Can Europe Make It?

French intelligentsia and Little Tom Thumb: the questionable ethics of the ‘100’ French academics

A response to the Open Letter from ‘100’ French Scholars, which singled out the author for special mention.

Houria Bouteldja
9 December 2020, 2.25pm
A demonstrator in Paris' Republic Square, Octobr 18, 2020.
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Bardos Florent/PA. All rights reserved.

France is no longer a light among nations.

Sartre, Beauvoir, Foucault, Deleuze or Bourdieu are from another era. As for the ultra-white elites who offer themselves as their replacements, they increasingly deserve the name ‘Pale’, as given by the Native Americans to their torturers. Their radiance, now reduced to the dim halo of waning lanterns at a funfair, impresses no one outside their cliques and courtesans. As Rokhaya Diallo noted recently, ‘thanks to the great marketing of a few white intellectuals, “the birthplace of Enlightenment” is sold as an example of peaceful coexistence devoid of all racial tension.’

Therefore, in a strange version of events that only they subscribe to – and which in many ways sums up their entire world view – a significant number among the intelligentsia in France is completely perplexed by the dismay expressed by international onlookers. Faced with the view from outside France, where there is little understanding of their devotion to the myth of French republicanism, and where secularist fundamentalism or the obsession with the veil are met with puzzlement, these French intellectuals insist that foreigners ‘do not understand our values.’ Anyone who dares utter the words ‘race’, ‘whiteness’, or ‘Islamophobia’ is accused of doing the work either of the extreme right or of Jihadists. And if one persists and goes on to mention racial discrimination or social Apartheid, the accusation is none other than treason to universalism!

The right of reply of which they availed themselves in openDemocracy in response to the Open Letter signed by many scholars justifiably worried by the appearance of a form of French McCarthyism within French academia, is a perfect illustration of this attitude. The crudeness of this attempt to save face before an English-speaking public, which understands perfectly the extent to which France’s reputation has been sullied by lies and myths, is obvious to all. I could ignore the sophistry involved in its recalling the existence of other forms of slavery in order to deny the specificity of the transatlantic slave trade or of the colonialism which inaugurated western racism. I can also skip over the minimisation of far right-wing violence under the pretext that it causes few deaths when we are aware that this violence is often ignored by police and other institutions. And I can even let pass the term Islamogauchisme (Islamic-leftism), used by neo-conservatives to dismiss any critique of Islamophobia, and which reminds us of the slur of ‘Jewish-Bolshevism’. In sum, I don’t wish to get bogged down in the extreme poverty and fallaciousness of the letter’s argumentation which stands in for real thinking. Instead, I will address its defamatory nature which targets me as a decolonial activist. This is not because my case deserves the particular attention of the English-speaking public, who doubtless have bigger fish to fry, but because it is representative of the way in which dissent to the gospel of republicanism is treated in the land of Charlie Hebdo and freedom of speech.

It is representative of the way in which dissent to the gospel of republicanism is treated in the land of Charlie Hebdo and freedom of speech.

Habituated to the complacency of the French mainstream media which writes them infinite blank cheques to speak with impunity (French media only allows a tiny number from among the privileged class a right to reply), the ‘100’ signatories of the response hope to be able to drag me through the mud in the foreign press as they do regularly in the pages of French newspapers such as Libération, Le Monde or Canard enchainé.[1] They write,

‘The “Parti des Indigènes de la République” is a case in point, standing as the main “islamist-gauchiste” movement in France. The former spokesperson of the movement, Hourija Boutelja (sic)., even endorsed Mohamed Merah, the 2012 jihadist killer: ‘Mohamed Merah is me and I am him. We are of the same origin and of the same condition. We are post-colonial subjects. I say tonight that I am a ‘fundamental’ Muslim’. We remind the signatories of the letter that Merah killed not only French military men of Muslim ancestry but also Jewish children in a school in Toulouse.’

If anyone was reading this without having any knowledge of the context, they would be justified in thinking that someone as damaging as myself should rightfully be behind bars, especially if they had read the terrifying profile of me published a few days earlier by two eminent French intellectuals in Libération. In fact, Alain Policar and Alain Renault, doctors of political science and philosophy respectively, wishing to be reassuring, explained to a public terrified by the spectre of decolonial thought, that it should not fear the impact of my ideas on the university because everyone knows well that ‘the effect of the racist, antisemitic and homophobic theses of Houria Bouteldja amounts to no more than zero.’

I assure you that I have no intention of throwing myself at your feet and begging you to believe that I am neither an admirer of Jihadism nor a patented antisemite, as our keyboard inquisitors would have it. This is firstly because it would be humiliating, second because it is an illusory exercise (what does my word count for?), and finally because I prefer to trust your intelligence rather than your noble sentiments. I also will not make any attempt to clear my name. I will simply provide a few signposts that, like the breadcrumbs sprinkled by Little Tom Thumb, will direct you, not to me and to who I really am, but to them and to who they really are.

- Breadcrumb 1: in France, apology for terrorism is a crime. However, the speech I gave during a meeting a few days after the mass killing in Toulouse titled ‘Mohamed Merah and I’ did not lead to any legal case being taken against me (despite my detractors’ thirst for one). Those who truncate the text and cite only the first part – ‘Mohamed Merah is me’ – without mentioning the second – ‘Mohamed Merah is not me’ – are thugs who do not deserve the label of an intellectual.

- Breadcrumb 2: In 2015, the Licra, a pro-Israel ‘antiracist’ organisation, mounted a legal complaint against me for ‘incitement to racial hatred’ (antisemitism) due to a text I wrote on philosemitism in which I accused the state of disguising its new modes of antisemitism. The response of the Attorney General, not one known for his ‘Islamogauchiste’ tendencies, was to draft the following opinion: ‘There is no justification for a legal pursuit as the offence does not appear to be sufficiently well-founded, the investigation not having led to the gathering of sufficient evidence.’

- Breadcrumb 3: Many well-known people who identify as Jewish, who obviously have no time for Nazis, have no hesitation in lending me their unconditional support because we have a shared analysis of colonialism, be it that of Israel or elsewhere.

- Breadcrumb 4: In France I am published by La Fabrique, in the US by Semiotexte(e) and in Spain Akal, all of which are antiracist, anti-fascist and progressive publishing houses.

- Breadcrumb 5: The preface to my book Whites, Jews and Us: Towards a Politics of Revolutionary Love was written by Harvard University Professor Cornell West while the preface to the Spanish version is by the Berkeley Professor Ramon Grosfoguel.

- Breadcrumb 6: Our events, demonstrations, and meetings in France are sponsored by renowned personalities including Angela Davis, Mumia Abu Jamal and Tariq Ali.

I could continue adding factual accolades of this kind, but it would be presumptuous to do so. Nevertheless, even if this trail of breadcrumbs does nothing to prove my innocence, it might plant some seeds of doubt about the basis for the accusations against me and about the questionable ethics of those who spread them. It is not that my detractors are unaware of these facts. They knowingly lie, distort and manipulate them. I was going to write ‘with impunity’ but this right of response means that this time they have drawn a blank, thanks to the international media. I could also shame those who defame me by remarking that when I call myself a ‘fundamental Muslim’, I am not referring to any form of religious fundamentalism but to Aimé Césaire who, in refusing to renege on his negritude, famously declared himself a ‘fundamental Negro’. I will stop here because the shame I feel on their behalf is turning into pity and it would take away from what I intend to be a more incisive conclusion.

Indeed, I advise my detractors to take a leaf out of my book. Why not paraphrase the text that they say incriminates me – ‘Mohamed Merah and I’ – and write their own: ‘White Supremacists and Us’. Part 1 could be titled ‘white supremacists are us’ in which they analyse their belonging to whiteness and their connection to state racism. Part 2: ‘white supremacists are not us’ where they explain how to break with the nationalist and imperialist logic they call ‘universalism’ by firstly making an attempt at humility and secondly, proposing a roadmap for abolishing race and creating the conditions for unifying the working class. But this is only fantasy. How could I ever imagine them being counselled by decolonial activists, evolving in their thinking, or going against the grain? To be sure, Little Tom Thumb has helped us uncover who they really are, but unfortunately, he does not have the power to turn lead into gold.

This article was translated into English by Alana Lentin.

[1] These newspapers consistently refuse me the right of reply even though I am continually defamed in them:

http://indigenes-republique.fr/droit-de-reponse-refuse-canard-enchaine/

http://indigenes-republique.fr/droit-de-reponse-dhouria-bouteldja-refuse-par-le-journal-le-monde/

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