A picture of the French Senate

Open Letter: the threat of academic authoritarianism – international solidarity with antiracist academics in France

In response to attacks on academic freedom against French educators working on race and decolonial issues, I drafted an open letter along with my friend and colleague Gavan Titley, and with the help of Professor Philippe Marliere, signed by over 500 people, and published in Open Democracy. A French version, translated by Christelle Rabier with the help of Professor Eric Fassin also appeared in Mediapart. Signatories include Professors Gayatri Spivak, Rashid Khalidi, Lewis Gordon, Lisa Duggan, Laleh Khalili, Johnny E. Williams, Arturo Escobar, Ramon Grosfoguel, Ann L. Stoler, and many more.

At a time of mounting racism, white supremacism, antisemitism and violent far-right extremism, academic freedom has come under attack. The freedom to teach and research the roots and trajectories of race and racism are being perversely blamed for the very phenomena they seek to better understand. Such is the contention of a manifesto signed by over 100 French academics and published in the newspaper Le Monde on 2 November 2020. Its signatories state their agreement with French Minister of Education, Jean-Michel Blanquer, that ‘indigenist, racialist, and “decolonial” ideologies,’ imported from North America, were responsible for ‘conditioning’ the violent extremist who assassinated school teacher, Samuel Paty, on 16 October 2020.

This claim is deeply disingenuous, and in a context where academics associated with critical race and decolonial research have recently received death threats, it is also profoundly dangerous. The scholars involved in this manifesto have readily sacrificed their credibility in order to further a manifestly false conflation between the study of racism in France and a politics of ‘Islamism’ and ‘anti-white hate’. They have launched it in a context where academic freedom in France is subject to open political interference, following a Senate amendment that redefines and limits it to being ‘exercised with respect for the values of the Republic’.

Read the rest of the letter on the Open Democracy site

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