In solidarity with French academics targeted by the republic

The French state is trying to censor and make invisible the critique of its colonial history and present.

In February 2021, French Higher Education, Research and Innovation Minister Frederique Vidal denounced what she calls 'Islamo-leftism' and its 'gangrene' effect on France [Sebastien Bozon/AFP]

We write to express our solidarity with the scholars, activists, and other knowledge producers who are targeted by the February 2021 statements by Frédérique Vidal, France’s minister of higher education, research, and innovation. In them, she denounced “Islamo-gauchisme” (Islamo-leftism) and its “gangrene” effect on France, and called for an inquiry into France’s national research organisation, the CNRS, and the university. The specific kinds of knowledge in question analyse and critique colonialism and racism, and support decolonial, antiracist, and anti-Islamophobia projects within the academy and on the streets. Vidal’s statements show the discomfort these challenges are causing the state, and hence the desire to repress them rather than engage them.

The state’s intentions are found in the language it uses. The relatively new term “Islamo-gauchisme” reflects a much older convergence of right-wing, colonial and racist ideologies working in opposition to anticolonial, anti-Islamophobia and antiracism struggles.

Vidal claims that anticolonial, decolonial and postcolonial critique, antiracist, anti-Islamophobia, intersectionality, and decolonial feminist and queer analyses are imports from the US academy.

She ignores that decolonial theory actually developed in Abya Yala (Latin America), postcolonial theory in India, and that women and queers in anticolonial and antiracism struggles have always thought about many relations of power together. Vidal also forgets that both postcolonial and decolonial theories are indebted to the prior work of French-speaking scholars of colour such as Frantz Fanon, Aimé Césaire, and others.

This false narrative and these acts of repression effectively remove France from a vibrant and urgent global discussion. They put faculty of colour and allies producing critical scholarship on colonialism, Islamophobia, anti-Black racism, etc – already few and marginalised – at even greater risk.

The attack on progressive and radical scholars and activists seeks at all costs to preserve “French exceptionalism” and a whitewashed image of the republic scrubbed clean of inconvenient truths. These include the fact that France remains a colonial power (in, for example, Réunion, Guadeloupe, Martinique, French Guiana, Iles des Saintes, la Désirade, Mayotte, New Caledonia, etc), and a neocolonial one in terms of its economic, political, and military relations to former colonies.

This colonial mentality is manifest in France’s structures of governance, especially with regard to both citizens and immigrants of colour, as reflected in a barrage of laws such as: the law against wearing the veil; immigration laws; the Islamophobic law against “separatism” which has already shut down the CCIF (Collective against Islamophobia in France) and threatens all forms of autonomy; the proposed “global security” bill institutionalising mass surveillance, including by drone, and restricting the publicising of police brutality; the (now-repealed) law that mandated that colonialism be taught in only one state-sanctioned manner; rights-abusive and discriminatory counterterrorism laws; and others. These measures seek to forcibly “integrate” suspect populations into subordinate roles in French society.

It is precisely the critique of this colonial history and present, and its manifestations in state racisms, including Islamophobia, that the state wishes to censor and make invisible.

Elements of the white left, including feminists without an anticolonial, anti-Islamophobia or antiracism analysis, have also been complicit in rendering colonial and racial oppression invisible, and providing ideological rationalisations for state racisms. This, too, speaks to the incoherence of the term, “Islamo-leftism”.

The repression in France is not isolated. In Brazil, Turkey, Hungary, Poland, the United States, India and other places we see the rise of neoliberal, right-wing, and authoritarian governmental suppression of critical scholarship and social movements.

But wherever we find repression we also find forms of resistance networked into global chains of solidarity.

Vidal’s statement and the planned inquiry have appeared in the context of an explosion of energy in the academy and on the streets to address colonial, racial, and economic injustice. For example, the demonstrations in defence of Adama Traoré in France and other anti-racist protests globally after the murder of George Floyd represent the kind of commitment and courage that Vidal and others are worried about. Repressive laws and inquiries will not stop this scholarship nor the movements.

As international scholars and activists, we pledge solidarity with our counterparts in France. We commit ourselves to monitoring the situation carefully, to publicising cases globally, to inviting those facing repression and censorship to speak in our countries, to co-authoring essays with them and helping them get their work translated, to co-mentoring students and junior colleagues, and to engaging in other forms of collaboration that they desire.

Talal Asad, Professor of Anthropology Emeritus, Graduate Center, City University of New York

Homi K Bhabha, Anne F Rothenberg Professor of the Humanities, Harvard University

Angela Y Davis, Distinguished Professor Emerita, University of California, Santa Cruz

Gina Dent, Associate Professor, Feminist Studies, History of Consciousness, and Legal Studies. University of California, Santa Cruz

Roxane Dunbar Ortiz, Historian and Author

Nick Estes, Assistant Professor of American Studies, University of New Mexico

Ramon Grosfoguel, Professor, Department of Ethnic Studies, UC Berkeley

Miriam Grossi, Professor at Federal University of Santa Catarina – Brazil

Jin Haritaworn, Associate Professor, York University, Toronto

Robin DG Kelley, Distinguished Professor and Gary B Nash Endowed Chair in US History, UCLA

Nelson Maldonado-Torres, Professor and Director, Rutgers Advanced Institute for Critical Caribbean Studies, Rutgers University

Achille Mbembe, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

Walter D Mignolo, William H Wannamaker Distinguished Professor of Romance Studies and Professor of Literature, Duke University

Trinh T Minh-ha, Professor of the Graduate School, Departments of Gender & Women’s Studies and of Rhetoric, UC Berkeley

Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Distinguished Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies & Dean’s Professor of the Humanities, Syracuse University

Cherrie Moraga, Poet, Playwright-Director, Educator, Activist

Shailja Patel, Activist, Writer – US/Kenya

Vijay Prashad, Executive Director, Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research

Jasbir Puar, Professor, Rutgers University

Kamila Shamsie, Novelist and Professor of Creative Writing, University of Manchester

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, University Professor, Columbia University

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Assistant Professor & Charles H Mcilwain University Preceptor, Princeton University

Amina Wadud, National Islamic University, Yogjakarta

The full list of 390+ signatures is available here.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.