country has been left grappling with the question of why it has become such a target and how it ought to respond.

For President Macron, France is being targeted by terrorists because of its “freedom of expression, right to believe, or not, and its way of life.” He claims that a form of “Islamist separatism” has found find fertile ground for its ideals in some parts of the country – and to counter this, Macron announced his plan to create a “French Islam,” a practice of the faith which will be regulated by the state. For over four decades successive French presidents have sought to manage the state’s relationship with an ethnically and religiously diverse Muslim community, adherents of a faith without a formal leadership structure which might provide an obvious intermediary. All to little avail. State appointed leaders have struggled to gain community recognition, while attempts, like Macron’s, to delineate to Muslims the terms of their beliefs are unlikely to be well received. Not to mention the apparent irony of a secular leader defining terms of religious practice.

In France, the concept of laïcité(secularism) enjoins a strict delineation between the state and the private sphere of personal beliefs. Designed in origin to protect individuals from state intrusion, and the state from religious influence, it has in recent years been increasingly wielded to do the opposite: encroaching evermore into the private sphere of Muslim citizens: from dress codes, to dietary needs, via religious education, the state has sought to prohibit each of these in recent years, only to be confronted by the strength of a Republican framework which has ultimately seen courts uphold its principles.

While the president has been adamant that the problem isn’t Islam, but a rejection of Republican principles, his government’s rhetorical and political focus has caused many to feel otherwise. From incessant debates about the headscarf, to polemics around women only swimming class to the Interior Minister feigning shock at ‘ethnic aisles’ in supermarkets, mundane habits of Muslim life are touted as examples of a “separatism” the state links to terrorism.

In a report last year entitled “Discrimination Against Muslims: The State Must React”, Amnesty International denounced “hostile climate and discriminatory discourse” towards Muslims, highlighting a speech by the Interior Minister in which he listed very basic religious freedoms including praying, fasting and growing a beard as “signs of radicalization.” One man whose mosque was raided under the legacy of the post-2015 state of emergency legislation is quoted as saying “the worst part is, if they have real concerns, they would launch an enquiry, but like this, it just feels like they are punishing us for nothing.” In a climate of fear and where the far-right party of Marine Le Pen’s ideas have come to define the terms of public discourse around Islam and Muslims, the government’s unwillingness to distinguish normal forms of religious practice from forms of extremism leaves millions of French Muslims open to accusations of extremism.

Recent measures are being justified on the basis that sections of the Muslim community are in conflict with republican values, but there is little evidence of this. In fact, in the largest quantitative study of the relationship between terrorism and discrimination in France, researchers from the Centre for the Study of Conflict in Paris unearthed the exact opposite. They found that overall Muslims deeply trust the institutions of the Republic, more so even than the control group, aside from the media and the police: ”What emerges from the study looks more like a massive adherence of French Muslims to the Republic.”

Crucially, the study found that trust in the institutions of France diminished with only one factor: experiences of discrimination, something it predicts the latest measures are likely to exacerbate. The study concludes by saying “there is no rejection of the values and institutions of the Republic in France, by a majority of Muslims.”

The concern is that discrimination against Muslims in France is already prevalent in every sector, from housing to employment and interactions with the police. According to the government’s own figures, 42% of Muslims (other studies put the figure at 58%) declare having experienced discrimination due to their religion, a figure which rises to 60% among women who wear a headscarf. A recent YouGov survey found that 67% of French Arab Muslims believe their faith is perceived negatively, while 64% said the same of their ethnicity.

For many, the creeping authoritarianism which sees the minutia of Muslim life problematized and debated for prime time TV shows, is indicative of a worrying political instrumentalization of racism. Since 2015, and following the “state of emergency” which ended in 2017, the French parliament has approved exceptional measures which have led to thousands of abusive and discriminatory raids and house arrest disproportionately targeting Muslims. The signs of authoritarianism begin at the margins – but rarely do they end there.

In the wake of the recent attacks, two deeply controversial bills have been advanced by President Macron. The “global security” bill has been met by mass protests across France. Among its most contentious clauses are that it would allow the use of surveillance drones, as well as lead to a possible prison term and 45,000 euro fine for anyone showing images which could identify a police or army officer. The government claims that social and mainstream media exposure of police violence endangers individual police officers, with Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin explaining: “Society’s cancer is the disrespect of authority.” But journalists across France have been sounding the alarm, while the spokesman for the E.U. Commission, said: “In a crisis period it is more important than ever that journalists should be able to do their work freely and in full security.”

Just as the bill was being debated, footage emerged of a black French music producer, Michel Zecler, being brutally beaten by four police officers in his studio in Paris, in what campaigners say is simply the latest example of endemic police brutality. The new bill would criminalize the person filming the police officer. Along with human rights groups, journalists and academics, UN experts have called on France to review the entire bill, stating: “it will have serious implications for the right to private life, the right to peaceful protest and freedom of expression” and rejecting the concession of minor amendments.

The new law on “Republican principles” is also causing widespread concern. Among its more worrying clauses are that anyone convicted of “apologie of terrorism”- a thought crime the numbers of which have exploded since 2015, and which has seen children as young as 10 taken into police custody – would automatically be added to a terrorism watch list. In just over a month, 270 new cases have been opened.

Since Samuel Paty’s murder in October, France has flagged over 400 violations of the homage to the slain teacher, of which 150 are considered “apologia for terrorism,” and over 50% of which occurred within a school environment.

France’s interior minister has ordered investigations into 76 mosques “suspected of separatism” which now face potential closure, in a country where prayer space is already very limited, with only 2,623 mosques and prayers halls in France for an estimated 5.7m Muslims. At least 73 mosques and Islamic private schools across France have been closed by authorities since January on grounds of ‘extremism’, but as Amnesty makes clear ‘radicalization’ has often been used as a euphemism for ‘devout Muslim’.

The proposed new law will include much tighter controls over civil society, including and specifically, Muslim religious organizations and leadership which will be required to conform to a “Republican charter” – a veritable modern day patriotism test imposed on a suspect community. The state’s red lines for Muslim are “political Islam” and foreign funding, which has historically – and with full support from the state – provided French Muslim citizens with their religious institutions. Imams will have to be trained through a state sanctioned body which will ensure their conformity with the state’s version of laicity, itself increasingly contested by the quango created to monitor it.

Crucially, the space we call freedom, where civil society, religious or otherwise, is able to organize according to their ideals, principles and values, as long as these do not infringe the law – is shrinking. Particularly once again for Muslims. In recent weeks, several Muslim organisations, including France’s largest anti-islamophobia organization (CCIF) have been dissolved by government decree, on grounds denounced by Amnesty international and an array of public figures and organizations, which have called for a reversal of the decision dubbed “extreme”: “Amnesty international is extremely concerned about the signal that this sends to NGOs and the fight against discrimination in France.”

These proposed laws and the rafts of measures justified by counter-terrorism are profoundly eroding basic freedoms in France: freedom of speech, of association, of thought. In seeking to eradicate the space for oppositional thinking in the name of upholding “republican principles”, France is betraying itself.

France’s Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti told the press “too many people (…) are using the law of 1881 which protects freedom of expression to express views in conflict with the values of the Republic.” Yet if freedom means anything, it means the right to express views which are indeed in conflict with the state – including its claims to a monopoly on the meaning of Republican principles. Many people might call this popular counter power the very basis of democracy.

Instead, the space for oppositional views is shrinking rapidly. Macron’s education minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, branded academics critical of the government’s approach, “islamo-leftists”intellectually complicit” in terrorism for importing “indigenist, racialist, and decolonial ideologies,” which he claimed were responsible for ‘conditioning’ violent extremism. The accusation that academics who question the official narrative could be providing the fodder for terrorism led to the tabling of a law on university research, since approved by the Senate, that redefines and limits research to being “exercised with respect for the values of the Republic” – read, state sanctioned.

Just as President Macron champions France as the beacon of free speech and democracy, his government is involved in undermining – and seeking to undermine – some of the Republic’s most cherished principles, starting with freedom of the press.

President Macron is playing a dangerous double game – abroad, he plays on linguistic and cultural differences to play down serious concerns expressed by his own citizens in foreign publications, going so far as to contact the New York Timesaccusing the English-language media of “legitimizing this violence”, presumably by running stories he doesn’t approve of. A critical op-ed in the Financial Times was removed and replaced by one penned by the President himself in what many speculated was just the latest incident of political pressure being places on journalists to retract critical views. Meanwhile Reporters without Borders have tracked a disturbing increase in judicial harassment of investigative reporters, as well as concerns related to editorial independence.

There are many ways to shut down free speech, including by making the truth unsayable.

Days after the murder of Samuel Paty, France’s youth minister cut short a previously scheduled meeting with students to discuss religion because she was uncomfortable with the concerns being expressed around prejudice and islamophobia. We all know free speech is never absolute, it certainly isn’t in France where laws already regulate hate speech. But young people are not naïve. They can spot the hypocrisy of politicians who lecture them about free speech when it comes to accepting deeply disturbing caricatures, but won’t listen to their concerns around discrimination.

The state of free speech isn’t measured at the Elysée pulpit. It can be measured in the silencing of those who resist the government’s narrative over who is the blame for France’s long list of woes. But more broadly, the state of a nation’s freedoms can always be assessed at the margins. The specter of terrorism is a useful ploy to dismiss the increasingly punitive measures faced by French Muslims – but the delusion is to believe that their loss of freedom isn’t a loss of freedom for us all.

Terrorists will seek to aggrandize their limited reach, turning a knife attack into an internationally recognized “act of war” through symbolic targets and gory violence. But we could do with some perspective – over 3,000 people a year die in road accidents in France. Over 300 are dying a day of COVID. Since 2012, 260 peoplehave died in terrorists attacks in France. Does the specter of terrorism truly warrant a profound undoing of democratic principles that people fought and died for?

We can view terrorism as an attack on our “values”– or we can reject this narrative. Our values aren’t threatened by these attacks, they are threatened by our response to them. It’s now urgent our leaders are held to the Republican ideals they claim to represent.

Source: France’s Treatment of Its Muslim Citizens Is the True Measure of Its Republican Values