Will the spectre of the left allying with Muslims be enough to stave off electoral defeat? Macron certainly seems to hope so.
France's Minister of Higher Education, Frederique Vidal, has announced that the state will investigate how far "Islamo-leftism" (or l'islamo-gauchisme in French) has penetrated French universities.
In the French parliament, Vidal went on to say it will conduct "an assessment of all the research" which takes place in universities in case they veered into so-called Islamo-leftism.
However, critics have decried the move by the government as a witch hunt to stifle academic freedom as Macron's party increasingly aims to clamp down on research that seeks to reevaluate French colonial history critically.
Manifestation in #Paris today against the dismantling of #GenerationIdentitaire... Today in #France , tomorrow with us? The criminalization of everything and everyone who is immigration and Islam critical is in full swing! #solidarity https://t.co/HOptP4gBq8— Based Belgium 🇧🇪 (@based_belgium) February 20, 2021
France's prestigious Scientific Research National Center (CNRS) has condemned the government's attempt to investigate academics and their research.
In a blistering statement following Vidal's announcement, CNRS called Islamo-leftism a "political slogan" that has no scientific basis.
It went on to call the term "ill-defined" and, in remarks aimed at the country's political establishment, called those attempting to investigate universities under the guise of Islamo-leftism of stifling "academic freedom" in a bid to "stigmatise certain scientific communities."
So what is Islamo-Leftism?
The activist-academic Pierre‐Andre Taguieff first used the term in 2002, where he describes a conspiratorial alliance between the left and conservative Muslims to ‘bring down’ France.
Others like the French activist and public intellectual Bernard-Henri Levy have described Islamo-leftism as a "grand new alliance between the reds and the new browns" and broadened it out as an attempt to ‘bring down’ western civilisation.
Taguieff has long believed in France's civilising mission around the world. On the left this has been viewed as a form of imperialism and for Muslims a form of colonisation and foreign intervention.
Taguieff’s political worldview can be described as Gaullist in nature, an ideology named after the country's post-World War II leader, Charles de Gaulle, which prizes French exceptionalism.
The left's insistence on being anti-fascist, anti-racist, and anti-imperialist, Taguieff, believed they were attempting to hold France back and make it doubt its historical mission.
Similarly, Levy, a firm believer in French power and a dominant driving force in persuading France to bomb Libya to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi, found that the left's anti-war rhetoric combined with the country's sizeable Muslim population — whose general attitude is against French wars in Muslim countries — are inherently problematic.
While the term has been around for a while, it has become an invective employed by official government ministers to go after critics over the last year.
Who's using the term now?
The term has long been used as a pejorative term by the far right to attack the left. The far-right leader Marine Le Pen has used it as a political weapon against opponents accusing the left of weakening the French state by allying with Muslims and criticising France.
More recently, however, in a series of seemingly calculated political moves, Macron's government has started to appeal to far-right voters by adopting the term.
In November of last year, the French Minister of Education, Jean-Michel Blanquer, attempted to stigmatise French-Iranian sociologist Professor Farhad Khosrokhavar as an "islamo-leftist" accusing him of spreading "intellectual radicalism."
“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.”— Katy Lee (@kjalee) February 21, 2021
An important corrective to some of the discourse we have seen in France of late. Bravo @kimwillsher1 https://t.co/j8iKvKt1J0
Khosrokhavar's crime? Teaching American ideas such as 'Critical Race Theory' which aims to study society and culture as it intersects with categorisations of race, law, and power.
Earlier this month, France's Interior Minister, Gerald Darmanin, who was elected on a centrist platform, raised eyebrows when he accused Le Pen — who has made a career of being anti-Islam — of going soft on the religion and presumably its followers.
Most recently, France's Minister of Higher Education, Vidal, said on national television, "I think that Islamo-leftism is eating away at our society as a whole, and universities are not immune and are part of our society."
Why now, and does it matter?
Anti-racism protests triggered by the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police in the US resonated widely in France, which has a history of police violence against people of colour.
When the protests arrived in France over the summer, the country's political establishment, which widely denies the existence of systemic racism, pinned the problem on leftist forces in universities for focusing too much on racism, colonialism and structural discrimination.
Politicians have condemned the focus on French inequalities and racism as "ideological, intellectual excesses in universities," where a younger generation of students has taken a more critical view of French society.
The President of the prestigious Sorbonne University, Jean Chambaz, recently shot back accusing the government of playing politics and seeking to use polarising language ahead of the 2022 presidential elections.
The evil in society is not the ill-defined "Islamo-leftism", said Chambaz; instead, the plague is "discrimination, it is is ghettoisation, it is social inequality in access to work, in access to education, to culture, and the failure of public policies in this area for fifty years."
Chambaz even accused the government of adopting far-right terms that harked back to the dangerous conspiracy theories of the 20th century, which spoke about a Judeo-Bolshevik conspiracy bent on taking over France.
But that hasn't stopped France's interior minister from continuing to talk about the "challenge of Islam."
As the far-right has soared in popularity and Macron's handling of the Covid-19 pandemic has seen voters turn against him, the president and his ministers are desperately seeking to adopt some of the language of the far-right to stave off defeat in next year's elections.
But there is no guarantee that the moderate voters who swept Macron to power in 2017 subscribe to Macron's far-right view of France's problems.
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