In the world of ideas (November 1 and 2), we could read in the same page two columns signed by French intellectuals. The first, from a group of academics, criticizes the Ministry of National Education for its tolerance to the rise of “Islamo-leftism” and the latter’s responsibility for the beheading of Samuel Paty; it asks the ministry to put in place measures to detect Islamist abuses. The second, signed by Jean-François Bayart, political scientist, denounces a “Republicano-McCarthyism” and Islamophobia at the very heart of the French state. If these two forums, and others which have followed, deserve special attention, it is because they reflect and reveal the dead ends of our society as they are revealed during recent and past terrorist attacks.
Despite their opposition, the two forums share the same intellectual and political approach: they meet in the polarization of positions and the denunciation of a culprit, the government, or even the State; both are moved by anger and claim freedom of speech for researchers; both await the solution from above, surprisingly evacuating the society in its infinite complexity, from which this State emanates. They thus evacuate the central question, in our eyes, of the historicity of republican values and their effectiveness in the current context of exhaustion of modernity which produced these values. Republican values and norms, built from the Renaissance, immediately associated individual and collective freedom with limits and respect for the freedom of others. This imaginary of freedom was associated with that of the duties and responsibilities of individuals socialized to be integrated into a plural but united collective. It has also been associated with reason. Reason sets limits on passion and other ways of thinking – fantasy or dream. She seeks the truth and tries to identify the phenomena that she analyzes. The logos argue and dialogue with the different positions in the sense of their plurality.
In the current context, these couples are dissociated. Reason and argued debate have given way to the growing power of affects – fear, anger, hatred of others. It is difficult to identify in the amalgamations made by accusations of Islamo-leftism and Islamophobia or McCarthyism. Is Islamism responsible for the radicalization of secular intellectual currents, for the exacerbation of individualism, even for the fragmentation of universities and of society? Are the police violent only with citizens of the Muslim faith? Is our Constitution Islamophobic and McCarthyist?
The freedom put into action nowadays is limitless, each claiming the right to say and do what he wants. How, then, to define freedom of expression? Rethinking our values and our behaviors would perhaps be one way, provided we admit that the capacity for discernment is a vital necessity.