France launches 'anti-woke' think tank to 'protect French values'

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French education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer - AFP
French education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer - AFP

Emmanuel Macron’s education minister has launched a “war on woke” with a think tank dedicated to fighting cancel culture, a hot-button issue ahead of French presidential elections next year.

Jean-Michel Blanquer’s “Laboratory of the Republic” also focuses on defending laïcité, France’s take on secularism, which transcends race, gender and religion to uphold universal values of the Republic. 

Detractors of the concept argue that French secularism is a smokescreen for promoting white and Christian ideals that bolsters discrimination against minorities.

The [French] Republic is completely contrary to wokeism,” Mr Blanquer recently told Le Monde. 

“In the United States, this ideology provoked a reaction and led to the rise of Donald Trump.” He added: “France and its youth have to escape that.”

At the think tank’s launch before a group of elected officials and academics, he said the new institute went beyond party politics and was open to all those who want to “strengthen the Republic.”

“We need a diverse society where we respect each other and don’t define ourselves by how victimised we are or our supposed identity but simply as a citizen. That’s the beauty of the French Republican project,” he told them.

'Wokeism an unparalleled poison'

Six months from the presidential elections, several would-be candidates, notably on the Right and far-Right, have already laid into wokeism as an "Anglo-Saxon" evil seeping into French society and education.

Xavier Bertrand, who hopes to lead the mainstream Right-wing Republicans, called it an “unparalleled poison that is splitting society”, while Eric Zemmour, the far-Right essayist polling at present to reach the second round, devotes entire sections of his new book, “France Has Not Said Its Last Word”, to the threat.

“Not a day goes by when a thesis isn’t published in our universities on ‘gender theory in 18th century Limousin,” writes Mr Zemmour, sometimes compared to a Gallic Mr Trump, with intellectual and literary pretensions.

French far-right media pundit Eric Zemmour - AFP
French far-right media pundit Eric Zemmour - AFP

“Not a day goes by when the whiteness of an antique statue isn’t suspected of feeding ‘white privilege.”

Emmanuel Macron, who has not yet announced his intention to run for re-election, has not broached wokeism personally but has dispatched his ministers to do so.

Sarah El Haïry, secretary of state for youth and engagement, who was present at the think tank’s launch, said woke ideology brainwashed young people into thinking "they are condemned in advance through a discourse of victimisation”.

The far-Left used it to “divide meetings up according to skin colour or gender”, she said, while the far-Right “has the exact same discourse regarding identity”.

The drive against wokeism has sparked controversy.

“It’s McCarthyism,” Rim-Sarah Alouane, from Toulouse Capitole University, told Politico. “A minister is using a private entity to block discussions on these themes.”

She suggested Macron’s team were trying to win over voters who are attracted to Eric Zemmour.

It seems politicians have their work cut out raising awareness about the perils of woke in France, as according to an Ifop poll conducted in March, only 14 per cent of French people knew what the word meant.

However, Ifop chief Frederic Dabi said, given that a third of French young people believed “state racism” existed and 40 per cent thought “gender inequalities are systemic”, they were already "practising wokeism without knowing it".

Watch: What does woke mean?

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