a teacher and his conscience in the face of attacks on secularism

Mr Prime Minister,

I am writing you a letter, which you will perhaps read, if you are not too busy.

I teach at the Louis-Armand high school, in Eaubonne, in Val-d'Oise. A very normal and even fairly privileged high school. A high school like many others. So, I wanted to tell you about my life or rather, my little stories, which must be those of quite a few people. Because you say that we should not self-censor, and that the government is on our side.

And yet, we feel rather alone.

And in the room, no one hears us scream…

Renaud and Ramadan

Wednesday lunchtime, philosophy class, with a slightly hectic class. I started the debate: “ Are men superior to women? » Way to introduce a lesson on “Who am I?” » (“ We are not born a woman, we become one », as the other would say – Simone de Beauvoir.) And to fuel reflection, I suggest that the students listen to Renaud’s song, Miss Maggie – “ Because no woman on this earth will ever be more stupid than her brother, etc. »

Before I even put on my piece, two or three students say to me:

– But no, finally! It is ramadan ! We can't listen to music! It is haram ! »

I admit that I was more angry than anything else. No time to even think, to be afraid. So, I answer them:

– So, to me, the professor of the school of the Republic, you are going to impose the law of your religion on me? »

READ ALSO : Mickaëlle Paty accuses the State: “It did not honor its part of the social contract by ensuring protection for my brother”

Fortunately for me, I didn't have to defend myself much, nor for long, nor alone, since this time, other students – Muslims, too – came to my rescue, before I even had time to 'argue :

– But the teacher is right: we are in a secular high school.

And then it's not you who puts on the music, it's him, so it's okay.

– And then, above all, you spend your days on TikTok, and there, you wouldn’t want to listen to music! »

The first two told me they were going to cover their ears. I told them they could go out if they wanted. Anyway, from the beginning, that's what they were trying to do. Finally, I put on my song.

This time, I was lucky: the majority of the class went my way. And then I spoke about it to the principal and the class teacher, who called the students together. In their defense, they explained that they were laughing, that it was for fun. It’s true that it’s really funny; especially in the current context. What were they having fun with? And they are the same ones who cry blasphemy when religion is made fun of.

Michel Sardou and blasphemy

After Renaud, Michel Sardou.

A few months earlier, another class; a quiet class, a normal class. The kindest students. And to start the subject: “ Can there be unjust laws? » I ask them what laws they might find unfair. One of them replied:

– The right to blasphemy! I find it unfair that we have the right to blasphemy in France. »

Two rooms, two atmospheres: nothing to do with the first story. No bad spirit, no provocation. Just the conviction of a student who spontaneously tells me what he thinks. Great moment of solitude all the same: I think of the words of my Minister of Education, Gabriel Attal, who has since become Prime Minister: “ Teachers should not self-censor “. Easier said than done. He's nice, but he's not there, here and now. No one is there at that time, actually. It's not so much that I'm afraid; in this case, there is no reason. These students are kind, intelligent, naive. It's just that I tell myself that it's going to be boring… fighting. And how do you explain it to them without pointing them out? And we feel alone, very alone: ​​we don't feel the support of our colleagues, nor of the administration, nor of the government. The door is closed, and we are alone facing 30 kids. We have to manage everything on our own.

READ ALSO : Mickaëlle Paty: “We are not in the aftermath of Samuel Paty but in the period”

So what do I do ? “Am I going or am I not going? » Should I stay or should I go? Should I go for it or let it go? As I am alone, no one but me heard this; so, I can very well act as if I hadn't heard anything about this ” the right to blasphemy is an unjust law “. Who will blame me? Colleagues ? The administration? The Minister ? Person. No one will know I let this slide. In fact, I find myself alone with my conscience – professional (which has a good back in this profession of teacher so poorly treated). And basically, as a teacher in general, and a philosophy teacher, in particular, I almost feel obliged to go. If it's not me who makes them think about all this, who will?

So, I go there, and I answer him – kindly:

– First of all, it is not a “right to blasphemy” law. Simply, it is not prohibited. For a state that does not recognize any religion, blasphemy does not exist. I understand that this shocks you, that it even hurts you; but why should we prohibit all other people from what bothers you? Everyone has “sensitive” topics or considers things “sacred.” For example, there are fans of Michel Sardou – the term “fan” being of religious origin. There are people for whom you should definitely not touch Michel Sardou (as for some, you should definitely not touch Gérard Depardieu, lol); they have records, posters and even “Michel Sardou” cushions. And yet, we are not going to forbid making fun of Michel Sardou, are we?

– But religion and Michel Sardou have nothing to do with each other.

– I understand what you mean: religion is not variety; it is much more engaging, essential, and yet: for a secular republic, it is the same thing, since it does not recognize any religion. Afterwards, if you want to say that you do not want people to attack you or your religion, there are many laws in France which prohibit it: “incitement to hatred”, racial, religious or whatever you want. The Republic defends and protects your freedom to believe, on the other hand, it does not impose on others to have the same belief as you, and to consider as sacred what is sacred to you. »

This course ended well; the majority of the class, starting with the student who had responded to me, seemed to have understood my arguments. But let's say that overall, the calm, rational tone, not too aggressive, and the intelligence of these young people allowed this exchange to end well. However, at the time, while I was talking about Michel Sardou and religion, I split myself; I watched myself speak. I could hear myself saying, “What are you doing? Do you think it will pass? You don't risk turning them on by comparing religion to Michel Sardou? You're not committing blasphemy, are you? What if there was a sensitive student in the class? A little sensitive? A bit…radical? Haven't you just condemned yourself? »

What is secularism?

We feel all the more alone that not everyone agrees; when I told a little about my experiences, around me or on social networks, some people simply told me: “ It's a bad approach! “. That’s argumentation! Especially since I don’t claim to have thought about an “approach”. I hadn't planned anything, I just had to react. As I could. And when we are not confronted with the situation, we can always teach lessons. Another said to me – somewhat along the same lines: “ I wouldn't have done it like that; There is no point forcing a student to listen to music. Would I have made them read the words of Renaud's song, without putting on the music? »

READ ALSO : “Persisting in your blindness is not an error, it is a decision”: Mickaëlle Paty accuses the State

Me, I, me, I »… Again, easier said than done.

Who forces whom in history? Am I the one forcing the student to listen to music? Or him who forces me to obey the laws of his religion?

By finding excuses to accommodate everyone's sensitivities and beliefs, we give ourselves good excuses to push back secularism. It reminds me of what Nietzsche said in The Genealogy of Morality : “ When the can not pretends to be a do not want “. In this case, when fear – of criticism or retaliation – masquerades as respect for beliefs.

The problem is that it has become a very vague concept. Is it a question of giving everyone the freedom to believe – or not to believe? Or, on the contrary, to prohibit everyone from practicing a religion?

Everyone is scrambling and we don't know anymore.

We don't know what to say anymore.

We don't know what to do anymore.

I tried to say a few words to you, Mr Prime Minister, in December, when you passed by my stand at a book fair quite by chance. But the advisors around you urged you on. So we just talked about Star Wars.

I am willing not to censor myself, Mr Prime Minister, but how do I do it? “ Do not censor yourself », it cannot be decreed. Especially since the term is a little misleading: in fact, we do not “self-censor” ourselves at all: we bend under the weight of pressure and fear, defeated by external forces.

And what would you have done in my place?

Please believe, etc.

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