“Samuel was exactly my age (47), he was also a professor and also had a child who is the same age as my boy, so, I could definitely relate. I’m disgusted, because he was killed for teaching critical thinking in France. That is unbearable. But I don’t think our reaction should be that this was an attack on our way of life. The French soul is not being attacked, this was an isolated incident, I hope,” Augé said in an interview with EM just two days before the attack in Nice. Even with this incident that followed shortly afterwards, his views on the matter have not changed. “As academics, it’s our job to think and to communicate our knowledge. There’s a lot we still don’t know about both cases and we should take a step back before responding in a way that will only be harmful.”

Isolated cases

Augé has worked and lived in many different countries, including Lebanon, which he notes is very religious. As he says himself, he tends to see religion differently than his fellow Frenchmen because of that. “Many French are angry at certain types of Islam and it’s not the first time that we have had to deal with someone who acts in the name of Allah. But after being extremely shocked, my second reaction was: ‘Is it Islam or is it just some crazy guy who is fulfilling his own fantasy?’ I tend to believe that we do exaggerate the weight of religion on these people. Muslims are the number one victim of terrorism in the world. We should therefore not focus on these isolated cases.”

'Clear case of propaganda'

Around the world, political tensions have increased as Turkish president Erdogan has alleged that the French president has ‘mental issues.’ This was in response to Macron who had declared Islam a “religion in crisis” after the murder of Samuel Paty by a Russian-Chechnyan Muslim extremist. “Unfortunately, it is turning into a clash of civilizations, which some people really enjoy, but I don’t,” Augé continues. “This is a clear case of propaganda. When you have an unfavourable situation in your country, you divert the attention to something else. That is exactly what Erdogan is doing right now. He’s posing as the defender of Islam around the world. And when you know Erdogan and the secular history of Turkey, this is quite ironic. Macron himself also did exactly what was expected of him: He declared war on a certain type of fanaticism. I do understand that this is what he must do as leader of the French people, even if I don’t always approve of it.”

Mathijs van Dijk – Levien Willemse

Read more

Corona science: ‘This is a good reason to do more to contribute to the public debate’

Over the course of the corona pandemic, scientists from a wide range of disciplines are…

Despite the feelings of devastation, the murder of Samuel Paty or the attack in Nice doesn’t change a thing for Augé. Reflecting on his own lectures, he argues that university should not just be ‘gezellig’ (the affable Dutch term for enjoyable and jovial social interaction, ed.), but values and diverse lifestyles should be explained as well. “Then, people could agree to disagree and learn to show respect -forget about the sacred notion of tolerance. If I’m teaching a course and everyone agrees that racism is bad, but then a student makes a comment about me speaking English as a Frenchman -because ‘French people don’t speak English’ -then that’s not racism, it’s bigotry. So, even in this class, proof of bigotry, xenophobia, etc will still exist in small amounts and it will be hard for students to link that all together, because just 10 minutes ago, they denounced racism en masse.”

Making fun of Harry Potter

In spite of having taught classes around the world, Augé feels that he has only had to restrict his liberal use of humour and provocation here in the Netherlands. “I know that sometimes I offend people when I don’t intend to and at other times, I will say something very controversial and no one will care. However, if someone feels truly hurt by what I said, I will apologize no matter what, because the point is not to offend. Today, I apologized for making fun of Harry Potter. I also think Friends (the TV series) is a waste of time, but I wouldn’t say that to my students, because for them, it is sacred. And don’t even get me started on the Dutch King.”