Although that last-minute change is good news for academic freedom, the state is paying a dangerous amount of attention to the ideological bent of research undertaken in France. Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer has bemoaned the influence of American critical race theory on the French social sciences, blaming them for undermining France’s race- and ethnicity-blind universalism, and for giving comfort to “islamo-gauchisme,” or “Islamo-leftism.” That term, coined by the French far right, blames progressive intellectuals for nourishing radical political Islam through their work on structural racism and Islamophobia. “The fish rots from the head,” Blanquer quipped.
A second piece of legislation, a global-security bill introduced on November 17, aims to give the police a freer hand. The bill has the backing of France’s unabashedly right-wing interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, who argued last week that “the cancer of society is the lack of respect for authority.” This is a rather stunning remark given that more than 49,000 French people have died of COVID-19 this year and more than 10 million will have been thrown into poverty by the end of December. Two of the bill’s provisions are of concern. One criminalizes the publication or sharing via social media of images of police unless all identifying features are blurred, in effect prohibiting live-streaming, investigative reporting, and citizen accountability of police abuses. The other authorizes the use of drones to film citizens in public and allows footage from body cameras worn by police to be live-streamed to authorities. The bill has angered and alarmed the French press, as well as brought condemnation from the United Nations, France’s independent Defender of Rights, and Amnesty International.
Last Wednesday, after two journalists covering a protest against the bill were detained by police, Darmanin advised journalists who wanted to avoid that fate to present themselves to the local prefecture before heading off to a demonstration. The idea of journalists essentially preclearing their reporting with government officials produced such outrage that Darmanin promptly offered a minor revision. But in an editorial on Friday, Jérôme Fenoglio, the editorial director of the newspaper Le Monde, wrote that there was no remedy but to scrap the provision entirely. Fenoglio cited growing attacks on the press by Macron and his government, including blaming reporting by English-language news outlets, including The New York Times and The Washington Post, for “legitimizing this violence,” and he listed some of the more sensational police abuses exposed by ordinary citizens. To no avail: Discussion of the bill ended late Friday and it now moves to a vote by the National Assembly. So much for the liberté part of France’s national motto, “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”; the bill risks turning France into a surveillance state, in direct violation of citizens’ right to privacy, and one in which the police are immune to accountability by citizens or the press.