by Catherine Shakdam (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 45, No. 1, Jumada' al-Ula', 1437)
George Washington once said, “If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughterhouse.” France it seems has pushed its intellectuals into silence to hasten the dumbing down of society. The hope is for a tyrant to rise over a nation of sheep — a masterful shepherd of men in a land that once echoed with cries of freedom, liberty, and fraternity as the tenets of its political declaration of faith. France’s mask is off, no longer willing to recover its former shine, another Western democratic devolution.
While the land of Voltaire and Montesquieu continues to castigate those nations and people it views inferior, France has very few lessons to teach when it comes to civil liberties and democracy, not when its system allows for the oppression of citizens on account that they do not walk the “official” line. No longer a democratic fortress in a sea of autocracies, France has long fallen from its republican pedestal, another despotic neocon state sold out to the autocratic tendency of national security — this political monster which has swallowed freedoms for fear-mongering and terror engineering.
A police state hiding behind the veneer of Western democratic sainthood, France is in fact a racist, and intolerant state vying for complete political, social, economic and intellectual control. Of course one cannot ignore the religious sphere either. In the land of Voltaire, one should not openly say God; only deny His existence to worship instead at the altar of secularism.
The new police state par excellence, the French 5th Republic rules now with an iron fist over its citizens; dictating from above how thoughts should be organized, expressed and published — spreading fear and censorship to better offer mass “protection” to a hypnotized crowd. In the midst of such a ferocious storm, in the middle of this aggressive thinning out of civil liberties stands one determined and opinionated teacher —Salah Lamrani.
In February 2016, Professor Salah Lamrani, a French Literature Middle School tenured teacher in the Paris suburb of Seine Saint Denis was unjustly, and unlawfully suspended for four months following outlandish claims he espoused radical tendencies.
For he dared offer views that do not fit the official narrative. He dared to step outside the box French officials have painstakingly built around the country’s free thinkers, Lamrani was castigated, ostracized and victimized with utmost violence and hypocritical political bigotry. A teacher and an intellectual, Lamrani was essentially sacrificed to the grand despotism of “national security” over those ideas he expressed on his blog, during his free time, outside the walls of the national education system.
Why, you may ask; quite simply because those in authority felt that they could. Those in powers felt so superior and beyond accountability that they abused the licences France’s Republic bestowed upon them out of fear.
France, it needs to be said, was transformed into a police state in the wake of the November terror attack which allowed for the state to justify, rationalize, and as it happens, legislate the disappearing of all civil liberties; granting the executive almost absolute control over the people.
Lamrani’s ordeal, whose professional file remains without so much as a blemish, exemplifies France’s descent into ultra-national fascism — this new sense that France needs to stand puritan and absolute in the declaration of its values even if it means, especially if it means, silencing those who still dare live pluralism as a God given right.
It all began with this one teacher’s love for writing and passion for the French language. This tradition that gifted the world the likes of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile Zola and Baudelaire, has risen today as a tyrant over thoughts, words and philosophies, wielding fear and repression to better bully so-called potential dissidents into not just silence but intellectual uniformity.
For, he, as a teacher of the Republic openly challenged France’s state of emergency. He offered that such powers as Russia and Iran in Syria were in fact abiding by the spirit of international law in their resistance against Da‘ish. For expressing such thoughts rooted in reality, he was likened to those ragtag mercenaries whose blades have evoked only disgust and fear.
In an interview I conducted with him on February 14, Lamrani explained how his troubles stemmed from the implacable authoritarianism his school’s most senior figurehead demonstrated against his person. “I was suspended without any investigation and in spite of my formal complaint for moral harassment and slander due to my school’s authoritarian management — who didn’t like my union and blogger activities, and who accused me publicly of being a dangerous terrorist.”
Accused and branded at a time when suspicion alone could land you in a dark dungeon, such allegations of radicalization carry dangerous, and one might add, irreversible repercussions. Echoes of the 1930s and Vichy ring strong in France’s streets under President Francois Hollande’s state of emergency. Lamrani’s “crimes” were that he denounced state repression, while proclaiming personal political truths on a platform that was his own, outside school hours, and without it ever interfering in his work as a teacher.
Since one head-teacher, Mrs. Khadidja Bot, imagined herself a “keeper” of the establishment — a self-appointed tyrant of the national education complex — one man’s life and future now stand in jeopardy. Because she, as a person of authority, chose to slander and libel to assert her “power” more forcefully, one man now has been shunned by his community and vilified by his colleagues. Without so much as a shred of evidence, without the authorities ever bothering to open an inquiry into his alleged “radicalism,” one man has been stripped of his professional dignity.
Today this French teacher is fighting for justice and truth. Today one of France’s sons is waging a battle singlehandedly so that others will not have to be humiliated before their peers for daring to utter forbidden truths. We can only hope his misfortune will serve as a cautionary tale against intellectual despotism.
What is democracy when freethinkers can no longer exercise those rights that the declaration of human rights so loudly proclaims?