Academics Decry French Attacks on “Islamo-Leftists”

14 March, 2021
Reading Time :15 minutes
minister frederique vidal 1200.jpg
France’s Minister of Higher Education and Research, Frédérique Vidal.


France’s Minister of Higher Education and Research, Frédérique Vidal, a molecular geneticist at the University of Nice-Sophia-Antipolis, has been one of the most outspoken government figures decrying so-called “Islamo-gauchistes.” In response, more than 600 French academics have demanded that Vidal step down. She has said that “Islamo-leftism” is eroding French society and has proposed to study its effects on universities. Her academic adversaries argue that the proposed inquiry is designed to “defame” the teaching community and will have a “devastating” effect. “Just like in Orban’s Hungary, Bolsonaro’s Brazil or Duda’s Poland, postcolonial and decolonial studies, the work on racial discrimination, gender studies and intersectionality are specifically targeted.”

France’s Fake “Islamo-Leftist” Crisis • by Raphaël Liogier


In an open letter published in Le Monde in February, they wrote, “We can only deplore the indigence of Frédérique Vidal, who is using the repertoire of the far right about imaginary ‘Islamo-leftism.’” They refer to “Islamo-leftism” as a “conspiracy theory,” and call for Vidal’s resignation. 

Vidal’s proclamations have also alarmed Pınar Selek, a Turkish sociologist, feminist anti-militarist activist and writer, who lives in exile in France where she obtained French citizenship in 2017.

Pinar Selek’s open letter to Minister Vidal appeared in Mediapart on the 21st of February, 2021, as follows: 

Turkish-French sociologist Pinar Selek.
Turkish-French sociologist Pinar Selek.


Mrs. Vidal,

You remember me, the exiled teacher-researcher that you welcomed, as part of the PAUSE Program, at the Université Côte d’Azur, when you were its president. But we met for the first time, on September 30, 2019, in the framework of the press conference of the PAUSE Program (National Program for the Emergency Reception of Scientists in Exile). As Minister of Higher Education and Research, you supported this program. I think you still support it. So much the better: you support teacher-researchers who have fled political repression in their country and who need a space of freedom to continue to ask questions and conduct their research.

Since your recent statements on “Islamo-leftism”, I am in a terrible nightmare. Your speech awakens everything that I have experienced and everything that my colleagues in Turkey are experiencing, under Islamo-fascism. I think that all the exiled scientists who are now hosted by the PAUSE Program have entered the same nightmare, because they also know very well how academic freedom is narrowed when political powers intervene in the scientific field with the justification of the fight against terrorism. In general, this is how it happens. In Turkey, in China, in Iran. And today in France.

I want to tell you that if you don’t publicly retract what you said or if you don’t resign, the cancer will spread and French scientists will go into exile. Don’t tell me that in France this is not possible. Yes, Madame Vidal, it is. You know it better than I do: Petainism is not that old. Remember in the 1940s, there were many French academics in exile, refusing to submit to fascism.

You may remember that in the PAUSE press conference, I began my speech by saying: “To spare you a victimizing story and to distance myself from an integrationist vision impregnated with colonialism, I thought I would first remind you that every country needs people to pass on scientific theories. Especially France which has great difficulties of translation. It needs scientists who have been trained in other countries; moreover, welcoming scientists who are not subject to authority can only be an asset for those who welcome them.” I ask you to pay attention to my words, which have been forged through a very tough experience of defending the freedom of research and the autonomy of scientific production. 

Mrs Vidal, try to write scientific articles, with your academic hat on, to question scientific notions and join the collective debate of researchers, but above all stop intervening by putting on your political hat! Otherwise you will start the infernal machine. And the machine of power can go further than you can imagine.

–Pinar Selek


Meanwhile, on the 4th of March, 2021, more than 200 Anglophone academics published an open letter in Le Monde, denouncing the “witch hunt” led by Minister Frédérique Vidal. warning that with Islamo-leftism, “We cannot fail to underline the resonance with the darkest moments of French history.”

Dear Colleagues,

We are writing to express our profound dismay at the recent request by the French Minister of Higher Education and Research, Frédérique Vidal, for the CNRS (The French National Centre for Scientific Research) to investigate allegations of “Islamo-gauchisme” (Islamo-leftism) in French universities. We regret that after proposed laws regarding the alleged threat of “separatism” have further stigmatized France’s Muslim community, academics are being blamed for the increasingly polarized atmosphere. The proposal to monitor university professors accused of “weaponizing academic research for political motives” effectively amounts to a threat of censorship and is worrying for a number of reasons: 

First, the state has no right to censor research by academics who draw on their expertise to advance the production of knowledge. This is a dangerous precedent that cannot be tolerated in democratic societies. The notion that certain academics are trying to “divide” society due to their “Islamo-leftist” ideas in effect demonizes our colleagues for their alleged ideological complicity with a religious group in the name of protecting the Republic. This immediately reminds one of some of the darkest moments of French history when a discourse against “Judeo-Bolsheviks” created an amalgam between political and religious commitments.  

Second, the approaches now under attack were inspired by some of the most brilliant minds of the French philosophical, literary, and sociological traditions. As scholars working in the United States and elsewhere, we carry a great intellectual debt to France for training thinkers such as Frantz Fanon, Albert Memmi, Hélène Cixous, Aimé Césaire, Paulette Nardal, Jean-Paul Sartre, Pierre Bourdieu, Louis Althusser, Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault. Many of these figures were not only towering thinkers but were also engaged in prolonged political struggles for the betterment of our societies. These committed intellectuals are pillars of the diverse approaches that are now being attacked under the rubric of “post-colonialism.” That a country which has advanced critical thought should now turn its back on this national patrimony is short-sighted and distressing. We ask not that everyone agree on the merits of these approaches, only that French scholars have the right to debate them with their colleagues and students should they so desire. 

Third, those responsible for higher education should address the pressing need to find concrete solutions to the problem of racial discrimination in France, rather than carry out a witch hunt against researchers. In lieu of inviting scholars to help advance a common struggle for equality, the Minister of Higher Education and Research is threatening them with censorship. Instead of addressing the dire situation of students during a global pandemic, or the real economic challenges facing public education, Vidal and her colleagues have depicted professors as the main threat to French universities.

Many signatories of this letter have benefited from prolonged academic exchanges with French universities in institutional as well as individual capacities. Eager that these collaborations with our French colleagues can continue in the spirit of open debate, we again draw your attention to the chilling effects that these threats of censorship would have on academic freedom. 

The following individuals and organizations endorse the letter in support of academic freedom in France: 



  1. Muriam Haleh Davis, Assistant Professor of History, University of California, Santa Cruz

  2. Sang Hea Kil, Associate Professor, Justice Studies, San Jose State University

  3. Kevin B Anderson, Professor of Sociology, University of California, Santa Barbara

  4. Lisa Rofel, Emerita Faculty, Anthropology Department, University of California, Santa Cruz

  5. Fatima El-Tayeb, Professor of Literature, University of California, San Diego

  6. Elizabeth Bishop, Associate Professor, Department of History, Texas State University San Marcos TX

  7. Sherene Seikaly, Associate Professor, Department of History, University of California, Santa Barbara

  8. Benjamin Brower, Associate Professor, Department of History, The University of Texas at Austin

  9. Elizabeth M. Perego, Assistant Professor, Department of History, Appalachian State University

  10. Patrick Crowley, Senior Lecturer, Department of French, University College Cork

  11. Paul A. Silverstein, Professor of Anthropology, Reed College

  12. J. P. Daughton, Associate Professor, Department of History, Stanford University

  13. Darcie Fontaine, Associate Professor, Department of History, University of South Florida

  14. Zachary Lockman, Professor, Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies/History, New York University

  15. Benoit Challand, Associate Professor, Sociology, New School for Social Research, New York

  16. Devra Weber, Emerita Professor, History, University of California, Riverside

  17. Ivan Huber, Prof. Emeritus, Biology, Fairleigh Dickinson Univ., Madison, NJ, USA

  18. Carole Browner, Research Professor, Anthropology, Gender Studies, Semel Institute, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

  19. Dennis Kortheuer, Emeritus, History, California State University, Long Beach

  20. Judith Butler, Prof. Emer., Comparative Literature, University of California, Berkeley

  21. Aslı Bâli, Professor of Law, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA

  22. Alma Rachel Heckman, Assistant Professor of History, University of California Santa Cruz

  23. Paola Bacchetta, Professor, University of California, Berkeley

  24. Judith Surkis, Professor of History, Rutgers University

  25. Jill Jarvis, Assistant Professor of French, Yale University

  26. Fernando Leiva, Professor, Latin American and Latino Studies, University of California, Santa Cruz

  27. Jennifer Kelly, Assistant Professor of Feminist Studies and Critical Race and Ethnic Studies, Univerisity of California, Santa Cruz

  28. Noëmie Duhaut, Associate Researcher, Department of History, Leibniz Institute of European History (IEG), Mainz, Germany

  29. Thomas Bedorf, Professor, Philosophy, FernUniversitaet in Hagen, Germany

  30. Nat Godley, Assistant Professor, Department of History, Alverno College

  31. Nidhi Mahajan, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of California, Santa Cruz

  32. Dónal Hassett, Lecturer in French, University College Cork

  33. Itay Lotem, Lecturer in French Studies, University of Westminster, London

  34. Frederick Cooper, Professor Emeritus of History, New York University

  35. Phi-Van, Assistant Professor, Department of Humanities and Social Science, Université de Saint-Boniface

  36. Ann Laura Stoler, Professor of Anthropology, The New School for Social Research

  37. Pascal Menoret, Associate Professor, anthropology, Brandeis University

  38. Allison Korinek, Postdoctoral Fellow, Interdisciplinary Project in the Humanities, Washington University in St. Louis

  39. Aslı Iğsız, Associate Professor, Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, New York University

  40. David Palumbo-Liu, Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor, Stanford University

  41. Helga Tawil-Souri, Associate Professor, Media, Culture and Communication, New York University

  42. Sandrine Sanos, Professor of Modern European History, Texas A & M – University – Corpus Christi

  43. Arjun Appadurai, New York University and Bard Graduate Center

  44. Sinan Antoon, Associate Professor, New York University

  45. Atacan Atakan, PhD Candidate, School of Middle Eastern and North African Studies, University of Arizona

  46. Esra Akcan, Professor, Department of Architecture; Director, Institute for European Studies at Einaudi Center for International Studies, Cornell University

  47. Ismail Fajrie Alatas, Assistant Professor, Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, New York University.

  48. Pınar Kemerli, Global Liberal Studies, NYU

  49. Deborah Gould, Associate Professor of Sociology, UC Santa Cruz

  50. SA Smythe, Assistant Professor of Gender Studies and African American Studies, UCLA

  51. Terrence G. Peterson, Assistant Professor of History, Florida International University

  52. Lily Chumley, Associate Professor, Media, Culture, and Communication, NYU

  53. Simten Cosar, Professor, Visiting Instructor, Global Studies Center, University of Pittsburgh

  54. Ayça Alemdaroğlu, Research Scholar, Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Stanford University

  55. Zeynep Korkman, Assistant Professor, Gender Studies, University of California Los Angeles

  56. Joel Beinin, Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History, Emeritus, Stanford University

  57. Dina Al-Kassim, Associate Professor, Institute for Social Justice, University of British Columbia

  58. Daniel Katz, Professor of English and Comparative Literary Studies, University of Warwick

  59. James Petterson, Professor of French, Wellesley College

  60. Mayanthi Fernando, Associate Professor, Anthropology, University of California, Santa Cruz

  61. Megan Brown, Assistant Professor of History, Swarthmore College

  62. David G. Troyansky, Professor of History, Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York

  63. Emily Marker, Assistant Professor of History, Rutgers University

  64. Jean-Michel Rabate, Professor of English and Comparative Literature, University of Pennsylvania

  65. Timothy Scott Johnson, Professional Assistant Professor of History, Texas A & M University – Corpus Christi

  66. Osman Balkan, Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science, Swarthmore College

  67. Burleigh Hendrickson, Assistant Professor of French & Francophone Studies, Pennsylvania State University

  68. Alexandra Gueydan-Turek, Associate Professor of French and Francophone Studies, Swarthmore College

  69. Margaret Ferguson, Distinguished Professor of English Emerita, University of California at Davis

  70. Howard Winant, Distinguished Professor of Sociology, University of California, Santa Barbara

  71. Anne Norton, Professor of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania

  72. Kory Olson, Associate Professor of French, Stockton University

  73. Robert S. DuPlessis, Clothier Professor of History Emeritus, Swarthmore College

  74. Hunter Bivens, Associate Professor of Literature, UC Santa Cruz

  75. Micheline Rice-Maximin, Associate Professor of French and Francophone Studies, Swarthmore College, PA

  76. Miriam Ticktin, Associate Professor, Anthropology, The New School for Social Research, New York

  77. Nancy Gallagher, Professor Emerita of History, University of California, Santa Barbara

  78. Andrew Denning, Associate Professor of History, University of Kansas

  79. Olivia Sabee, Assistant Professor of Dance, Swarthmore College

  80. Ayşe Baltacıoğlu-Brammer, Assistant Professor of History, NYU

  81. Sarah J. Zimmerman, Associate Professor of History, Western Washington University

  82. Judith DeGroat, Associate Professor of History, St. Lawrence University, USA

  83. Sarah Davies Cordova, Professor of French and Francophone Studies, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

  84. Jennifer A. Boittin, Associate Professor of French, Francophone Studies, and History, Penn State University

  85. Chris Rominger, Assistant Professor of History, University of North Florida

  86. Melissa K. Byrnes, Associate Professor of History, Southwestern University

  87. Ariella Aïsha Azoulay, Professor of Modern Culture and Media, Brown University

  88. Mara Mills, Associate Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication, New York University

  89. Marie-Claire Vallois, Department of Romance Studies, Cornell University

  90. Enzo Traverso, Professor in the Humanities, Cornell University

  91. Julie Livingston, Silver Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis and History, New York University

  92. Halil Yenigun, Lecturer, San Jose State University

  93. Anthony Alessandrini, Professor of English & Middle Eastern Studies, City University of New York

  94. Ahlam Muhtaseb, Professor of Media Studies, California State University

  95. H. Nese Ozgen, PhD, Visiting Scholar, Department of Cultural Anthropology, Duke University

  96. Siraj Ahmed, Professor of English, CUNY Graduate Center and Lehman College

  97. Carol Ferrara, Assistant Professor, Emerson College

  98. Nouzha Guessous, Professor of Women’s Rights and Bioethics in Islamic Contexts, Hassan II University of Casablanca, Morocco

  99. Venus Bivar, Lecturer (Assistant Professor), Department of History, University of York

  100. Joan W Scott, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton NJ

  101. Kemal Moula, French Professor, Communications and Humanities, Collin College

  102. Linsey Ly, Ph.D. candidate, Department of Anthropology The Graduate Center, CUNY

  103. Brock Cutler, Associate Professor of History, Radford University, USA

  104. Claire Bishop, Professor of Art History, CUNY Graduate Center

  105. Ayça Çubukçu, Associate Professor in Human Rights, London School of Economics and Political Science

  106. Ian Coller, Professor of History, University of California, Irvine

  107. Andrew M. Daily, Associate Professor of History, University of Memphis

  108. Tracy L. Rutler, Assistant Professor of French and Francophone Studies, and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Penn State University

  109. Alice L. Conklin, Professor of History, Ohio State University

  110. Lisa Wedeen, Mary R. Morton Professor of Political Science and the College, The University of Chicago, Chicago, IL

  111. Danielle Beaujon, PhD Candidate in History and French Studies, New York University

  112. Daniel J. Sherman, Lineberger Distinguished Professor of Art History and History, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

  113. Jane Burbank, Professor emerita, New York University

  114. Christina Carroll, Assistant Professor of History, Kalamazoo College, MI

  115. Arang Keshavarzian, Associate Professor, New York University

  116. Chiara Bottici, Associate Professor, The New School

  117. Norma Claire Moruzzi, Associate Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago

  118. Stacey Philbrick Yadav, Associate Professor, Hobart & William Smith Colleges

  119. Eloïse Brezault, Associate Professor, Saint Lawrence University, NY

  120. Julia Waters, Professor of French, University of Reading; President of the Society for Francophone Postcolonial Studies, UK

  121. Fraser McQueen, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Stirling, Scotland

  122. Veronika Zablotsky, Postdoctoral Fellow,University of California, Los Angeles, USA

  123. Tom Hamilton, Assistant Professor, Durham University, UK

  124. Orane Onyekpe-Touzet, PhD student, University of Warwick and Université Paris-Sorbonne, UK/France

  125. Jules O’Dwyer, Research Fellow, St John’s College, Cambridge

  126. Thomas Serres, Lecturer, UC Santa Cruz

  127. John Chalcraft, Professor, LSE

  128. Máire Cross, emerita Professor of French Studies, Newcastle University, UK

  129. Sinan Richards, Enseignant vacataire, École normale supérieure de Paris, France

  130. Annabel Kim, Associate Professor, Romance Languages and Literatures, Harvard University

  131. Hannah Frydman, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Pembroke Center, Brown University

  132. Serene Richards, Lecturer in Law, New York University London, UK

  133. Claire Eldridge, Associate Professor, University of Leeds, UK

  134. Fabrice Roger, Teaching Associate, University of Bristol, UK.

  135. Sara Barker, Associate Professor, University of Leeds, UK

  136. Beatrice Ivey, Research Associate, University of Sheffield, UK.

  137. Samia Henni, Cornell University, USA.

  138. Adi Saleem Bharat, Research Fellow, University of Michigan, USA

  139. Michelle Bumatay, Assistant Professor of French, Florida State University, USA

  140. Tyson Herberger,PhD Candidate, Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences, Norway

  141. Paula Chakravartty, Associate Professor, New York University

  142. Jennifer Sessions, Associate Professor, University of Virginia, USA

  143. John McCormack, Assistant Professor of Religion, Aurora University, USA

  144. Joseph Ford, Lecturer in French Studies, Institute of Modern Languages Research, University of London, UK

  145. Rebecca Sugden, College Lecturer in French, Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge

  146. Saadia Toor, Associate Professor, Sociology/Women & Gender Studies, City University of New York

  147. Christy Pichichero, Associate Professor of History and French, George Mason University

  148. Lillian Specker, PhD Candidate, University of Oxford, UK

  149. Shefali Chandra, Associate Professor of History; Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies; Asian American Studies, Washington University in St. Louis

  150. Renato Rodriguez-Lefebvre, PhD Candidate, Université de Montréal, Canada

  151. Maria Scott, Associate Professor of French Literature and Thought, University of Exeter, UK

  152. Saladdin Ahmed, Visiting Asst. Prof. of Political Science, Union College, Schenectady, NY

  153. Erik Thomson, Associate Professor of History, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

  154. Rebecca P. Scales, Associate Professor of History, Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, NY

  155. Theo Mantion, Ph.D. Student, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

  156. Dmitri Nikulin, Professor of Philosophy, The New School for Social Research

  157. Giorgos Noussis, PhD Candidate, University of Athens, Greece

  158. Jessica Lynne Pearson, Assistant Professor of History, Macalester College, Saint Paul, Minnesota

  159. Mabruk Derbesh, University of Bremen, Germany.

  160. Roxanne Panchasi, Associate Professor of History and Associate Dean of Graduate Studies, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada

  161. Daniel Baker, Ph.D. Candidate, Cardiff University, UK

  162. Ananya Roy, Professor of Urban Planning, Social Welfare, and Geography; The Meyer and Renee Luskin Chair in Inequality and Democracy; Founding Director, Institute on Inequality and Democracy, University of California, Los Angeles.

  163. Dr. Philipp Krämer, Acting Professor of Linguistics, Europa-Universität Viadrina, Frankfurt (Oder)

  164. Vasuki Nesiah, Professor of Human Rights and International Law, The Gallatin School, NYU

  165. Patrick Luiz Sullivan De Oliveira, Assistant Professor of Science, Technology and Society, Singapore Management University

  166. Arthur Asseraf, Lecturer, History Faculty, University of Cambridge, UK.

  167. Sarah Griswold, Assistant Professor of History, Oklahoma State University

  168. Rashmi Viswanathan, Assistant Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art History, University of Hartford

  169. Kandice Chuh, Professor of English and American Studies, CUNY Graduate Center

  170. Chitralekha, Assistant Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi

  171. Jean Halley, Professor of Sociology, CUNY Graduate Center and College of Staten Island

  172. Hamzah Saif, Graduate Student, George Washington University

  173. Dr Grietje Baars, Reader in Law and Social Change, The City Law School, City. University of London, UK.

  174. Nicola Pratt, Reader of the International Politics of the Middle East, University of Warwick, UK

  175. Svati P. Shah, Associate Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, US

  176. Katie Kilroy-Marac, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Toronto, Canada

  177. Jennifer L. Palmer, Associate Professor of History, University of Georgia

  178. Amelia H. Lyons, Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Programs, University of Central Florida

  179. Alyssa Goldstein Sepinwall, Professor of History, California State University San Marcos

  180. Richard S. Fogarty, Associate Professor of History, University at Albany, State University of New York

  181. Carolyn J. Eichner, Associate Professor of History and Women’s & Gender Studies, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.

  182. Johann Le Guelte, Assistant Professor of French and Francophone studies, Xavier University, Cincinnati

  183. Ann Ostendorf, Professor of History, Gonzaga University

  184. Ashley R. Sanders, Vice Chair of Digital Humanities, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

  185. Sue Peabody, Meyer Distinguished Professor of History, Washington State University, Vancouver

  186. Philip Minehan, Lecturer in Honors and Liberal Studies, California State University at Fullerton

  187. Jean Beaman, Associate Professor of Sociology, University of California, Santa Barbara

  188. Hannah Leffingwell, PhD Candidate, New York University, New York

  189. Spencer Segalla, Associate Professor of History, University of Tampa

  190. Catherine Desbarats,Associate Professor of History, McGill University, Canada

  191. Jakob Burnham, PhD Candidate, Georgetown University, Washington, DC

  192. Kathryn Edwards, Assistant Professor of History, Tulane University, New Orleans

  193. Michael P. Breen, Professor of History & Humanities, Reed College, Portland OR

  194. Timothée Valentin, PhD Candidate in French and Francophone Studies, Penn State University.

  195. Gregory Valdespino, PhD Candidate, in History, University of Chicago

  196. Dina M Siddiqi, Clinical Associate Professor, New York University

  197. Melanie Bavaria, PhD Candidate in History and French Studies, New York University

  198. Kelly Wood, PhD candidate in History and French Studies, New York University

  199. Duncan Hardy, Assistant Professor of History, University of Central Florida

  200. Philippe-Richard Marius, Adjunct Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, CUNY College of Staten Island

  201. Leslie Choquette, Côté Professor of French Studies, Assumption University

  202. Jean-Francois Briere, Professor Emeritus of French Studies, SUNY Albany

  203. Peter Limbrick, Professor of Film and Digital Media, University of California, Santa Cruz

  204. Nagesh Rao, Lecturer, Colgate University


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