François Noudelmann: “Physical violence on American campuses has remained contained, unlike verbal violence”

François Noudelmann: “Physical violence on American campuses has remained contained, unlike verbal violence”
François Noudelmann: “Physical violence on American campuses has remained contained, unlike verbal violence”

“The scale of this movement should not be overestimated. In New York, it’s about a hundred students out of 63,000.”

Were there any clashes?

Fortunately, there were no clashes or physical violence at NYU, unlike what happened, for example, at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). But there were violent attitudes from the start, such as the tearing down of portraits of Israeli hostages. Violent slogans also: “Globalize intifada”, “Death to America”, etc. On a few occasions, such as in Washington Square, Jewish students also demonstrated but there were no clashes. Physical violence remained contained, unlike verbal violence. There is something interesting there. Universities have long implemented “DEI” (“Diversity, Equity, Inclusion”) policies, which aim to eliminate all microaggressions against sexual, racial, ethnic, religious, etc. minorities. It is singular that those who defended the “ cancel culture » (namely, demanding the immediate dismissal of any person who would have made an inappropriate remark about a minority) today demand freedom of expression, the free speech, to say horrors about the Jews. One wonders why Jews are not represented in the DEI, despite representing only 2.4% of the American population. We have a free speech with variable geometry, according to the causes defended, according to the contexts. This is what gave rise to these calamitous conferences of university presidents in Congress; it seemed impossible for them to clearly answer a question like: “Is it serious to call for the genocide of the Jews? »

“We have a ‘free speech’ with variable geometry, depending on the causes defended, depending on the contexts”

Did the police intervene?

The president of the university finally called on the police to remove the tents and ensure the security of the neighborhood. But the case of NYU is a bit special: it is a campus spread across New York, not a huge convent in isolation. We are in the middle of the city, so the disorder quickly overflows the walls of the university. These are streets that are blocked with demonstrations, etc.

“Those who defended ‘cancel culture’ are now demanding freedom of expression to say horrible things about Jews”

How are these movements perceived within the teaching staff?

Here too, things are interesting from a sociological angle. Sympathy towards the pro-Palestinian camps comes mainly from Humanities, human sciences disciplines. Not mathematics, economics or medicine. This fairly strong mobilization of the human sciences reactivates a recurring debate on the “ideologized” character of these disciplines, where political commitments take precedence over the transmission of knowledge.

“Sympathy towards pro-Palestinian encampments comes mainly from humanities disciplines, not from others. Which reactivates a recurring debate on the ‘ideologized’ character of these disciplines”

This mobilization is often compared to the emblematic one of students against the war in Vietnam. Do you think the comparison is relevant?

The comparison was launched by Bernie Sanders and quickly flourished. It doesn’t seem very well-founded to me. The magnitude is not the same. But there are other major dissimilarities. First, in Vietnam, the American state intervened directly with weapons. On the other hand, the student movements against the war in Vietnam did not attack another part of the American population as is the case today. The importance of international issues has also changed for young people. THE New York Times recently indicated that only 2% of young people consider international politics as a criterion for voting Trump Or Biden. On the particular case of Palestine, their positions are, it is true, not really that far apart. But the survey shows more broadly that the international is no longer a determining issue – unlike ecology, inflation, etc.

“The demonstrators are a rich population mixed with students ‘from diversity’, as they say”

From your point of view, is it normal for the university to be a place for expressing convictions and political commitments?

Yes of course ! Fortunately, universities are places where debate and criticism are legitimate. But this is only possible with respect and in the absence of violence and harassment towards other students – which is not the case today. We must not generalize. Not all students protesting are anti-Semitic. But Hamas rhetoric is largely dominant in the slogans: all Jews are Zionists, and Zionists are not simply people who defend Israel’s right to exist, they embody evil: apartheid, colonialism, white supremacism, genocide. This rhetoric from Hamas allowed the connection with other movements like Black Lives Matter. It allowed other minorities to recognize themselves in the fight “for Palestine”. The result is terrible: anti-Semitism has become a national issue, to the point that President Biden is even making a major speech about it today. This is what seems eminently problematic to me: not the mobilization nor the legitimate expression of sympathy (in the literal sense, to suffer with) for the civilian populations of Gaza, but uninhibited anti-Semitism.

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