Attacks on academic freedom intensify in France and Denmark

In February, in a television interview with right-wing CNews, French Minister of Higher Education Frederique Vidal warned of the “cancer-like” spread of “Islamo-leftism” around the world. French academic. Vidal accused some academics and researchers of using their positions to promote “radical or militant Islamo-leftist ideas” that incite division and conflict within society.

Areas of research, including studies on gender, race, postcolonial and critical migrations, are believed to be responsible for this militant ideological drift within academia. Vidal’s remarks echoed those of French President Emmanuel Macron, who lambasted academics who “ethnicize the social question”, believing that it is “to cut the Republic in two”.

However, Vidal went further. She announced the need to implement concrete preventive measures to assess the scientific quality of the research results of the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS). The CNRS quickly responded to the minister, declaring that “Islamo-leftism” is a “political slogan” which “does not correspond to any scientific reality”.

Vidal’s statements alarmed the academic community, as well as French public opinion. Deep concerns have been expressed about politicians violating academic freedom and endangering entire areas of research as well as the work of internationally renowned academics.

Several observers have suggested that the issue of “Islamo-leftism” had more to do with the next presidential elections (scheduled for spring 2022) than with real concerns and problems within French universities.

Currently, opinion polls don’t look so promising for incumbent President Macron. The likely scenario is a new tête-à-tête in the second round with Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right Rassemblement National (RN) party, which has gained ground compared to the last presidential elections in 2017.

Vidal’s statements suggest that the government is trying to appease radical and populist right-wing voters, accommodating anti-Islamic positions on the political agenda.

Academic freedom threatened in Denmark too

A similar reactionary wind is blowing in Denmark. Last month, 262 academics and researchers specializing in gender studies and critical migration published an open letter to Research and Higher Education Minister Ane Halsboe-Jørgensen (from the Social Democratic Party).

The letter condemns the attacks and atmosphere of political suspicion and intimidation that have been propagated by right-wing populist politicians and commentators, whose aim is to cast doubt on the scientific quality and value of their research.

The debate on academic freedom had an interesting genesis in Denmark. It was triggered by early spring newspaper articles. Shortly after Vidal’s comments on “Islamo-leftism” in France, Weekendavisen published a slyly titled article Hvidensproduktion (“White production”), unleash the Danish variant of the French debate.

Conceived as a journalistic report, the article asked: “Who politicizes research on integration and immigration? The answer is already available in the rest of the article: gender, critical migration and postcolonial studies, accused of lacking objectivity, and of being politically and ideologically motivated.

The Danish article sparked a wave of right-wing populist attacks on academics. Bloggers and radical right-wing pundits have rushed in, demanding to “shut down academic madhouses” where “studies on race, gender, whiteness and postcolonialism are not research, but attitudes that create hatred “, and suggesting that” of course, feminist activism is not an area of ​​research […] and [feminists] want to start the revolution, fight against the white man and put an end to objective research.

Danish People’s Party MP Morten Messerschmidt and Liberal Alliance MP Henrik Dahl – well known for their anti-gender and anti-immigration positions – took the opportunity to send an interpellation to Halsboe-Jørgensen, asking if the minister thought of race, gender and migration. studies are really worth the use of Danish taxpayer money.

During a debate in parliament on “excessive activism in certain research circles,” Messerschmidt and Dahl named both individual academics and entire research groups, calling them “pseudo-scientists”, “unworthy of of confidence “,” of tendency to the left “and” militant militants “.

The origins of anti-intellectualism are not new in French and Danish politics. The conservative and neoliberal parties complained 20 years ago of “experts and” arbiters of taste ” [that] decide on our behalf ”. But recent events in both countries show how far mainstream politics are prepared to go to appease a politically disgruntled electorate, which continues to be seduced by right-wing populism.

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