The International Consortium of Critical Theory Programs (ICCTP) condemns the recent efforts of the French minister of higher education, Frédérique Vidal, to discredit critical theories under the spurious rubric of “Islamo-gauchisme.” Her inflammatory caricature was presented before the National Assembly on February 16, 2021 when she called for a persecutory investigation into research areas such as postcolonial, decolonial, and gender and critical race studies. We find this proposal to be a dangerous and unacceptable violation of academic freedom. Disparaging entire academic fields as “divisive” and “gangrenous” falsifies these diverse fields and impedes the free circulation of knowledge. The term “Islamo-leftism” seeks unfairly to group together and target a wide range of fields together as a single political ideology, and participates in far-right, conspiratorial discourse. It serves to target individual scholars and specific methodologies, creating an atmosphere of fear, encouraging forms of censorship and the marginalization of students and scholars working in these fields, many of whom are already living precariously within the neoliberal conditions of the university. Such statements give support to the reproduction of racism, misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia within society. In particular, the stigmatization of Islam shamelessly attacks Muslim communities and their rights of belonging, curtailing the professional aspirations of young researchers coming from Muslim backgrounds.
After a public critique of Muslim community affiliation as an unacceptable form of “separatism” in February 2020, French president Emmanuel Macron propagated an inflammatory rhetoric in October 2020 on the alleged divisiveness of “certain social science theories entirely imported from the United States,” which was then echoed by his education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer who called for “a battle to [be] waged against an intellectual matrix from American universities.” These efforts to relocate and reject as “foreign” a wide range of academic inquires informed by the perspectives of ethnic and race studies, de- and postcolonial studies, and gender and queer studies, not only seeks to expel non-French intellectual influences from the French academy but to purge from the French tradition authors writing in French such as Fanon, Djebar, and Glissant who are central to French language and literature curricula around the world. Moreover, these statements attack the very transnational framework for social critique, closing the borders of the mind through a rhetoric that incites nationalism, racism, and Eurocentrism.
The ICCTP supports international intellectual exchange, free and open critical inquiry, as well as the right to dissent. We hold that through the careful study of social divisions, hierarchies, and exclusion, societies can learn how best to overcome entrenched inequalities and exclusions. Throughout the history of the university, academic research has depended on the international circulation of ideas, translation, and transnational frameworks for research. Rejecting ideas as “foreign” puts the university in the service of xenophobia, relying on cheap caricatures to fuel nationalist anti-intellectualism. Such a call fundamentally contradicts the basic principle of academic collaboration and the clear benefits of expanding fields of knowledge across national borders. Therefore, the ICCTP fully rejects this attempt, and all such attempts, to delegitimize fields of research such as postcolonial and decolonial studies, intersectional theory, gender studies, and critical race studies. The ICCTP stands in solidarity with colleagues in all areas of critical theory. The ICCTP calls upon professional associations throughout the global academy to condemn this effort and to join in our demand that the French government respect time-honored principles of academic freedom in relation to emerging and established fields that are indispensable to contemporary knowledge about our shared social world.
Interview statement by Frédérique Vidal: https://www.cnews.fr/videos/france/2021-02-16/frederique-vidal-lance-une-enquete-sur-lislamo-gauchisme-luniversite
Statements by Emmanuel Macron: https://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/en/coming-to-france/france-facts/secularism-and-religious-freedom-in-france-63815/article/fight-against-separatism-the-republic-in-action-speech-by-emmanuel-macron
Interview statement by Jean-Michel Blanquer:
Open letter by French academics demanding the resignation of Frédérique Vidal:
Response by the CNRS tasked with the “investigation” proposed by Frédérique Vidal:
Response by the Conference of University Presidents to Fréderique Vidal: